Slaying of teacher sparks protests across France

William Paul Ellis | Staff Writer

The murder of a teacher from France has become a source of outrage throughout the country, inspiring teachers and activists to engage in protests for freedom of expression and the protection of educators. 

Samuel Paty, 47, was found decapitated in a Parisian suburb on Oct. 16. Later that day, before being gunned down by French police, Abdoullakh Abouyezidovitch, 18, took credit for the killing on Twitter.

Eleven other people, including two school children, have been taken into custody in connection to the crime, according to the BBC News.

The murder was allegedly committed out of anger over a lesson Paty recently taught in a freedom of expression class at the Collège du Bois d’Aulne. During the lesson, Paty showed a caricature of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad from Charlie Hebdo magazine. 

French President Emmanuel Macron charterized the incident as an “Islamist terroist attack.” French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also spoke out in support of the rights and safety of French teachers, adding that the nation would work to defeat the opposition against democracy. 

“What has happened is beyond words,” Blanquer said. “There are no words for it, and we must fight against it.”

Teachers and accompanying  protestors held demonstrations throughout France in the wake of Paty’s murder, carrying posters with the words “I am a teacher” and  “I am Samuel.”

A local French teacher told Le Monde newspaper that she came to the protests after she “realized you could die teaching.”

Many fear that Paty’s death will further create a divide over secularism within France, a value that the country and its citizens have long celebrated.

Secularism, the idea that religious institutions should be separate from the state, is partially responsible for freedom of expression in France, another noted cultural value. 

However, after a murder so heavily influenced by religous belief, discussions surrounding the role of religion and religous extremisim in France are inevitable. 

Tierra Mack, a senior at Hampton University believes that while freedom of expression is important, so is religious tolerance. 

“Violence at any level should never be tolerated, but it’s also important to understand what can be offensive to other people and their religious beliefs,” Mack said. 

On October 21, Paty was posthumously awarded the Légion d’honneur, the highest honor given in France.

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