October 15, 2021 Faith Matters

French schools pay tribute to teacher beheaded by radical Islamist

French schools have paid tribute to a teacher beheaded by a radical Islamist last year after he showed caricatures of the prophet of Islam to his class.

Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher, was murdered on October 16 near his school in a north-west Paris suburb by an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who had become radicalised. The attacker was later shot dead by police.

The two-day national homage includes a minute’s silence held in schools on Friday, with teachers to organise a discussion in classes on the memory of Mr Paty.

“We must not succumb to fear,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said in a speech at a Paris high school, adding the French republic will not abandon its “values of freedom and democracy”.

“Samuel Paty was doing what was expected from a teacher: transmit knowledge.” He “wanted to teach his students to think by themselves … We will never forget him”, Mr Blanquer said. Some classrooms and schools will be named after the teacher.

Earlier on Friday, the rector of the Paris Grand Mosque and about 20 imams laid a wreath in homage to Mr Paty outside his school in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, with a banner reading: “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, hatred leads to violence.”

Chems-Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque, said: “We are sad and angry at the same time. Sad because a man has been killed, survived by an orphan … No matter the reasons, one can’t kill a man in the name of Islam. It’s impossible, it’s the very antithesis of what Islam is about in all the Koran verses.”

A ceremony will take place on Saturday at the Ministry of Education, where a plaque honouring Mr Paty will be unveiled.

His family will also meet President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex, and a gathering will be organised near the teacher’s school.

The killing led French authorities to reaffirm France’s cherished rights of expression and secularism.

Mr Paty’s name was disclosed on social media after a class debate on free expression during which he showed caricatures published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which triggered a newsroom massacre by extremists in January 2015.

Authorities have identified Mr Paty’s killer as Abdoullakh Anzorov, a Moscow-born Chechen refugee. Anzorov claimed responsibility in a text accompanied by a photograph of the victim found on his phone.

Sixteen people have since been charged in the case, most of them for “complicity in a terrorist murder” or “criminal association”.

They include five students of Mr Paty’s school, all minors, accused of having helped the killer in exchange for promises of payments of 300-350 euros.

The investigation established that the attacker knew the name of the teacher and the address of his school but he did not have the means to identify him.

The suspects also include a student’s father who posted videos on social media that called for mobilisation against the teacher. His daughter has been charged with defamation.

An Islamist activist who helped the man disseminate the virulent messages naming Mr Paty has also been charged in the case.