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Beheading in France over “insulting” Islam

by Samyak Krishna
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French President Emmanuel Macron has called the beheading of a teacher in a Paris suburb an “Islamist terrorist attack”. The victim had shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils. The attacker has been shot dead. The attack is reminiscent of the 2015 slayings of 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The divisions in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo publication, and the slayings, remain raw in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Rekindling an old wound

Much remained obscure in the absence of an official police narrative. But the attack seems to be in sync with France’s recent history of terrorist attacks: an assailant carefully choosing a victim thought to symbolize an offense against Islam. According to Le Monde newspaper, the victim, a teacher of history and geography, had been talking in class about Freedom of Expression in connection with the Muhammad cartoons, which caused uproar among few Muslims when Charlie Hebdo published them. The teacher had reportedly advised Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended.

  • Earlier this month, some Muslim parents complained to the school about the teacher’s decision to use one or more of the cartoons as part of a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo trial, French media report. ‘According to my son, he was super nice, super friendly, super kind” a parent from the school, Nordine Chaouadi, told the AFP news agency. Reacting to this attack, Charlie Hebdo tweeted: “Intolerance just reached a new threshold and seems to stop at nothing to impose terror in our country”
  • The teacher was immediately depicted as a martyr to freedom of expression across the political spectrum. Representatives in France’s Parliament rose to their feet to honor the victim’s memory. If this motive for the killing is substantiated, it will be deeply shocking to the French, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris. They will see it as not just a brutal attack, he says, but a brutal attack on a teacher for carrying out his “duty to explain”.
  • Turmoil at the school over the teacher’s method of instruction – Macron alluded to this in his remarks – had evidently preceded the killing. In a video that widely circulated on YouTube before the attack, a Muslim parent at the teacher’s school, College du Bois-d’Aulne, expresses anger that the teacher had asked Muslims in the class of 13-year-olds to leave because “he was going to show a photo that would shock them.” The parent asks on the video: “Why this hatred? Why does a history teacher act like this in front of 13-year-olds?”

“We have seen the principal, who in these last weeks has withstood with remarkable courage a great deal of pressure, one of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught… the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,”

Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic

France is purging

For the second time in three weeks, terror struck France, this time with the gruesome beheading of a history teacher in a street in a Paris suburb. The suspected attacker was shot and killed by police.

• French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack” and urged the nation to stand united against extremism.The teacher had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, authorities said. Macron visited the school where the teacher worked in the town of Conflans-Saint-Honorine and met with staff after the slaying.

  • The French anti-terrorism prosecutor opened an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive. Four people, one a minor, were detained hours later, the office of anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said without elaborating. Police typically fan out to find family and friends of potential suspects in terror cases.
  • The gruesome killing of the teacher occurred in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine while the suspect was killed by police in adjoining Eragny. French media, quoting witnesses, said the assailant was heard to yell “Allahu akbar” (God is Great) at the moment of the knife attack. A police official said the suspect, armed with a knife and an airsoft gun – which fires plastic pellets – was shot dead about 600 meters (yards) from where the male teacher was killed after he failed to respond to orders to put down his arms, and 18-year-old Chechen, born in Moscow acted in a threatening manner. He was shot 10 times. The suspect’s identity was not made public.

Emmanuel Macron said the attack shouldn’t divide France because that’s what the extremists want. “We must stand all together as citizens,” he said. “They won’t win… We will act,” the president said from the scene. Samuel Paty is the French teacher who was beheaded in a gruesome terrorist attack, according to Reuters, which cited French media.

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“This was an attempt to strike down the republic,” Macron said.

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