Samuel Paty was a history teacher and wanted to teach his students what freedom of expression meant. At the beginning of October he showed his eighth graders at the “Collège du Bois d’Aulne” Mohammed caricatures. Political drawings with the potential for shock, especially for Muslims, but not only for Muslims. Drawings that have served Islamists for years as a pretext for killing people in France and elsewhere.
Paty, 47 years old, wanted to teach his students that such a thing must be endured because freedom of expression, including freedom of religious blasphemy, is a core value of French democracy. Since the attack on the editorial staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo In January 2015, the French Ministry of Education urged teachers to include these values in the classroom.
Late on Friday afternoon, the autumn break had just begun, Paty was killed – it looks like because he was doing exactly this job. A man armed with a kitchen knife cut the father’s throat on the open road, very close to the Bois-d’Aulne-Gymnasium in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb about 30 kilometers northwest of Paris.
“One of our fellow citizens was murdered because he campaigned for the freedom of expression among schoolchildren,” said President Emmanuel Macron when he visited the crime scene on Friday evening. The head of state looks uncomfortable and he is quick to commit: the teacher has “clearly fallen victim to an Islamist terrorist attack”. The attacker, an 18-year-old man who, according to investigators, was of Chechen origin, is already dead at this point, gunned down by a police task force. He lived with his parents in the town of Evreux in Normandy. That’s about 100 kilometers from the crime scene.
The attack shakes France, once again. Some questions about the stability of the foundation, on which all citizens should stand, are particularly bothering the country: Was the ideal ground for a fanatical assassin by people who themselves do not fully accept the values of the republic when these values are supposedly in conflict with? advised Islam? Specifically: What role does the protest that the parents of Muslim students brought to the school administration and brought into the Internet in the days after Paty’s controversial cartoon lessons? Did the perpetrator, who was evidently not a high school student, feel incited to take revenge?
Macron: “They will not divide us”
The murder of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is one of the most symbolically and emotionally charged acts in the long series of assassinations that France has experienced for years. The attack hits the country in the heart. The fatal attack on a teacher is like an assassination attempt against the school itself, the foundation of the republic, which in the French understanding of the state ensures the democratic integration of people of all origins and religions. “You won’t get through,” says Macron, and it sounds like an incantation. “They won’t divide us.”
The mood in the country is already depressed because of the corona pandemic, since this weekend freedom rights have been restricted by a night curfew in the big cities. Now it seems that the Islamist terror, which has killed 259 people in France since 2015, is also back. The cruel act of Conflans reminds the French that the threat of terrorism from within, which was pushed into the background by Corona, remains high.
That people keep killing, or at least trying to, in the name of Islam. Also people who were not previously noticed by the police as radicalized and those who do not need any guidance from foreign terrorist organizations such as the so-called Islamic State or al-Qaida to take action. Just three weeks ago, a man from Pakistan came to the previous editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo seriously injured two people with a hatchet. In his interrogations he stated that he wanted to protest against the republication of the Mohammed cartoons. The satirical sheet had the drawings at the beginning of the Charlie-Hebdo-The process that is currently running was reprinted.
It is not uncommon for Islamism and social networks to interact in the worst possible way in the attacks. Possibly also in the alleged assassination attempt in Conflans-Saint-Honorine.
In his class, Samuel Paty is supposed to do a cartoon Charlie Hebdo have shown who depicts Muhammad naked. The prophet crouches on the ground praying, his buttocks stretched up high and covered with a star. Above it says: “Mohammed: A star has risen.”
Rodrigo Arenas from the school parents organization FCPE reports that a few days ago “a very outraged father” complained to him about this process. Several parents are also said to have complained to the school management, even demanding the dismissal of the educator and filing charges against him. And: The father of a 13-year-old schoolgirl posted a video in which he complained about the cartoon lessons. He called Paty a “crook” and asked to distribute this video.
It is still unclear whether the killer knew the video. He was born in Moscow in 2002 and had not yet been noticed by the French authorities as a radicalized Muslim. Only as a petty criminal. Like some Islamist terrorists in France before him. In Conflans, according to witnesses, he shouted “Allah Akbar” on Friday. He was struck down with ten shots by a task force when police officers tried to catch him. The man refused to put down his knife and wanted to attack the officials, reports the French media, citing investigators.
Shortly after the attack, a gruesome message appeared on the short message service Twitter. It showed Paty’s severed head. This is the revenge on “the one who dared to humiliate Mohammed”, it said in the message, in which President Macron was also called “the leader of the infidels”. The Twitter account was quickly blocked. It is not yet clear whether Paty’s killer was the author of this post.
The Paris Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor immediately took the investigation. In search of possible accomplices or accomplices, the police took nine people into custody until Saturday morning. Among them are the parents and grandparents of the perpetrator. The student’s father, who posted his anger video online, is also questioned.
Teaching becomes a test of courage
France is deeply insecure – especially its teachers, it would be all too understandable. The killing of the colleague Paty seems like a massive intimidation, according to the French educational associations. You ask who should now take the test of courage to teach the republic’s principles of freedom. For years, teachers in France have been confronted time and again with parents who forbid their children to take part in physical education or biology classes for religious reasons.
This is what Macron calls “Islamist separatism”. Just a few days ago, the president gave a keynote address on how he intends to counter these secession tendencies in his own country. After the bloodshed at Conflans, he and his ministers now ceaselessly assure teachers of the solidarity that the whole country has for them. Liberal imams condemn the attack and declare that Mohammed cartoons are of course compatible with Islam. Of course, the political struggle to interpret the attack has long since begun: Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing extremist party Rassemblement National, calls for Islamism to be “driven out of our country by force” – as if it were not a homemade product of French society itself.
Macron wants Samuel Paty to be honored as a hero in a state ceremony next week. “Obscurantism and violence will not win,” says the head of state. He is right in the middle of the fight against separatism.
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