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Another French intellectual falls after comments on abuse accusations
Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent French intellectual, in Paris, Feb. 16, 2016. French TV news network LCI has fired Finkielkraut for suggesting there may have been a rush to judgment in the downfall this month of a leading political scientist accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson. Pierre Terdjman/The New York Times.

by Roger Cohen

PARIS (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- A leading French television news network has fired Alain Finkielkraut, one of the country’s most prominent public intellectuals, for suggesting there may have been a rush to judgment in the downfall this month of a leading political scientist accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson.

Finkielkraut, 71, was asked to discuss the case of Olivier Duhamel, 70, who last week quit his university and media posts after the accusations surfaced in a book. He began by telling the network, LCI, that Duhamel had committed “a reprehensible act,” adding that, “What he did was very serious, it was inexcusable.”

Later, however, Finkielkraut, a member of the revered Académie Française, embarked on a series of musings. “Was there consent? At what age did this begin? Was there some form of reciprocity?” When the interviewer reminded him that the case involved “a 14-year-old child,” he said: “And so? We are talking about an adolescent, it’s not the same thing.”

A social media explosion ensued. Adrien Taquet, the secretary of state for the protection of children, tweeted: “What world do you live in, Alain Finkielkraut? Are you really talking about consent between an adolescent and a member of his family?”

On Monday evening, hours after the show, LCI fired Finkielkraut, a writer and essayist, from his position as a commentator, saying it “condemned” his words while supporting “respectful and reasoned debate.”

In a telephone interview, Finkielkraut said he had filed suit against LCI for defamation and wrongful termination of his contract. “Pedophilia revolts me,” he said. “My purpose was not to deny the crime, which I denounced emphatically, but to specify the crime. To find out the facts of what actually happened. But it seems that in such cases examination of the facts is viewed as a form of indulgence of the crime.”

It was the latest in a number of cases in which a generation shaped by the anything-goes sexual liberation of 1968 has confronted a contemporary culture that recognizes and condemns predatory male sexual behavior.

In 1977, several leading intellectuals and writers — including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes, Jack Lang, and Louis Aragon — signed a letter in the daily newspaper Le Monde defending three men imprisoned for three years for having sexual relations with minors aged 15. They wrote that the adolescents had described the acts as consensual and deplored the gulf between “an obsolete law and the daily reality of a society beginning to recognize the existence of the sexual life of children and adolescents.”

“Three years of prison for caresses and kisses, that’s enough,” they added.

In a book called “La familia grande,” Camille Kouchner accused Duhamel, who headed the body overseeing Sciences Po University in Paris, of persistently abusing her twin brother, starting when he was 14. The French public prosecutor has opened an investigation. Elisabeth Guigou, a former minister of justice, resigned as the head of an independent commission into the prevalence of incest in France, after being identified as a friend of Duhamel.

Kouchner has suggested that a certain Parisian artistic and literary world — spiritual descendants of the writers, artists and intellectuals who penned that 1977 letter — was complicit in the silence surrounding the alleged abuse of Duhamel’s stepson.

One of the signatories of the letter was Gabriel Matzneff, an author accused last year of abusing a minor. Finkielkraut said early last year that he was “ill at ease with the way, through the Matzneff case, the whole post-1968 period is called into question, as well as a Paris literary milieu.”

In the interview, Finkielkraut said, “Suddenly, it seems, I am guilty of complicity because I attempt to distinguish between children and adolescents. I did not want to excuse Mr. Duhamel. I have no indulgence toward pedophilia. What happened was a crime. But we need to know its exact nature.”

He continued: “There is a difference between justice in court, where lawyers argue a case, and contemporary media justice, where all distinctions disappear.”

Finkielkraut, the son of an Auschwitz survivor, is known for the frank and often provocative expression of his views. He was vilified with anti-Semitic abuse after he turned against the Yellow Vest protest movement in 2019, saying the protesters “devastate without regard for anything or anybody.” At a demonstration he was called a “Fascist.” “Tel Aviv, back to Tel Aviv,” the crowd shouted.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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