France pays tribute to teacher beheaded over Mohammed cartoons

French Prime Minister Jean Castex stands during the unveiling of a memorial plaque at the French Education ministry in Paris
French Prime Minister Jean Castex stands during the unveiling of a memorial plaque at the French Education ministry in Paris, on October 16th, 2021, one year after French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an extremist. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)
France paid tribute to schoolteacher Samuel Paty on Saturday, one year after he was beheaded by an extremist after showing his class cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

Paty, 47, was stabbed and then decapitated after leaving the middle school where he taught history and geography in the tranquil Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the evening of October 16th, 2020.

Paty’s violent death stunned the French. Educators saw it as an attack on the core values teachers have taught generations of schoolchildren, including the separation of church and state and the right to blaspheme.

READ ALSO: What we know about the murder of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty

“To pay tribute to Samuel Paty is to pay tribute to the Republic,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a ceremony flanked by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and in the presence of the victim’s family.

“Nothing could be worse than forgetting,” Castex said.

“Samuel Paty was a victim of Islamist terrorism and human cowardice.”

Castex unveiled a plaque at the entrance to the Ministry of Education that read: “Homage to Samuel Paty… Murdered by an Islamic terrorist for teaching and defending the values of the Republic, including freedom of expression.”

French Prime Minister Jean Castex and French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer (L) attend the unveiling of a memorial plaque in memory of Samuel Paty

French Prime Minister Jean Castex and French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer (L) attend the unveiling of a memorial plaque in memory of Samuel Paty. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Paying tribute to Paty was also a way to support the Republican project, Castex said, “the most promising bulwark against all barbarities”.

One former colleague, paying tribute, recalled how Paty would sometimes conduct “philosophical debates on freedom, his Star Wars mug in his hand”.

Other tributes took place at the school where Paty taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. About one thousand people, including his former colleagues and students, attended the unveiling of a monument in his honour, in the form of a book.

There were ceremonies too in his hometown Eragny-sur-Oise on the outskirts of Paris, and at the Elysee Palace.

The Twitter feed of French President Emmanuel Macron showed a montage of the different ceremonies, with extracts of the tributes paid to him by his colleagues and by Macron.

A square facing the Sorbonne University in the capital’s Latin Quarter is to be named after Paty.

Schools in at least three towns have already been named after Paty, including in the multi-ethnic eastern Paris suburb of Valenton.

Choir of students sing at a tribute to murdered schoolteacher Samuel Paty at Jean-de-la-Fontaine high school in Paris

A choir of students sing at a tribute to Samuel Paty at Jean-de-la-Fontaine high school in Paris on October 15th, 2021. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Coming in the wake of other attacks blamed on Islamist extremists, the anniversary of Paty’s death has reignited debate over integration and immigration in France’s officially secular society as the country heads to 2022 presidential polls.

‘We will not forget’

Paty’s killer, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, claimed the attack was revenge for Paty having shown his class the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed printed in the virulently anti-religion magazine Charlie Hebdo in a lesson on free speech.

The lesson infuriated some parents and set off a social media fury fraught with rumours and falsehoods about what had been taught.

Paty’s killing prompted an outpouring of emotion in France, with tens of thousands taking part in rallies countrywide in defence of free speech and the right to mock religion.

But French President Emmanuel Macron sparked a backlash when he vowed the country “will not give up cartoons”, with counter-protests popping up in some Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Libya and Tunisia.

Students and professors gather in the courtyard of Les Battieres college in Lyon on October 15th, 2021 for an homage to French teacher Samuel Paty

Students and professors gather in the courtyard of Les Battieres college in Lyon on October 15th, 2021 for an homage to French teacher Samuel Paty one year after his death. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP) 

On Friday, schools across France commemorated the teacher with a minute of silence, debates or the screening of documentaries on the freedom of speech.

“We will not forget Samuel Paty,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said during a visit to one Paris high school.

He had previously called the memorials “a chance to talk about the role of teachers, and of knowledge”.


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