27 October 2020

The Washington Post: “Gruesome details emerge in beheading of French teacher who showed students Muhammad cartoons”

As further details emerged, the incident reignited some of the most explosive debates in the French national lexicon: the value of free expression in a country that, unlike the United States, does abide by hate-speech laws, and the place of Islam in a nominally secular but post-colonial society in which Muslims are among the largest minority groups.

Paty’s decision to show these drawings to teenage children raised eyebrows, with some Muslim parents complaining to the school’s leadership, French media reported. One of the offended parents took his dispute to social media, which is probably how the suspect — who had no known ties to the school or to that parental dispute — learned of the issue, authorities suggested.

But according to some parents, Paty had also tried to be as sensitive as possible to offensive potential of the images he wanted to discuss.

Nordine Chaouadi, a parent of a 13-year-old in Paty’s class, told Agence France-Presse that he had allowed Muslim students to leave the classroom during the discussion.

At no point did he want to be disrespectful — that’s what my son told me, he said.

James McAuley

Horrendous and shocking murder, recalling the Charlie Hebdo attack five years ago, an attack both on free speech and on secular institutions.

A man lays a flower outside College du Bois d’Aulne, the school where a slain teacher was working
A man lays a flower outside College du Bois d’Aulne, the school where a slain teacher was working, on Saturday in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris. (Michel Euler/AP)

The world is crazy enough as it is, and I wouldn’t want to contribute to the torrent of misinformation and paranoia, but I can’t help suspecting that this attack was somehow orchestrated to sow division in French society, to reignite Muslim fear and hatred of Western civilization. Already there are reports of protests against President Macron and calls to boycott French products in the Arab world. Meanwhile Israel’s relations with some Arab states are thawing, slowly but surely, so the Israeli Prime Minister is likely relieved that Israel is no longer seen as enemy number one in the eyes of Palestinians. Tensions are rising between France and Turkey as well because of President Erdogan’s comments about Emmanuel Macron’s mental health and treatment of Muslims – increased friction inside NATO generally plays into Vladimir Putin’s agenda. On top of that, the attacker was born in Moscow… He was too young to have been a member of the FSB, but he could have been influenced and manipulated into committing the crime.

There are very few countries where the figure of the history teacher is more symbolic and powerful than in France. Since the Third Republic firmly took education from the hands of the church in the early 1880s and made it free, mandatory and secular, its peaceful infantry of teachers has been the bedrock of the French republic. Their task was clear: to spread the values of the Enlightenment to the remotest parts of France – in other words, to open young minds to the world around them in all its complexity. Young, devoted teachers were thus trained by the state not only to educate children but to root out superstition from the classroom. State schools became the places where the French entered as infants and left as citizens. The church was still free to teach children in its schools but those were closely monitored by the state and had to scrupulously follow the national curriculum.

Agnès Poirier

Notable as well: the lack of reaction from Arab nations, neither protests nor calls to boycott, to the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar or to the Chinese detention camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang, which I think we can all agree are much graver actions against much larger Muslim populations than anything happening in France.

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