In France, after the murder of a teacher, marches were held for freedom of speech and learning

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With the participation of thousands of people, marches were held on Sunday in several French cities for “freedom of expression, against darkness and barbarism.” The immediate impetus for them was Friday’s murder of a high school history teacher by an Islamic radical.

Representatives of major political parties, public organizations and trade unions also took part in the marches.

The main event took place in Paris, but protest rallies also took place in Lyon, Toulouse, Nantes, Lille, Marseille, Strasbourg and other cities.

The mass media reported on tens of thousands of participants, the exact numbers of which are not yet known.

There were several members of the government in the crowd in Paris: Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and Marlene Schiappa of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as Paris Mayor Anne Hidalg, who also came to express support for “teachers, secularism, freedom of expression and learning”.

Cartoons of Muhammad

The victim of Friday’s attack was Samuel Paty, a teacher of history, geography and civics at the College-Bois-d’Aulne in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, located in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region near Paris.

The French media reported that Paty had shown his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad a few days ago as part of a seminar on freedom of expression, which had recently been published again in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Teachers’ attitude has caused outrage in local Islamist circles. One of the parents complained directly to the headmaster of the high school, accompanied by Abdelhaki Sefrioui, a well-known figure in radical Islamism in France. Both Sephriou and the father are among those detained after the attack on the teacher.

Paty was assassinated on Friday by an 18-year-old Chechen who had refugee status with his family in France. Before the attack, the young man spread threats against the teacher in his community and on the Internet.

French law enforcement officials have described the murder of a teacher as a terrorist attack. 11 people have already been detained in connection with the attack.

In a commentary on France 24 television on Sunday, French counter-terrorism expert Roger Marion linked the crime to “radical Islamic proselytism” in France in recent decades.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television on Sunday that teachers feared reactions from their Muslim students, which he said could lead to self-censorship among teachers.

Attal called it an “unacceptable” phenomenon and expressed a wish that the violent death of teacher Paty would become an opportunity for a “republican awakening.” However, he described the problem of attacks on secularism in French schools as considerable.

Attacks on secularity

The French Ministry of Education reported on Sunday that, from September 2019 to March this year, it had recorded 935 different attacks on the secular nature of French statehood in schools in France.

In connection with this balance, Attal admitted that France had failed in the face of the challenge posed by the confinement of Muslim communities. He expressed the opinion that the country decided to “sweep under the rug years ago, perhaps decades ago”.

The French president’s office, meanwhile, has announced that a national farewell to teacher Paty will take place on Wednesday, October 21.

Following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in 2015, France experienced a wave of Islamist attacks, which led the state leadership to a nationwide debate on the place of Islam in secular society.

Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre on the Place de la République in Paris, about 1.5 million people gathered to support freedom of speech in France.



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