On Friday, October 16th, Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher, was decapitated in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a northwestern suburb of Paris. The perpetrator, an 18-year-old man, was shot dead by police following the incident. In response, President Emmanuel Macron has announced that France will engage in a harder crackdown on radical Islamism.
Samuel Paty had recently taught a class on the freedom of speech, using a caricature of Prophet Muhammad. This instigated controversy among some student’s parents who reported Paty to the police. However, no charges were laid against the teacher. The caricature that Paty used was published by a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in 2015.
At the time, the French Muslim community as well as other Muslims around the world have perceived it to be extremely offensive because the visual depiction of the Prophet is strictly forbidden. The same sentiments have been provoked following the caricature’s republication just a few months ago. In 2015, an armed group stormed the Charlie Hebdo office killing 12 people in response to the first publication. The attack was orchestrated by Islamist activists: Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. Nonetheless, the Muslim community then, and now, have condemned these barbaric acts as inhumane and unjustified. The Grand Mosque of Paris issued a statement on its website, saying that their community was “shocked and horrified by the violence.”
The president’s response to these incidents has been extremely contentious. On October the 2nd, a few weeks before this recent incident, Macron delivered a speech to the French nation which was entirely focused on radical Islamism in France. He announced that France has a new plan on fighting radical Islamism in the country and insisted on France’s attachment to secular values. Macron has also stressed that “Islam is a religion in crisis all around the world,” fueling further contention. As a result, a mosque in Paris has been temporarily closed, and the Cheikh Yassine collective, a pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist movement, was dissolved. According to the French Home Affairs Minister, Gerald Darmanin, this was necessary as these particular movements incite terrorist behaviour in the country.
Although the attacks are unjustifiable, Macron needs to be careful not to equate Islam to radical Islamism—a religion compared to a political ideology. His recent responses have negatively portrayed the Muslim community. This is really concerning given the anti-Muslim discrimination which has been an issue in the country for decades. By implying that Islam is the cause of terrorism in France, Macron is misleading the French public opinion and invigorating anti-Muslim sentiments that already exist.
Moving forward, it is important that the Muslim community in France is included in finding a peaceful solution, rather than being continuously vilified and excluded from the mainstream French society. They also condemn terrorism and radical Islam, as they are often its first victims. The creation of this misperception that all Muslims are prone to radicalization is false. It is impeding an effective long-term solution to the problem by increasingly portraying Muslims as hostile to the French Republic’s values. Regrettably, in his last address to the nation, President Macron seemed to be more concerned about his re-election in 18 months than about prompting the safety, prosperity, and well-being of the French society.
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