Who is François Burgat, the Islamologist accused of “apology for terrorism”?

Who is François Burgat, the Islamologist accused of “apology for terrorism”?

After the rebellious MP Mathilde Panot and the comedian Guillaume Meurice, it is the turn of another public figure, the researcher François Burgat, to be summoned by the police as part of a procedure for “apology for terrorism”. This Tuesday, July 9, the former research director at the CNRS, known for his work on Islamism as well as for his controversial positions on X, spent eight hours in police custody at the Aix-en-Provence police station, ” the time of his hearing relating to tweets posted on a social network”indicates Jean-Luc Blachon, the public prosecutor of Aix-en-Provence. This summons would follow a complaint filed by the European Jewish Organization (EJO), according to our colleagues at Release.

In early January, François Burgat, a fervent pro-Palestinian activist, retweeted a Hamas press release, then justified himself in another message posted on X, claiming to have “infinitely more respect and consideration for the leaders of Hamas than for those of the State of Israel.”

In the 1980s, the now 76-year-old researcher, who is fluent in Arabic, was one of the first to take an interest in Islamism, alongside Gilles Keppel, Olivier Carré, Jean-François Clément and Olivier Roy. Although his theses are not unanimous, the quality of his work is recognized by his peers. “François Burgat has real knowledge of the field”, highlights Franck Frégosi, research director at the CNRS and specialist in the organization of Islam in France. “Unlike other researchers, he did not limit himself to short hops, but made long stays in several societies in the Maghreb and the Near East to collect the direct words of the actors.”

With Gilles Keppel and Olivier Roy, François Burgat contributed to structuring social science research on Islam, but their theses became irreconcilable after the attacks of 2015. “To explain jihadist attacks, Keppel points to a continuum between a rigorous vision of Islam and violent action (“radicalization of Islam”), while Olivier Roy believes that those who take violent action in the name of Islam today are those who would have done so in the name of the far left yesterday (“Islamization of radicalism”). For his part, François Burgat has a more political reading, and believes that religious resources are not decisive. For him, the violent jihadist action is the postcolonial backlash, after the relations of domination maintained by the West with regard to Arab countries.”underlines Haoues Seniguer, lecturer at Science Po Lyon and specialist in the relationship between Islam and politics.

A regular in controversy

Other academics regularly point out François Burgat’s lack of distance from his subject of study, but it is above all his personal public statements that place him under fire from critics. “In the media, he is a very controversial Islamologist, accused of anti-Semitism”underlines Mihaela-Alexandra Tudor, university professor at Paul-Valéry University in Montpellier. The specialist in the links between media, religion and politics cites as an example a message posted by François Burgat on Facebook in 2014, at the time of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, where he called for a “separation” of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) and the State.

More recently, the researcher was called into question for his proximity to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the work of Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, Freemasonry and its networks, the investigation (Odile Jacob, January 2023), prefaced by Gilles Keppel. If, for Mihaela-Alexandra Tudor, this work is a “very respectable research work”for Haoues Seniguer, the accusations of frérisme targeting François Burgat have no reason to exist, because this investigation is not “not empirically based.”

Whether or not they adhere to the researcher’s theses, the summons of François Burgat as part of a procedure for “apology for terrorism” worries some of his colleagues, for whom this police custody would raise the threat of a restriction on the freedom of expression of researchers.

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