Introvigne vs. Maigret
If you disagree with CESNUR
you are paid by the French Secret Service
On May 30th, the French House passed the law on cults. I always distrust focused legislation of this kind, whoever the target may be, especially when the subject matter is so delicate and hard to define. However, I do find it positive that this law establishes a very important principle: that the rights of individuals come before the rights of organizations; and that organizations - and not only their individual members - must take responsibility for criminal acts that they order their followers to commit.
There was an immediate reaction to the law from both Scientology and CESNUR. Throwing aside his usually cautious tones, Massimo Introvigne put up an article on his website titled Seven Things You Can Do Immediately About the French Law: A Manifesto.
Introvigne's anti-French "Manifesto" raises a significant issue. The major totalitarian multinationals potentially affected by the French law cannot lead the reaction publicly, since they are discredited around the world, and especially in France itself. They will have to call on their supporters in various quarters. Most of these will be in the USA, which however - as Introvigne himself points out in his "Manifesto" - is too directly involved to appear entirely credible. This means that the spotlight will be on European "cult apologists", largely meaning Massimo Introvigne and CESNUR.
Here are two comments on Introvigne's Manifesto, one by Miguel Martinez and one by Harry Coney, a British scholar on "new religious movements."
Dr Introvigne's Manifesto calls on CESNUR supporters to:
1. "Try to understand the historical, cultural and legal French context": rather typically, Introvigne refers to a speech by Introvigne, at the 2001 CESNUR Conference in London, where he elegantly reproposes the basic theory behind his "Counter-Revolutionary" ideology, claiming that the French are "really persuaded that extirpating religious belief is both desirable and possible."
2."Support Domestic and European Litigation," providing assistance to controversial groups in court.
3."Torpedo the law's enforcement by declaring it unenforceable", denying the existence of "cults" and "mind control".
4."Do not feed the wolves" by "distinguishing between 'good cults' and 'bad cults'.
5. "Publish or perish". Introvigne in a few lines speaks of "international scholarship", "sociological works", "scholarly monographs", "academic literature" and "sound academic literature", meaning of course works in line with CESNUR.
6. "Tactfully support international pressure". The US has provided strong support to threatened multinational enterprises in France. Introvigne approves such gunboat diplomacy, as long as it is not too obvious: "provided it is not presented as 'American' only, and it is tactful and respectful of French national traditions. Quiet diplomacy may work much better than full-page anti-French ads in the Herald Tribune." I think we can freely say that there is more than a sign here of the old TFP mindset, with its cult of the élites: Introvigne upholds "tactful pressure" and "quiet diplomacy" to abolish a law which was unanimously voted by an elected parliament.
The last point refers directly to this website, and is a beautiful example of what Introvigne calls "sound scholarship":
"7.Ignore accusations of being a "cult apologist". When you take the above steps, you will be accused of being a "cult apologist". French secret services have been quite active in supporting rumour mills (and Web sites) aimed at discrediting international scholars and religious liberty activists as simple hired guns for the cults. In turn, rather than answering verse by verse innuendos about your sources of income or private lives, ignore altogether hired guns for the French secret services, even when they come with some sort of academic cloak. They are not only internationally discredited, they have proved to be remarkably ineffective."
I know of a few pages on other websites which criticize alleged "cult apologists", but of no website except mine.
First of all, Introvigne has not followed his own advice. He threatened to sue me even before I opened this site; he then invaded Usenet with over one hundred messages containing personal insults, some obscene, and false posts; he bullied my server into closing down my website; after further legal threats, he then publicly labelled me a "terrorist".
Second, he misunderstands the purpose of my pages: it is not to "accuse cult apologists", but to discuss Introvigne's militancy in the right-wing group Alleanza Cattolica and the political and cultural implications of such a militancy. My site never claims he is a "hired gun for the cults"; I attribute the systematic falsifications which Introvigne presents in his studies to a far more noble ideological commitment.
Third, my discussion of Alleanza Cattolica militants refers to Alleanza Cattolica militants who also happen to be directly involved with CESNUR, such as Introvigne, PierLuigi Zoccatelli, Valter Maccantelli, Albera and Andrea Menegotto. My website makes only passing mention of other authors who might be considered "cult apologists." If they decide to join Alleanza Cattolica, I shall write more about them; but not if they decide to write critically about France.
Fourth, there is no discussion anywhere on my rather large site of Introvigne's "sources of income or private lives". There is some discussion of how CESNUR is funded (the matter remains basically a mystery, since Introvigne's lawyer denied what the CESNUR website itself says; and there is a discussion of the activities of Introvigne's wife as an opponent of Islam, but in her role as a right-wing militant, not as an Introvigne family member.
The fifth point concerns the French secret service. This reminds me of a wonderful, if sad, story told somewhere by Solzhenicyn: a faithful Bolshevik was ordered to confess being a spy, but was granted a night's respite to decide which country he was a spy for. The morning after, the Soviet Union had its first confessed agent of the Guatemalan Secret Service.
