Nudity in a classic painting has triggered accusations of Islamophobia in a suburban Paris school
A teacher in suburban Paris is being accused of Islamophobia for showing her class, for the purpose of an analytical exercise, the classic painting ‘Diana and Actaeon’ by Giuseppe Cesari – all because the “five muses of antiquity” depicted happened to be naked. It’s a painting, not a porno.
Although the artist, who has been dead for nearly four centuries, probably didn’t have any intention to offend anyone with his portrayal of the nymphs when he created the piece back in the 17th century, his work apparently now serves as a convenient springboard for the kind of gratuitous victimhood that has become so rampant in the current age of cancel culture, where just about the worst thing you can be accused of is offending anyone.
By the end of the school day, parents of the handful of kids at Jacques-Cartier Middle School in the Parisian suburb of Issou, who, according to the school board, had reportedly turned away from the painting when it was presented in class, were already hanging out in front of the school and demanding explanations for what the French press says they qualified as Islamophobic. By the next school day, the school’s teaching staff had exercised their right not to show up to work out of fear, and the French minister of education had to personally show up on campus in an effort to put a lid on a fiasco that risked boiling over.
The school is a mere 34 kilometers from the middle school in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, in front of which teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing provocative Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to a class for educational and debate purposes in October 2020. The incident gave rise to a known radical Islamist sending out viral online messages that were picked up and acted on by a motivated 18-year old Muslim refugee who was subsequently killed on site by police responding to the teacher’s assassination. Earlier this month, six juveniles were criminally convicted for collaborating with the killer in targeting Paty.
Meanwhile, at another middle school in Mantes-la-Jolie, just 9km away from this latest art incident, teachers also briefly exercised their right of withdrawal in early December when they found out that their names had appeared in a parents’ chat group on WhatsApp in the wake of a media literacy lesson by history and geography teachers on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The parents were reportedly shocked that the teaching material used in the class had referred to Hamas as a “terrorist group.”
Look, just because a teacher quotes a reference to Hamas as terrorists doesn’t mean that the teacher is Islamophobic or some kind of rabid Zionist. One may not personally agree with that particular characterization – because one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter – but that’s the actual current policy of France and the European Union. The teachers, if they want to do their job as objectively as possible, don’t have much wiggle room behind adhering to establishment doctrine.
What are they supposed to do – open a debate? Everyone loves that idea until the teacher fails to come down on the side that one favors. With so many teachers fearfully withdrawing their services, it’s no wonder there aren’t enough of them. Last September, about 50% of high schools and middle schools were short at least one teacher, according to the teachers’ union. This is definitely a step up from the school bedbug infestations that were making headlines for teacher withdrawals earlier this year.
Much like free speech, statues, drawings, and paintings are also part of Western culture and civilization. One of the main selling points of accepting more immigrants, as promoted by the Western establishment, is that it’s a means of culturally enriching Western democracies even more. Demanding that classical cultural works be covered up, torn down, or censored because they’re offensive to immigrant cultures flies right in the face of that argument.
Come on, folks. We’re talking about France here. One of the national symbols, Marianne, was perhaps most famously depicted as a topless woman in Eugene Delacroix’s legendary painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’, which depicts the moment of popular victory over the elites during the French Revolution. Anyone who’s offended by the natural female form really made the wrong call when deciding that France was the country for them – from the topless sunbathing that doesn’t even warrant a Gallic shrug, to France being the actual birthplace of the bikini when Louis Réard’s invention made its global debut at Paris’ legendary Molitor pool in 1946.
Granted, we live in an era of heated conflict where everyone seeks to score against ‘the other team’ by conveniently trying to define inconvenient incidents as warranting a certain label that serves to slam their opponent’s mouth shut – whether it’s from the fear of being accused of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘Islamophobia’, or ‘anti-Semitism’. This does a huge disservice to the underlying causes that they’re trying to champion by diluting it with triviality. There’s a real, legitimate global sympathy for the thousands of civilians of Gaza currently being killed while the world stands by and bickers over it. Using the conflict as an excuse to infringe on people’s speech isn’t going to win over many hearts and minds.
There are cases of real Islamophobia, which has a very clear definition of prejudice against Muslims. Selective dislike of some aspects of the cultural repertoire of another country doesn’t fit the bill, just like knee-jerk cries of anti-Semitism shouldn’t be used as a means of bullying critics of Israeli foreign policy into submission and silence. These are two sides of the same rhetorical coin. They serve to effectively quell democratic debate – which may be desirable when used in one’s favor, but certainly isn’t when one’s on the receiving end of the same tactics.
It should be possible, even amid a passionate clash of ideas, to still have nice things like paintings and art – and school teachers who don’t fear for their lives.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.