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  • Florence Bergeaud

Attempted cancellation of Céline Masson and Caroline Eliacheff's conference in Brussels

Attempted cancellation of Céline Masson and Caroline Eliacheff's conference in Brussels on December 15, 2022 at the Café Laïque.

The Café Laïque Bruxelles in the European district of Schuman was the target of a coordinated attack by trans-activists calling themselves the "Ursula collective". At around 7:00 pm, a group of around twenty young, hooded and masked men and women tried to prevent a conference given by French child psychoanalysts Caroline Eliacheff and Céline Masson. For several years, the latter have been warning of the dangers of "transgenderism", which seeks to influence minors to undergo sometimes irreversible bodily and psychological changes.

Café Laïque Bruxelles is a private space that receives no subsidies. We opened it in March 2022, with the Belgian Fadila Maaroufi, holder of a master's degree in anthropology and lecturer, and myself, an anthropologist at the CNRS, to bring the secular word to the heart of European institutions. He represents neither a university, nor a public institution, nor a political authority, which didn't stop this group from forcing their way in en masse, shouting, shoving and spilling a litter of excrement on the floor. The choice of venue, a private café, shows that the action was not political but terrorist in nature. The action can now take place anywhere, even in a private home.

Let me emphasize this. It's not a question of agitation or hullabaloo, but of terrorism. It's about sowing terror in people's minds and preventing any intelligent initiative from being debated wherever it occurs.

All terrorists graduate their attacks because violence is both the means and the end, and we know the problem at Café Laïque since we often talk about Islamism.

If we don't want contradictory debate to be regarded as an old-fashioned habit, when in fact it is the first and fundamental condition of democracy, then we researchers, teachers, academics and experts must learn to protect ourselves and thwart the modus operandi of these censorious groups, which, by multiplying into small intersectional entities, will be increasingly numerous in disrupting it.

It's not always possible to count on the forces of law and order, for political or budgetary reasons, or even because of a lack of understanding of the threat. On December 15 at the Café Laïque, the Belgian police were in the area (about a hundred meters away) because of a European summit, but (they told us) they didn't have the capacity to patrol around the café, partly because of a lack of manpower, but also because the threat was not considered significant. Yet we had warned, well in advance, of the possibility of undesirable events around the conference because of the pressures already experienced by our two guests in France and Switzerland. According to the police officer we spoke to on the phone, the threat to these groups was assessed by the OCAM (Belgian State Security) at 1/5, and there was therefore no need to dispatch police forces for this type of event.

So we had to provide security ourselves. But we were dealing with an obviously well-organized group.

The modus operandi seemed to have been fairly well mastered, and the action itself took place in a matter of minutes before the police were rushed to the scene. They were nevertheless able to arrest two young Belgian activists.

The action began well before the violent act.

Act 1: Intimidation

It starts with intimidation: calling out the organizer on a social network and/or by e-mail. As the e-mail is private and allows the author to be identified, I can't give its content. Then at least one anonymous account contacts the organizer in a rather polite but firm tone of voice: "You must not invite X, because he is 'transphobic' because etc...or he took part in such-and-such a 'transphobic' event etc... . If you do, then don't be surprised if you too are called 'transphobic'". When the organizer found no evidence to support these allegations, he announced that the conference would go ahead. He was then accused of transphobia in turn on social networks by a swarm of "trolls" (anonymous accounts that act in cliques or packs), in a more direct and unpleasant manner, backed up by insults. It's important not to escalate at this stage, as the group is getting stronger and more aggressive. The organizer asks them to stop this exchange, which is going nowhere, and the activists accuse the organizer of refusing to talk, thus beginning the process of victimization: "they wouldn't listen to us, so we have to make ourselves heard", intended to justify the violent action of act 2.

Act 2: violent action begins

On the day of the event, the planned mode of violent intervention was applied. The idea here was to group around twenty militants outside the café, infiltrate two of them and, at the call of the two infiltrators, burst in, some of them shouting and shoving, while others poured excrement and stuck abusive posters in the window.

Having forced their way in, the group declared that they belonged to a collective. They brutally invade the premises, with a deafening roar designed to seize the wisely seated participants. We're in a private café, remember, and attacks have unfortunately become frequent in Europe. The group threw out leaflets with "demands" in inclusive script, which the organizer had supposedly been warned not to listen to. Thanks to these leaflets thrown in their faces, the invaders don't even need to say why they're there: they're in the middle of an assault, an illegal action, and they haven't come to talk. Hence their hysteria when the microphone is handed to them. They're "bugging", as they say.

We're not dealing with beings of the spoken word, and that's what's so disturbing.

The leaflet states that the collective calls itself "Ursula". It calls for an end to "conversion therapies", accuses the speakers of being transphobic without the slightest factual argument, accuses the Café laïque of being transphobic, but also racist because of the personalities invited (some of the speakers invited by the Café Laïque were P.Bruckner, P.Vermeren, N.Heinich). For them, stopping conversion therapy means that doctors should not be empowered to treat children who have sometimes suddenly decided to change gender. But that's what's so worrying about what Caroline Eliacheff and Céline Masson are reporting: the sudden surge in the desire to change sex that statistically affects all middle and high schools, and in particular a large majority of girls. Would it be suspicious of transphobia to question this sudden phenomenon?

If the organizer tries to discuss what's written in inclusive script on the flyer by handing them the microphone, there's either silence or the screaming of the same slogan over and over again. Here it's possible that the troublemakers didn't want to reveal their accents, knowing that thanks to the covid masks, hoods and dark scarves of a winter evening in Brussels, they'd made sure they weren't formally identifiable. But that's not all. Not expressing oneself, appearing inhuman, is part of the aggression.

It's not a question of getting an institution to listen to political demands, but of preventing speakers from speaking wherever they go, and impressing the public so that they don't take the risk for themselves or their loved ones of frequenting places where serious issues such as transactivism, wokism or Islamism are debated.

So what do they really want? For the Observatoire de la Petite Sirène to stop being transphobic and the Café Laïque to stop being Islamophobic. But to this demand we can only say one thing, and invariably: you can't stop being what you're not.

But they can't hear it, locked as they are in their certainty that contradictory debate is just a word to silence them. Do they still know how to speak? The modus operandi they employ exempts them from this effort. And we can't even talk about that.

Act 3, taking it up a notch for next time

As each attack provokes a reaction, the self-victimizing machine kicks into gear, and the networks pile on the insults and some justify the accusatory slogans, taking the violence up a notch. Image is everything. We denounce, we mark and... we justify the destruction. That's how we discovered a tweet showing the damage and the marking of the Café's window "racist and transphobic café" with the comment: "what's the problem, they did write that the café is racist and transphobic. So they have the right. And they're even super lenient. They could have burned it down because they have the right too."

That's terror.

Le Café Laïque condemns these terrorist acts aimed at preventing the adversarial debate that lies at the heart of our democratic life. Le Café Laïque reaffirms its support for the speakers, and has lodged a complaint against the intimidation, violence and slander perpetrated by the group to whom the microphone was handed.



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