The awful decapitation on October 16th of Samuel Paty, a 47 years high school teacher, has created great emotion in French society. While the rallies to honor Samuel Paty seemed to unite the whole country and to bring out some important features of French values, e.g. the evocation of Camu’s debt to his teacher, the political reactions have exacerbated tensions and ideological divisions . Furthermore, such a dramatic event occurred right after President Macron announced its intention to fight against “Islamic separatism” and (re)opened debates on secularism.
National tributes to an exemplary French teacher
The death of Samuel Paty occurred in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, near the school where he was teaching history and geography. His murderer, a 18 years old Russian from Chechen origins, was shot by the police shortly after the attack. Almost a dozen of people, related to the attacker, were placed in detention the same day, including three minors. The assailant deliberately targeted the teacher ten days after he taught on secularism and initiated a debate on the freedom of speech, in which he discussed Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Samuel Paty offered the option to his Muslim pupils to leave the room during the discussion, in case they feel embarrassed or offended. However, one of the students’ father complained and initiated an online campaign against the teacher, calling for protests against the teacher on his Facebook account. The ongoing police investigation will have to determine if there is a correlation between this campaign and the killing, since the father could have been in contact with the aggressor a few days before the attack.
Samuel Paty was honored throughout the country as in Paris where thousands people gathered. The Ministry of National Education held an official commemoration on November the 2nd. At La Sorbonne University, on October the 21st, Emmanuel Macron praised “an ordinary hero”, while he also reasserted his commitment to fight against terrorism.
Amendments of the bill on “Islamic separatism”
The forthcoming law project on “Islamic separatism” has already been revised to better fight online hate and threats and “those who applies pressure on public servants”. Almost 50 organizations seen as potential threat have been raided by the police forces. The minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin, has ordered the closing of some of them deemed “enemies of the Republic”. Among them the Mosque of Pantin [La Mosquée de Pantin], near Paris, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France or CCIF [Le Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France], and Barakacity, a humanitarian Islamic organization. This governmental retaliation has been strongly condemned by Muslim organizations that have denounced it as abusive and disproportionate. Along this line, the CCIF has lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.
The difficulty to close an association in France
In the French juridical system, most of the associations are registered under the 1901 Law , which grants strong legal protection, as the freedom of association is very important in French political culture and anchored in the preamble of the French Constitution, as a “fundamental principle”. As a result, it is very difficult to close an association, (only few of are dissolved every year), unless they are related to extreme right movements, or to Islamists. Barakacity was dissolved October the 18th but will probably challleget this idecision in court .
The governmental response raises questions
According to France 24 , it will be difficult for the government to implement all the announced forms of restriction of Islamic activities. Firstly, even if those associations sometimes promote a “conservative Islam”, they do not do anything illegal . Secondly, if the targeted associations do not respect the republican principles, the timing is surprising: why did the authorities wait so long to close them? Finally, some argue that closing the associations could potentially lead to a transfer of illegal activities to an other associative framework.
International reactions: a common opposition from Muslim countries to Macron’ speech
Emmanuel Macron’ speech during Samuel Paty’s tribute, as well as the above measures, have been perceived abroad as stigmatizing for Muslims. Macron declared that France would continue to “defend (the freedom of drawing) cartoons of the Prophet”. In response, Turkish President Erdogan asserted his “worriedness for Macron mental health”, resulting in increased hostility between both countries, while calls for a boycott of French products have emerged in Muslim majority countries.
For this reason, Macron granted an interview to Al Jazeera. His goal was on the one hand to ease international and internal tensions while reaffirming his firm convictions on secularism, in the other hand. He commented that his previous declarations on the cartoons were misinterpreted and he even admitted that the cartoons “may shock” Muslims but should not lead to violence.
Between terror attacks and sanitary crisis:
A few hours before the implementation of the second lockdown, on Thursday 29th of October, another terror attack occurred in Nice, in the south of France. A man stabbed to death three people near the Basilica Notre-Dame before being arrested by the police. This new attack led the government to reinstate e “vigipirate ” (French anti-terrorism policy) on the whole territory and to reinforce police and military presence in major cities . Along the same line, places of worships (that remained opened for the weekend) have seen their security enhanced.