France honours ‘hero’ teacher killed for Mohammed cartoon


PARIS: One year after the brutal murder of a French teacher, beheaded for showing his students caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, schools are struggling with how to teach core French values ​​without inflaming tensions with young Muslims.
Samuel Paty, 47, was killed after leaving the high school where he taught history and geography in the quiet Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the night of October 16, 2020.
His killer, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, who had been living in France for years, claimed the attack as revenge for Paty showing her class the Muhammad cartoons in a lesson on freedom of expression.
On Saturday there will be several ceremonies in memory of the popular teacher acclaimed by the president Emmanuel macron as a “silent hero” of the French republic.
In Conflans, ceremonies will include the unveiling of a monument to an open book, while in Paris, a square in front of the prestigious Sorbonne University will be renamed in his honor.
Paty’s violent death shocked France, where it was seen as an attack on core values ​​instilled by teachers in generations of schoolchildren, including the separation of church and state and the right to curse.
For the sociologist Michel Wieviorka, it was an attack on the idea, long cherished by the French, “that children leave their differences at the door when they enter school.”
Students are expected to embark on the path to “modernity, progress, civilization and knowledge” in the classroom, he added.
In scenes reminiscent of rallies that followed the 2015 assassination of a group of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, whose drawings Paty showed her class, thousands of people marched through France in defense of freedom of expression after the assassination of the teacher.
At least three cities went on to name schools after Paty, including the multi-ethnic suburb of Valenton in eastern Paris.
Despite the display of defiance, some teachers say that Paty’s murder has led to a form of self-censorship.
A teacher from a town near Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, who did not want to be named, told AFP that she is now “more reserved” when discussing religion with her class.
In an interview with the Liberation newspaper, one of Paty’s colleagues said that she too had become more cautious.
“I weigh every word I say now,” the woman, who was also not named for security reasons, told the newspaper.
He said he feared his comments could be “misinterpreted by students and widely shared (outside of school), as happened with Samuel.”
Paty’s decision to show 14-15 year old students two cartoons of Muhammad, one with the prophet naked on all fours, sparked a vicious online smear campaign started by a student’s father who falsely claimed that Paty had asked. Muslims leaving the classroom.
The campaign caught the attention of Normandy extremist Anzorov, who tracked Paty to her school and paid some of her students to point her out as she walked home from work.
Anzarov himself was shot dead that same day by the police.
The attack came amid heated debate over Macron’s campaign against what he called “Islamist separatism” in immigrant communities, where conservative Muslims are accused of rejecting secularism, free speech and other taught values. at school.
Macron was accused by left-wing critics at the time of stigmatizing Europe’s largest Muslim community and pandering to the far-right ahead of the 2022 elections.
But on the right, voters and politicians have long urged tougher measures to restore state authority in what a group of teachers described in a 2015 book as the “lost territories of the Republic.”
Among them is controversial media expert Eric Zemmour, a possible presidential candidate in next year’s vote, who has stated that Paty is assassination proof that France is in a “civil war” with radical Islamists.
The anti-Islamic commentator, who polls show approaching Marine Le Pen for far-right leadership, emphasizes the need for immigrants to assimilate into French society.
For Wieviorka, however, the notion that newcomers must renounce the customs and culture of their home countries is not tenable.
“That’s the old French model that really doesn’t work anymore,” he said.
He contrasted the harsh rhetoric of ministers about secularism with the reality in schools, where students daily challenge teachers about laws protecting the right to mock people’s faith, which many Muslims consider to be primarily aimed at the Islam.
“They (the teachers) are not prepared for that,” he said.
To help them provide answers, the Ministry of Education has developed a series of educational tools, including a “republican guide” sent to each school and a series of posters explaining secularism.

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