Samuel Paty’s Murder Sparks French Protests for Free Speech


Noa Belehssen

The murder of Samuel Paty sparks protests all over France, mostly fighting for freedom of speech.

Noa Belehssen, Staff Writer

In a suburb north of Paris, French teacher Samuel Paty was recently murdered for showing religious cartoons to his class. Paty had been an eighth-grade history and geography teacher at Bois-d’Aulne middle school until he was attacked over the controversial “Charlie Hebdo” magazine excerpt. The teacher’s murder resulted in French citizens protesting for freedom of speech as many were upset by the circumstances and motivations of the homicide.

18-year-old Abdoullakh Abouyezidovitch used a kitchen knife to behead Samuel Paty on Oct. 16. Before he was chased and shot to death by the French police, Abouyezidovitch spread a picture of his attack on Twitter with a message saying he had executed one of French President Macron’s “dogs of hell” who had belittled the Prophet Muhammad.

This event can be connected to the terrorist attack that took place five years ago on the premises of “Charlie Hebdo” headquarters in Paris, France. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly French magazine featuring cartoons that sometimes mock religion. Their magazine’s caricatures can sometimes be seen as offensive to devout people but are argued to be the illustrators’ way of exercising freedom of speech. Some of their cartoons, including some that might have been shown in Mr. Paty’s class, were found offensive by some. For example, one of their most famous caricatures showing Mohammed was calling out fundamentalists but was mistaken as calling Muslims stupid.

Charlie Hebdo is known for mocking all religions’ beliefs and religious texts, exaggerating their physical traits or focusing on what they wear. However, one reason that Muslims felt more targeted or offended by their cartoons is because a part of their religion is the prohibition of representing or illustrating God or the Prophet, which was obviously being done in the caricatures. Some French Muslims said this violated their religion while others argued for the secularism of the French Republic.

“I know freedom of speech is so important, but I am not even Muslim and I feel like that might have been a little offensive,” freshman Adrian Guerrero said.

As a result of the nature and source of the material, Samuel Paty showing these caricatures to his pupils sparked complaints from numerous parents. One of these parents publicly posted their aggravated complaints about the teacher in a Youtube video. This video was seen by many before getting taken down. The comment section consisted of some people agreeing with the complaints of the parent as well as other parents defending the teacher. One parent explained that Mr. Paty gave a warning to his students before class that day, saying they had his permission to leave class if they were not comfortable viewing the subject.

Moreover, these events introduce new questions to the Republic and its people. Should freedom of speech have a limit? To what extent can it be taken to? Is Charlie Hebdo taking their caricatures too far? Freedom of speech is often considered one of the important human rights. For much of history and still in some countries today, people’s opinions were and are not allowed to be shared. Now, perhaps more than ever, being able to share one’s opinion freely without fear of being harmed is something still being fought for, while some extremists like Abouyezidovitch try to prevent certain expressions.

“The government should never be able to stop us from criticizing them or sharing our opinion, but I feel like it should come naturally to humans to limit themselves when it comes to potentially offending entire races, or in this case, religions” freshman Giada Proccopio said.

President Emmanuel Macron responded to the terrorist attack with a message to the people of France. The message stated that the government would not “let them pass.” In other words, he was saying that he would not allow actions such as these to divide the country. Macron did refer to Paty’s murderer as an Islamic terrorist. Unfortunately, some connect the entire Islamic religion to terrorism because of past attacks such as this one. These terrorist attacks have caused Islamaphobia to increase in France, ultimately leading to attacks such as the recent assault next to the Eiffel Tower where two Muslim women wearing hijabs were stabbed.

Samuel Paty’s murder initiated protests all across France. The protestors marched in France’s big cities like Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Marseille and Bordeaux, demonstrating the Republic’s values of freedom of speech and the importance of teachers. The biggest protest was held on the Place de la Republique where 1.5 million people stood together in homage to Samuel Paty.

Many posters read the word game: “Je suis en…seignant”, enseignant meaning “teacher” and en saignant meaning “while bleeding” in French. Some posters also said “I am Samuel” or “they will not behead the Republic”. Additionally, the signs saying “I am Teacher” referenced the messages from the protests following the attack back in 2015 that said “I am Charlie.”

Citizens protested for a secular country, where religious rules are not enforced on any press or speech. They also promoted the French Republic’s values: freedom, equality and fraternity. Parents protested for their children to keep being educated by teachers like Mr. Paty about the freedom of speech.

Education is life’s gift to children and teachers are the ones that provide them with important knowledge. Samuel Paty will not be forgotten because he lost his life teaching his students something that will allow them to impact the future generation. The closer France gets to the next presidential elections, this event brings the French people together and reminds all that there are problems bigger than just each individual. French citizens will continue to debate over these issues of religion and freedoms.

[powr-twitter-feed id=c9f804e6_1604763799382]