French outcry over academic in Grenoble Islamophobia row

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Students put up posters and demonstrated against Prof Kinzler and a colleague in March

Dozens of French academics have warned that freedom of expression is at risk after a German professor was suspended over a row with politics students.

Klaus Kinzler has been locked in dispute for months over accusations of Islamophobia at Sciences Po Grenoble.

In a case that has provoked allegations of left-wing cancel culture, the political studies institute has suspended him for "defamatory remarks".

The institute is now set to lose local funding because of the row.

Laurent Wauquiez, the right-wing leader of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, said an annual €100,000 (£85,000) subsidy was being suspended.

His decision was widely welcomed by figures on the right of French politics, with just four months to go before a presidential election in which centrist sitting President Emmanuel Macron is leading the opinion polls.

But the politics institute said the removal of funding was politically motivated and jeopardised students who struggled to access higher education.

Forty people, mostly academics, have now signed an open letter to Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal, warning that pluralism in teaching and research is under threat, with teachers and students alike resorting to self-censorship.

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At the heart of the row is Prof Kinzler, who has been challenged for months by a group of politics students who accused him of fascism and Islamophobia.

The professor of German civilisation initially got into an email argument with a colleague over a day of debates on racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Prof Kinzler reportedly argued that it was not appropriate to equate Islamophobia with racism and anti-Semitism.

'Re-education camp'

A left-wing union accused him of Islamophobia, but the disagreement took on a new lease of life last March when posters were put up on the Grenoble campus that read "Fascists in our lecture halls. Islamophobia kills", targeting Prof Kinzler and a colleague.

The head of the political studies institute, Sabine Saurugger, said she had repeatedly asked Prof Kinzler not to talk to the media about the row. However, he gave a series of interviews this month, accusing the institute of being a "political re-education camp", with a management impotent in the face of a hard core of academics spreading "wokeism".

Prof Kinzler's lawyers have spoken of a "witch hunt", adding that he was forced to speak out after he had been subjected to a political attack.

Ms Saurugger told Le Monde newspaper that the management had supported Prof Kinzler when he had come under attack from "shocking and unacceptable posters". However, she said it was "my duty to intervene when the reputation of the institution is targeted, when I hear of 'a political re-education camp'."

She called on Laurent Wauquiez, the regional political head who is also a former Republicans (centre-right) party leader, to visit the university away from the media storm to see the reality of its teaching.

However, with next April's presidential elections looming, the row has roused widespread political comment. Far-right candidates have backed the decision to withhold funding.

An MP from President Macron's party, François Jolivet, has called for the university to be placed under supervision, while Republicans leader Valérie Pécresse has said she fears freedom of expression is no longer guaranteed there.

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