There are currently autumn holidays in France. But when school resumes in early November, many teachers want to deal with the terrorist act with their students in the classroom in the Parisian suburb of Conflans-Saint-Honorine. There, history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in the street by an Islamic hitman last Friday, who was subsequently shot by police.
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Before he was murdered, Paty, who had shown cartoons of Mohammed in class, was pilloried by a schoolgirl’s father. If the conservative president of the Paris Region, Valérie Pécresse, has his way, then in future, in response to the act of terrorism, a day in schools across the country should be dedicated to freedom of expression and the right to caricatures to publish.
Pécresse apparently gets on the nerves of the French: According to a poll published Thursday by the Ifop opinion research institute, 78 percent of those surveyed agree that teachers in a class about freedom of speech show critical caricatures about religion.
The attacker was apparently in contact with Syria
Investigators in the case of the terrorist act in Conflans-Saint-Honorine believe the attacker has been in contact with a Russian-speaking jihadist in Syria. The newspaper “Le Parisien” cited the city of Idlib as the residence of the jihadist, which is said to have been located based on his IP address.
Two students helped the Islamist
However, one of the reasons that led to the attack is the spread of fundamentalist ideas among a minority of students and parents in France. The investigation revealed that the hitman paid two students last Friday to help him identify the 47-year-old teacher shortly before the crime.
According to the current state of the investigation, the hitman, a refugee with Chechen roots, left the two boys in the dark about his murderous intentions. He did explain to the students that he wanted to do violence to the teacher. The young accomplices aged 14 and 15 are among the seven people who have now been investigated.
However, the discussion about the influence of Islamism on schools in France has a long history. Since 2004, school children in France are no longer allowed to wear visible religious symbols. This also applies to the headscarf. With this legal arrangement, the strict advocates of the separation of religion and state seemed to have prevailed in France.
The learning content is questioned by Muslim students
Yet it still happens that students from Muslim parent families in particular question individual parts of the lesson because of their religious beliefs. Between September 2019 and March 2020, the Ministry of Education registered 935 such incidents. Typical cases include questioning the theory of evolution, sex education and gender equality.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer opened a national education debate on Thursday planned before the teacher was attacked. One of the objectives of the three-month round table with representatives from the education sector is to increase the salaries of teachers in France, which are below the average of the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). To this end, the budget of the Ministry of Education has been increased by 500 million euros next year. After the death of Samuel Paty, the education debate will now also revolve around security measures in French schools.
Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer takes on the UNEF student union. Photo: AFP
In addition, Blanquer hired numerous professors and students at French universities by criticizing the rampant “Islamic left extremism” in universities. According to Blanquer, there are “intellectual complicity” that ultimately led to crimes such as the murder of Samuel Paty. The student association UNEF and the left-wing movement “Unyielding France”, which Blanquer explicitly criticized in an interview with radio station “Europe 1”, rejected the minister’s allegations.
The heated mood in France after the murder of Paty is evident from the threats and destruction against mosques in Béziers in southern France and in Bordeaux. In Bordeaux, strangers had smeared the mosque with Celtic crosses, which are used as symbols by right-wing extremists. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin instructed the prefects of the relevant departments to tighten up security measures for mosques.