This is the title of a survey by Lucie Delaporte published on 16 January in Mediapart, a French online investigative and opinion journal. The Lycée Averroes of Lille debates its curriculum amongst many other things. The journalist writes at the outset: “the material was flammable, and – no surprise – quite glowing media. The accusation of a philosophy professor who resigned from Lycée Averroes, the only Muslim high school, published in Libération on 5 February 2015, pointed the spotlight on this exception in the French educational landscape, in a particularly sensitive Paris post-terrorist strikes context. The charge by Soufiane Zitouni, Philosophy teacher, against the high school is significant. He denounces the Lycée to have obsessively anti semitic students, to ensconce these into a retrograde religiosity and indoctrinate their knowledge.”
“Lycée Averroes of Lille, a symbol in the heart of the controversy”.
At the end of her investigation the journalist gave the teacher who started the whole of this scandal a chance to speak and when Soufiane Zitouni was asked on possible political recoveries with his criticism of the Lycée Averroes could be subject; for instance his allegation text was quick to circulate on the far-right websites, his answer without blinking is: “I don’t care, I said what I had to say.»”
Excerpts from the inquiry
In the institution, where we could move and talk to who we wanted for three days, the amazement and anger are still apparent. “When the controversy broke, the first thing I said was ‘No, not again!’ “Still, he’ll have to justify himself and explain that it’s not required of us to wear the veil, that the lessons are not interrupted for prayers and that it follows the same programmes than in all other schools, said Ines, a former pupil now in first year Law at Lille University.
“Mr. Zitouni amplified isolated cases, he took things out of their context. We are not anti-Semitic, we are not fundamentalists. We are just normal,” reassures in a determined but visibly moved, Sara, pupil of ‘Terminal L’ (French Lycée 6th form year 13).
The many testimonies of students gathered in the Lycée, in class, in the playground, converge to denounce a portrait of their establishment which does not in any way look like the Lycée where they go to. They depict a secondary school where there is a ‘family’ spirit, ‘tolerant ‘. “Here, there are atheists, non-Muslims and they are integrated like any other,” says a high school girl in reference to the handful of Muslims attending Averroes.
“Mr. Zitouni said that we are “well trained parrots” but by whom? If that were the case, we would be mad because teachers have different opinions”, answered Imene. “You see, here the boys and girls inter-mingle and laugh as in any other high school,” says Sara showing the courtyard, when the tribune of his former philosophy teacher described a mix heavily supported by some students. “It happened that a girl does not want to sit next to a boy but that’s because of some disagreement between them, as it is anywhere else’, said Medhi.
“This allegation text is a collection of clichés. If I could take altitude, I would laugh, but I cannot», launched Hadjilla Koulla, teacher of French in the school for many years. Professor of Muslim ethics Sofiane Meziani said that for him, he is above all shocked that his former colleague has taken it out on students, teenagers. It is cowardly and low. For the rest, he would consider that the allegations are a “collection of anecdotes of the lowest kind.
In the teachers Meeting Room, denunciation against the text of the teacher who has resigned is unanimous. “I don’t like the idea as generalized from special cases. No, students are not anti-Semitic. Of course that some mix everything: anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism… But overall they are very open kids. I am an atheist, I say it, without exaggerating, and there is no problem,” explains Stéphanie Houdinet, teacher of English for three years now. ‘If it happened that teachers make their prayer in teachers’ rooms, this never brought any problem’, she says. “There are students somewhat little obtuse, and even very virulent, as there are in many other school”, explains Vincent Pieterarens, teacher of History and Geography.
Many fear that the controversy launched by the article published in Liberation that triggered a media storm, thus ruining ten years of work and a dearly acquired reputation.
Soufiane Zitouni a Muslim Sufi, a minority branch of Islam based mystical beliefs admits that often whilst “throwing bridges between philosophy and Islam” in his lectures, that he said was normal in a Muslim religious establishment. “When I have students who revolted as soon as I speak of the theory of evolution telling me that it is not in the Koran, I talk to them about the book of Nidhal Gessoum titled “Reconcile Islam and modern science”.”
The teacher of philosophy also recognizes mentioning the position of Imam Tareq Oubrou of Bordeaux, who maintain that the veil is not an obligation for young Muslim women. In this Lycée, if the majority of girls are veiled, many others are not. “I wanted to show them that there is not only a single vision of Islam.”
These permanent bridges clearly annoy the students: “He spoke to us all the time of religion, while it is known that in the Baccalaureat, religion should not be talked about”, replied Assia, a pupil of GMTS. “Giving us the impression that he was always looking for confrontation”, said Sara. “He would think that we’d all think like him. “For me, he took his ideas too much heart “, said Mehdi.
«When one speaks of Spinoza and the feeling of freedom, there is no need to refer to the Koran», explains Stephen Urani, teacher of philosophy who took on the resigning teacher’s class and who was since last year at Averroes. He says that his students have progressed only a little in the year’s programme. “He felt entrusted with a mission, that I to bring us light, us who live in a grotto”, mocking his former colleague Sofiane Meziani, teacher of Muslim ethics who was considered “close to the brothers Tariq and Hani Ramadan and therefore to the Muslim Brotherhood”.
As to his reasons for his resignation, Sofiane Zitouni points to the ‘sneaky’ interfering of the religious brotherhood within the school saying: “Some teachers are clearly followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and influence students in the direction of this political ideology.”