Let me use another example to explain what is wrong about Introvigne's fantastic statement. I might say that Introvigne is paid for by Scientology. After all, he spends a lot of money (unlike me); what he does is often in the direct interest of Scientology; Scientology is against France, so is Introvigne, indeed his "manifesto" came out in the same days as the Scientologists' anti-French demonstrations in Italy. However I have absolutely no evidence that Introvigne is paid for by Scientology, and I do have plausible political and ideological explanations for his often peculiar behaviour.
This - in my humble opinion at least - is how "international scholarship" (as opposed, say, to right-wing extremism) should approach such matters.
However, Introvigne has taken a step back. Little over two years ago, he claimed I was a secret agent of the Belgian parliament, which would make my role no more romantic than that of Hercule Poirot.
Then he moved on to the French secret service.
A few months later, he actually wrote that I was a terrorist working for the "lunatic fringe secular humanist", neo-Fascist, Communist Muslim plot. Frankly, it is a little frustrating to go back to being a colleague of Maigret's.
Hieronymus Bosch's famous portrait of a Lunatic Fringe
Secular Humanist neo-Fascist Communist Muslim terrorist
The following item first appeared as a post on Nurel (June 3, 2001), the well-known scholarly mailing list on new religions. Its author is Harry Coney, who was an Information and Research officer at INFORM, London, from 1996 to 1999.
As you are probably aware, the French "anti-cult" law was passed on May 30. Those
of you on CESNUR's emailing-list will also know that Massimo Introvigne has
published a 7-point 'manifesto' in response, the full text of which is at
www.cesnur.org/2001/fr_may30_mi.htm. CESNUR's political agenda has been
increasingly apparent to some people in recent years (see, e.g., the article "Massimo Introvigne: scholar or politician?" at
www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/tancre2.htm), but the issuing of a 'manifesto' ought
to be ringing a few alarm bells, even among its most ardent supporters. I contend
that CESNUR's inherent (con)fusion of scholarship and political activism damages
both the reputation of NRM scholarship and the cause of 'religious freedom.'
Before commenting directly on Introvigne's document, I should state that I do not
support the enactment of the French bill in its present form (especially given that
it will serve as a model for other, less democratic, nations to follow). But I also
believe that France has the right and the duty to try to protect its citizens, and
that it has the right to make mistakes in the formation of its legislative
framework. Furthermore, I believe that (most of) the opposition so far to the
French law (as led by CESNUR, Scientology and the US State Dept) has been profoundly
ill-judged and did only harden the resolve of the French legislators in their efforts to protect their citizens' human rights and fundamental freedoms. (The most effective opposition to the bill came from the senior clerics of the Catholic and Protestant churches, who do appear to have engaged sensitively with the concerns of the legislators - see
Below are my comments on CESNUR's manifesto (and on its preamble) - it won't make
much sense unless you have already read that text first.
"France Approves Anti-Cult Law on May 30, 2001"
Just to be clear, "anti-cult law" is CESNUR's wording - the final draft of the
French bill describes its purpose as 'the prevention and suppression of cultic
groups that undermine human rights and basic freedoms' ('la prévention et la
répression des mouvements sectaires portant atteinte aux droits de l'homme et aux
libertés fondamentales'). Its stated emphasis on protecting human rights and
freedoms somehow gets lost in CESNUR's translation.
"They did it. Despite domestic and international protest (including by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant highest authorities in France)the French House passed on May 30 the Anti-Cult Law [...]"
If I'm right, then "they did it", in part, because of the international protests,
not despite them. And I don't think it is valid to equate the approach taken by
France's senior clerics with that of CESNUR (et al.).
The question of the day is what can be done by international scholars of religious movements and religious liberty activists.
I have long had the impression that CESNUR/TFP would like to turn 'international
scholars of religious movements' into 'religious liberty activists'. I don't think
that the two pursuits mix well, especially not when 'religious liberty' is presented
in absolutist terms. Introvigne's and CESNUR's activism is understandable given
that their ideological wellspring, Tradition Family & Property (TFP), is listed in
the 1996 Guyard Report as one of the 170-odd problematic NRMs in France.
Scientology's activism is similarly motivated. But non-aligned academics do the
cause of human rights a disservice by siding with such multinational organizations
on a quixotic campaign for 'religious freedom'. I don't think it's a coincidence
that anti-cultic legislation is being introduced in Europe just at the time when
CESNUR/TFP has grown to dominate (and dumb-down) the 'academic' discourse so
"1. Try to understand the law in the French context.
Rather than simply signing petitions proposed by one or another
religious movement, scholars should do their homework first, and try to understand the historical, cultural and legal French context. [...]"
