Wednesday, May 22

How Does the World See the U.S. Campus Protests?

The world is watching what is happening on American campuses with shock, pride, relish and alarm. Scenes from the protests — and of the arrests of protesters — have been top news around the world from Bogotá to Berlin, Tehran to Paris.

In some countries, including France, students have staged protests of their own, though not with the scale and intensity of those in the United States.

Some applaud the protests. Others, particularly in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes, view the crackdowns as proof of America’s hypocrisy on human rights and freedom of speech. Still others see them as the latest sordid chapter of America’s ongoing culture wars.

In some ways, the protests and the response to them are a Rorschach test for the world — the analysis often offering more insight into local politics than into America.

Here is a selection of views from around the world.

Many in France, including Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, see the pro-Palestinian protests as another example of the dangers of “woke” culture — “le wokisme” — which they worry is being imported from the United States and threatening core French Republican values.

On Friday, police officers charged into an elite university in Paris, Sciences Po, to remove students who had occupied the building overnight. The protesters had demanded the university condemn what they called “the ongoing genocide in Gaza” and review its partnerships with Israeli universities.

It was the second time the police have done so in the past nine days — something many say they have never seen before at the university, which was founded in 1872 to educate the country’s future leaders.

Mr. Attal denounced an “active, dangerous minority” of student protesters who he said wanted to impose “an ideology come from across the Atlantic.”

Whether in the United States or France, the protests are seen by many, especially on the right, through the same lens as past movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, which the French establishment has analyzed dismissively as reductive and divisive, a threat to social cohesion.

“One of the characteristics of wokisme is to divide the world into dominants and dominated, oppressors and the oppressed. Today, what we see happening on American campuses is a view classifying Israel as the oppressor and Palestine as the oppressed,” said Chloé Morin, a political analyst who recently published a book denouncing wokisme. “As a result, they can’t accept antisemitism exists and that Jews can also be victims.”

A well-known academic and expert on the Islam, Gilles Kepel, offered a similar analysis. “Wokisme multiplies the narcissism of small differences, which means no society is possible,” he wrote in the newsmagazine L’Express. “It is a mortal danger for democratic societies.”

Supporters of the protests dismiss the notion they are imported from American campuses. They point out that students at Sciences Po had staged protests long before the Columbia campus erupted.

“This is no copycat going on here,” said Pierre Fuller, a professor of Chinese history at Sciences Po, who in late March organized a professors’ petition calling on the university to condemn both Israeli policy in Gaza and Hamas’s hostage taking.

“If it’s a woke imitation, I’d rather be woke than someone who supports genocide,” said Jack Espinose, 22, a public affairs student at Sciences Po who was among the students dragged out by the police on Friday.

A right-leaning talk show broadcast across Egypt recently gave an unexpected amount of airtime to the arrest of an economics professor at Emory University. The show’s host seemed particularly taken with the image of her head being slammed into concrete by a police officer during the breakup of a campus protest, holding the image for two minutes.

“That’s the real White House,” the host, Ahmed Moussa, said with evident relish. “Any words the Americans said before, just do not believe them. Only believe what you see.”

Mr. Moussa, who once said he was proud to be patriotically serving the ruling military and the security agencies, is among several top Egyptian TV personalities to pounce on harsh tactics used by the police on U.S. campuses as a way to criticize Washington, which for years has put Cairo at the receiving end of admonitions about human rights.

Footage of officers pummeling or dragging students has run on a loop on many news channels. Moustpha Bakry, a member of Parliament with his own TV show, said the U.S. had lost its credibility as a champion of liberties.

“You’ve fallen in the swamp,” Mr. Bakry said.

Nashat Dehi, a leading TV host at the channel Ten, widely believed to be linked to the country’s intelligence agency, said Cairo was no longer obliged to respond to the annual U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Egypt.

“The U.S. administration is doing its own intifada to counter the universities’ protesters,” he said.

Germany’s news media has covered the U.S. protests much more extensively than those that occurred on its own campuses in recent months. In particular, they have narrowed in on episodes of antisemitism.

A recent headline in Die Welt read, “With smiling faces they preach hatred against Jews.” Articles posted on its website about the protests are tagged as “antisemitic protests.”

That focus offers a vindication to German decisions to ban many antiwar protests and discourage public criticisms of Israel in the name of fighting antisemitism. That approach has come under international censure, particularly for its chilling effect on the arts world.

“Must it be assumed that the Middle East discourse in New York and London should be considered exemplary?” wrote one commentator in the left-leaning newspaper Taz.

One place where American campus protests have received almost no coverage is China, where state-run media has made little mention of them in the past week.

The most likely reason: Chinese authorities do not want student protests on their own campuses, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor emeritus of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University. “They worry that the students will use that as an excuse to get mobilized,” he said.

The main exception is Guancha, a nationalistic website with a long history of condemning the United States. On Thursday, it prominently displayed articles suggesting that the protests showed divisions in the United States symptomatic of a broader decline in social cohesion.

Other Chinese news organizations with an intended audience outside China, as well as covert influence operations, have seized on the opportunity to amplify the protests and inflame tensions.

While Chinese officials have said little to their own population, Hua Chunying, the chief spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has criticized the United States on X, which is blocked from view in mainland China.

She posted a video montage of scenes of American police wrestling with protesters together with a question, “Remember how U.S. officials reacted when these protests happened elsewhere?”

The country’s two largest newspapers, El Tiempo and El Espectador, published editorials supporting the student protests this week.

At El Tiempo, editors saw the violent student arrests as an opportunity to remind readers of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, so it doesn’t “become part of the landscape,” said Federico Arango, the opinion editor. He said he had lost count of the number of editorials the newspaper had published about the war.

“Hopefully, the protests don’t end only in controversy,” Mr. Arango said. “Hopefully, people see that those students aren’t there for or against Biden or Trump. I think what those students want is for people to see the tragic reality the Palestinian people are going through.”

This week, the country’s left-leaning president, Gustavo Petro, announced he was severing diplomatic ties with Israel. He described the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza as “genocidal.”

At the National University in Bogotá, a public institution known for student movements, walls featured painted slogans like, “It’s not a war, it’s a genocide” and “Don’t stop talking about Palestine.”

“What’s important is showing your discontent, showing that you’re not turning a blind eye to what’s happening in the world,” said Yadir Ramos, 22, a psychology student.

Iran’s state media have been closely covering the protests on American college campuses, considering them proof of America’s double standards regarding freedom of speech.

Pictures of riot police raiding Columbia University were splashed across the front pages of several conservative newspapers in Iran on Thursday, with headlines reading, “This is how America treats students,” and “Crackdown and expulsion are the price of being liberal.”

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian expressed concern about the safety of American student activists and protesters. Last week, on X, he posted a video of police officers tackling students and handcuffing them, calling it “repression” and saying it “clearly shows the dual policy and contradictory behavior of the American government toward freedom of expression.”

Many ordinary Iranians have also taken to social media to express dismay that U.S. universities, which they perceived as bastions of freedom of expression and debate, had called in the police.

Raika, 45-year-old resident of Tehran who asked her last name not be used for fear of retribution, said that the violence reminded her of when she was a college student in Iran and plainclothes security agents raided the Tehran University campus, beating and arresting students who were staging a sit-in.

But, at least, she said the students in the U.S. had access to a fair and independent judicial process.

Reporting was contributed by Erika Solomon in Berlin; Jorge Valencia in Bogotá, Colombia; Farnaz Fassihi in New York; Keith Bradsher in Beijing; and Joy Dong in Hong Kong; Emad Mekay in Cairo; and Ségolène Le Stradic in Paris.