The applause spills over the square in waves. Like an acoustic La Ola, sometimes there is clapping on the north side, sometimes on the south side. The Place de la République is full of people, Corona cannot scare them. She horrifies the idea that France is bowing to terror and allowing itself to be divided by religious hatred. They want to stand close together this Sunday in Paris, old and young, fine ladies with poodles in their arms, simple people, families. Some hold up a caricature of Mohammed, and one word is written in capital letters on the banners. The word is also on top of the monument in the middle of the square: “Liberté”.
Juliette wrote “Je suis prof” on her mask, “I am a teacher”. She was shocked by the alleged murder of the teacher Samuel Paty last Friday. “We’ve all been to school once,” says the architect, who just wants to give her first name. “We’ve all been taught the importance of freedom of expression.” She also wants, says Juliette, to stand up against Islam and Islamism being mixed together. She came with a friend, they are there to express their sadness, to come to terms with the recent shock. And to defend their country against the dark, deadly Islamist ideology.
The attack hits the country in the heart. It seems like an assassination attempt on the school as an institution
They want to uphold freedom of expression – this fundamental value of the republic, which also includes the right to blaspheme religion. Paty, 47 years old, wanted to teach the basic value and paid for it with his life. Since the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo In January 2015, with twelve dead, France’s teachers were particularly encouraged by the Ministry of Education to teach these values. Paty did that by drawing out controversial Mohammed drawings Charlie Hebdo showed.
In 2015, 1.5 million people opposed Islamism in Paris. Their motto was: “Je suis Charlie”. This Sunday the motto is “Je suis prof” to show solidarity, as Emmanuel Macron had called for. The president is different today than he was in 2015, but his slogans are similar to those of François Hollande: “You will not get through,” says Macron imploringly. “They will not divide us.”
Nevertheless, everything is different from 2015. Since then, 259 people have died in Islamist attacks in France. The country did not get used to it, but it did get tired. It takes strength to oppose radicalized Muslims. Not least in schools, where Muslim students in some places refuse to take part in physical education or biology classes or deny the equality of women and men. Unlike 2015, the intellectual arsonists are not in Syria or Afghanistan, but in France. They rush against a teacher on Facebook, who then has his head cut off with a knife. And unlike 2015, this time politicians argued only a little after the fact about omissions.
1.5 million people are not on the Place de la République on Sunday, but at least several thousand. People gathered in many cities on weekends. In front of the high school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, where Paty taught, hundreds met for a vigil. Many in the quiet suburb to the north-west of Paris knew Paty. Here he taught, here he lived with his family, here he was killed on Friday. The autumn break had just started.
In the long series of assassinations that France experienced, the one on Paty is one of the most symbolically and emotionally charged. The attack has the effect of an assassination attempt on the school itself, which, in the understanding of the state, ensures the integration of people of all origins and religions. “There is no doubt that we are dealing with enemies of the republic,” said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. “The school is the backbone of the republic.”
People are particularly shocked that it was probably videos of an indignant father that incited the assassin Abdoullakh A. The man denounced his 13-year-old daughter’s teacher for teaching, and gave his name and the address of the school. Some videos were shared by relevant Islamists and mosques. The murderer, it looks like, was instigated by people in the middle of France.
Abdoullakh A. ambushed Paty in front of the high school, according to the Paris anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean François Ricard. He had never seen his victim in person, but knew his name. “A. asked several students to show him Paty,” said Ricard. Abdoullakh A. was born in Moscow in 2002, was of Chechen descent and lived as a recognized refugee in Normandy. He was never noticed by the authorities as a radical Muslim, but as violent. When the police tried to arrest him in Conflans after the crime, he was struck down with nine shots. A. shot the officers with a so-called airsoft rifle and attacked them with a knife, according to public prosecutor Ricard. Before that, he shared a photo of Paty’s severed head on Twitter. This is the revenge on him “who dared to humiliate Mohammed,” he wrote. The account was quickly blocked.
The investigators are now looking for possible accomplices or accomplices. The police took eleven people into custody over the weekend, including the perpetrator’s parents and grandparents. The student’s father, who posted his anger video online, is also questioned.
This Wednesday, Macron wants to honor Samuel Paty as a hero with a state funeral. “A hero?” Asks Juliette, the protester on the Place de la République. “He wasn’t a hero, he just did his job.” She wants what Paty did – teaching children tolerance and democracy – to be taken for granted. And doesn’t become a test of courage.