This would appear good advice. But I think it also sensible that scholars do their
homework on CESNUR, Alleanza Cattolica and the TFPs, and try to understand that the
TFP's ideology leads its adherents to understand the French law within the context
of the historical struggle between the Revolution (e.g. laicized France) and the
Counter-Revolution (i.e. CESNUR/TFP). (See
"2. Support Domestic and European Litigation.
[...] Do not regard as distasteful the support by scholars to the litigations a number of religious movements will probably launch. Rather, do regard as distasteful the lack of support for them."
According to Introvigne, we should regard all future instances of co-operation in France between NRMs and CESNUR as 'tasteful', and any questioning of this vague plan of action is to be regarded as 'distasteful'. Instead, might I suggest that taking each litigious event (involving CESNUR, Scientology, et al) in France on its own merits would be less politically correct but more scholarly.
"3. Torpedo the law's enforcement by declaring it unenforceable."
'Torpedo' is the sort of language that has led to this sorry situation. It's up to the French courts to decide whether it's enforceable or not. And I think that the change from 'cults' to 'cultic groups', and the new wording replacing 'mental manipulation', may mean that the law is now enforceable, whatever NRM scholars declare.
"Where the law discusses "cultic groups" and brainwashing or mind control (by any other name), explain time and again that no such things exist."
If this is an example of CESNUR's approach, then it's no wonder the French weren't favourably impressed. This defensive stance is what stops social scientists from having a significant input into political debates on NRMs. Anyway, the law doesn't mention brainwashing or mind control - by describing its focus as "des activit´s ayant pour but ou pour effet de cr´er, de maintenir ou d'exploiter la suj´tion
psychologique ou physique des personnes qui participent à ces activités", there's
more leeway for the courts to decide that such states do exist, and I don't think
CESNUR's protestations that brainwashing doesn't exist will help matters at all.
"Cults" and "mind control" are indefinable categories without precise scholarly or legal meaning. As such, any law dealing with these shadowy categories is clearly unenforceable.
The French law doesn't mention 'cults' or 'mind control', so this argument won't wash with the judges.
"4. Do not feed the wolves.
[...] [E]ven the less palatable movements accused of pseudo-crimes such as "brainwashing" or "being a cult" should be vigorously defended.
No matter how much we dislike them, nobody can be guilty of an imaginary crime."
"We will have the temptation of distinguishing between "good cults"
> and "bad cults", throwing the latter to the wolves. This, however, would
> only feed the wolves: and who will be next?"
I'm interested to know which groups Introvigne believes are "bad cults", and whether it's those ones that the courts might decide are "cultic groups that undermine human rights and basic freedoms". Also, if a commercial enterprise dressed itself up as a religion and then got labelled a "bad cult", would CESNUR defend it from 'the wolves' or not?
"5. Publish or perish: Make international scholarship well-known in France."
Apart from the silly 'publish or perish' headline, this manifesto item is eminently
sensible and supportable.
"6. Tactfully support international pressure.
Anti-cultists in France have ably played on anti-American sentiment by depicting "cults" as "the American Trojan horse in Europe" (the title, unfortunately, does not come from a tabloid but from a strange article in the otherwise respected le Monde diplomatique)."
I haven't read that article, nor read in detail the comments of 'French
anti-cultists' about America. But I am increasingly coming to believe that modern
democracies, especially the US, and the UN too, need to rethink their approach to
'religious freedom'. In particular, I believe it necessary that they distinguish
between the 'unalienable right' to believe and the 'civil right' to practise
(whereas 'religious liberty activists' often blur this distinction). And so I think
it's time that America took the lead and revised its 'sacred' Constitution, so that
religious practice is no longer considered a God-given right, but rather as a civil
right, to be earned through adhesion to some accepted social norms. And I would
dispute that such a sentiment is anti-American.
"7. Ignore accusations of being a "cult apologist".
When you take the above steps, you will be accused of being a "cult apologist". French secret services have been quite active in supporting rumour mills (and Web sites) aimed at discrediting international scholars and religious liberty activists as simple hired guns for the cults."
Massimo leaves the best for last - "French secret services" (aka agents of the Revolution)? Introvigne doesn't name names, but it's difficult not to conclude that he's suggesting that Miguel Martinez (or Anton Hein or Tilman Hausherr or me) is a puppet of, or is being fed anti-CESNUR/TFP propaganda by, French secret agents.
Nuff said, really.
"In turn, rather than answering verse by verse innuendos about your sources
of income or private lives, ignore altogether hired guns for the French secret services, even when they come with some sort of academic cloak.
They are not only internationally discredited, they have proved to be remarkably ineffective."
I think Introvigne is asking us to ignore questions about CESNUR's sources of funds
and about the private affiliations of its militant founders. Also, I think that if
these unnamed critics of Introvigne were really as discredited and ineffective as he
suggests, then he wouldn't now be accusing them of being hired guns for the French
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