Amid applause and shouts of “freedom of expression”, thousands of people have gathered in Paris and other major French cities to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, the history and geography teacher who was beheaded for showing Muhammad cartoons in class, at the framework of a debate on freedom of expression. In the Place de la République de Paris there are two slogans that predominate in the crowd: #JeSuisSamu and #JeSuisProf (“I am a teacher” in French) in allusion to the well-known #JeSuisCharlie. Charlie Hebdo covers with Muhammad cartoons also abound.
The square, packed to overflowing, is not just any meeting place. His huge sculpture of Marianne, standing in the center, symbolizes freedom and embodies the values of the Republic. Since 2015 it has also been a place of homage for the victims of terrorism: it is here where more than a million and a half people claimed #JeSuisCharlie five years ago and on the ground there is a plaque in memory of the victims of the Charlie attacks Hebdo and Bataclán.
Professors predominate among the thousands of attendees. “We are here to support this teacher and his family, but also to defend our profession and say that we will not give up, that we will fight whatever happens,” explains Jusine, a primary school teacher, to elDiario.es. He has come with another teacher, Valentine, who says: “He will never stop fighting for the values of the Republic.” Both deny being afraid after the attack on Friday, but they assure that fear exists and that many of their classmates shy away from discussing certain topics in class, such as freedom of expression and the right to blasphemy.
“Many teachers avoid these topics, but Samuel decided to address them. If all the teachers had done like him, perhaps this tragedy would not have happened,” reflects Justine, who insists that they are issues that “are part of the program, they are mandatory. We must train to future citizens without it being taboo and without stigmatizing anyone “.
Kamel, a Parisian, waits alone and in silence among the people. He has decided to join the protest for another reason: “I am a Muslim born in France and I do not accept that there are people who murder in the name of Islam. What has happened is a heinous crime,” he says, worried. “I want people not to confuse peaceful Muslims, who practice their religion in silence, with murderers, jihadists, Islamists and extremists.” A few meters from the statue of Marianne, Thomas holds a sign in the air: “When we don’t like a drawing, we must not kill people, but make a more beautiful drawing,” a phrase popularized by Lea, a girl from six years after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“I am not a teacher,” Thomas explains to this newspaper, “but, like everyone else, I had teachers who taught me to develop a critical sense and freedom of thought. They are values necessary to understand the world. With this act of barbarism, we will prevent society have access to this … We will return to the dark ages! “. Thomas refers to the statements of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, last Friday from the scene of the crime, who declared that “obscurantism and violence will not win.”
In the demonstration, called by Charlie Hebdo, Amnesty International and various educational organizations, there were also members of the Government. The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, the Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, and the Minister of Citizenship, Marlène Schiappa, have made an appearance “in support of teachers, secularism, freedom of expression and against Islamism” . The protest, which started at three in the afternoon, coincides with the first weekend of the entry into force of the curfew, imposed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in Paris and in eight other cities.
Beheaded for teaching Muhammad cartoons to his students
Samuel Paty, 47, was beheaded last Friday while leaving class in the town of Conflants-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb in the northwest of Paris. It happened around five in the afternoon, when a man armed with a kitchen knife appeared at the school and asked the students about the teacher. Finally he found Samuel Paty, who was walking in the direction of his house, and beheaded him. The attacker was killed by the police shortly after, after threatening the officers with his knife shouting “Allah is great.”
According to the first findings of the investigation, the attacker was Abdoullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old Chechen man born in Moscow. He arrived in France as a refugee at the age of three, lived in Normandy and was not registered by the intelligence services. According to the Antiterrorist Prosecutor’s Office, the attacker said “to act in the name of Islam” and on his mobile phone there was a photo of the victim’s head, ready to post on Twitter. The photo was accompanied by a message to the French president: “For Macron, the leader of the infidels, I executed one of your hellhounds who dared to humiliate Muhammad.” For now, eleven people are in police custody, most of them relatives and friends of the aggressor. Among those investigated is also the father of a student of Samuel Paty, who recently posted a video on the internet complaining about the teacher and explaining, outraged, that he had shown cartoons of Muhammad in the middle of class.
The education sector, in the spotlight
This Friday’s attack is the second motivated by the Muhammad cartoons since the trial for the Charlie Hebdo attacks began in 2015. Three weeks ago, a man seriously wounded two people with an ax in front of the former headquarters of the satirical weekly . His initial intention was to set fire to the Charlie Hebdo newsroom for having republished the cartoons of the prophet. Since the process began, workers at the weekly have again received numerous death threats, including from Al Qaeda. The beheading of Samuel Paty not only intensifies the debate on freedom of expression, to the surface among the French in the process of Charlie Hebdo, but it also opens the controversy about secularism in schools. If the press was already in the spotlight, now the education sector is added, one of the fundamental pillars of the Republic.
With France in shock, dozens of parents, teachers and students came to Samuel Paty’s school to bring him flowers, while the Elysee will organize a state tribute this Wednesday. The Ministry of Education has set up a telephone line available 24 hours a day for teaching staff. President Macron, for his part, has already begun to take action on the matter and this afternoon has brought together some of his ministers in an extraordinary Defense Council. In the next few hours, the Government plans to present new security measures in schools.