Uproar Over Detention of Prominent French Scholar for Gaza Solidarity Posts

"François Burgat is the latest target in a political campaign that aims at silencing pro-Palestinian voices in France and at equating explanation with justification, and analysis with incitement," said a petition.

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Academic freedom defenders around the world are rallying around a renowned French political scientist and Arabist who was detained by police Tuesday after voicing “respect and appreciation” for the militant Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

François Burgat, the 75-year-old research director emeritus at the French National Center for Scientific Research, was taken into custody Tuesday morning in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence as part of an investigation into “apology for terrorism,” his lawyer Rafik Chekkat said on social media.

Burgat was released after attending a hearing, during which he “responded honestly and referred to his researcher status and the books he has written” and the times “that he has spoken in the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Anti-Terrorism Court,” Chekkat told the Turkish news agency Anadolu.

A petition circulating among academics and Palestine defenders asserts that “François Burgat is the latest target in a political campaign that aims at silencing pro-Palestinian voices in France and at equating explanation with justification, and analysis with incitement.”

“We express our solidarity with him and with others whom the French state has tried to silence by enforcing the November 13, 2014 terrorism laws,” the petition adds.

Burgat, who specializes in the Middle East and Islamophobia, declared his “infinite respect” for Hamas in a January post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I have more respect and appreciation for the leaders of Hamas than the leaders of the state of Israel,” he posted. “I don’t think I am the only one, quite the opposite.”

Burgat has also described Hamas’ actions as “the revolt of Gazan prisoners against their Israeli jailers.”

In a January 10 interview with Anadolu, Burgat said: “Although I consider my statement to be very normal, it sparked a stormy campaign against me. Not only on social media, but most of the French media has been insulting me over the past few days.”

The European Jewish Organization subsequently filed a complaint against Burgat. French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti asked prosecutors for a “firm and rapid criminal response” to Burgat’s alleged “antisemitism.”

The European Union, of which France is a member, officially considers Hamas a “terrorist organization,” as do nations including Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and Paraguay. The overwhelming majority of the world’s nations have not designated Hamas – whose political wing has ruled Gaza since 2006 and whose military arm fights Israel – a terror group.

Last October 7, Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel, leaving more than 1,100 Israelis and others dead and over 240 people kidnapped. At least some of the Israelis killed on October 7 were slain by so-called “friendly fire” and may have been targeted under a protocol known as the Hannibal Directive, which allows the Israeli military to use deadly force against its own troops to prevent them from being abducted by the enemy.

Israel retaliated for the October 7 attacks by bombarding, besieging, and invading Gaza in a campaign that’s killed more than 38,200 Palestinians – mostly women and children – while wounding over 88,000 others, according to Palestinian and international agencies. At least 11,000 other Gazans are missing and believed to be buried under the rubble of hundreds of thousands of bombed-out homes and other buildings.

Israel’s conduct in the war – including forced starvation that United Nations experts say has resulted in deadly famine – is the subject of an International Court of Justice genocide case. International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan is also seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh.

France – a current colonial power with a history of brutally repressive rule over Arabs and others – has, like its neighbor Germany and other European nations, cracked down on expressions of solidarity with Palestine since October 7. Prominent figures in French academia, the arts, entertainment, politics, and sports have been targeted.

Former French-Senegalese professional basketball player and Olympic medalist Émilie Gomis will no longer represent France as a 2024 Olympic ambassador after she was interrogated by police earlier this year following an October social media post explaining Israeli theft of Palestinian lands and asking, “What would you do in this situation?”

“We’re caught in a crushing machine,” Gomis toldAnadolu after her release. “We must be prepared to suffer the consequences.”

Meanwhile, critics point to France’s widespread Islamophobia and the near-victory of the far-right National Rally in this week’s parliamentary elections as evidence of a double standard.

“François Burgat has been taken into police custody for ‘apology for terrorism’ while the patently Islamophobic anthropologist Bergeaud Blackler has received the Légion d’honneur,” Muriam Davis, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz said on social media Tuesday.

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.