Updated: Mar 29
The recent beheading of middle school history teacher Samuel Paty became yet another incident in a string of religiously motivated killings in Europe, in particular France. Paty was beheaded by a radical Islamist of Chechen origins- Abdoulakh Anzorov. France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard provided insight into the events leading up to the murder that is now being categorised as an Islamist terrorist attack by French authorities. A parent whose daughter wasn’t a part of the October 5th lesson taught by Paty on freedom of expression and freedom of conscience wrote on social media about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons shown by Paty in the lesson. His post lead Anzorov to his target; finally, Anzorov paid some students approximately $350 to identify Paty a short while before his gruesome killing.
French President Emmanuel Macron after a national ceremony in Paris characterized Paty as a man that embodied the Republic. Paty read the Quran, held an Arab music concert for his pupils, and attended the Paris Arab Institute’s training courses to engage with his students meaningfully. A cleric Abdelhakim Sefrioui issued a fatwa against Paty, Sefrioui’s organization- Cheikh Yassine Collective is now being disbanded. A mosque in a Parisian suburb that initially called for action against Paty on social media has been ordered to shut down for a period of six months, the mosque later deleted the post and condemned the actions of Anzorov. In the attack’s aftermath, French authorities continue their crackdown on institutions thought to be breeding grounds for religiously motivated sentiment against the Republic.
The French Republic remains aloof from the popularly assumed American interpretation of Secularism, France’s Laicite is considered to be a more ‘rigid’ form of secularism that restricts religious symbols from public institutions. A now rapidly growing group stands opposed to such stringent implementation of secularism, they however seem to miss the point. France, a state that guarantees the ‘Right to Blaspheme’ holds in its national identity such ideas; the ability of an individual to cause through their words what the post-modern left would call ‘harm’ is enshrined in their constitution. They argue that Laicite being the regressive and rigid concept it is doesn’t accommodate the religiously based demands of French Muslims, laicite’s proponents say that is precisely the point: to ensure a state that provides rights based on human needs and wants.
A considerable portion of French Muslim students no longer attend public school as religious symbols and activities are restricted in public institutions. Surprisingly a solution is found in private catholic schools. As private schools are not subject to government regulation, religious symbols such as the hijab can be worn by Muslim girls attending school. In an article by the New York Times written by Katrin Bennhod, Jean Chamoux, Headmaster of the Saint Mauront Catholic school says if he banned the headscarf in his school half his students would no longer attend. More than 80% of the school’s students are Muslim. He also reports of ‘troubles’ that he must deal with: students demanding that a crucifix be removed from a room in which they wanted to offer their prayers during Ramadan. He recalls how the Biology teacher has been challenged on Darwin’s theory of evolution, history lessons involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tend to get heated, and how after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks some students reacted in a rather gleeful manner. These incidents seem to offer sound justification to Emmanuel Macron’s plans to ensure Islam aligns itself with the Republic and its values.
Macron has stated that he aims to reform Islam so as to prevent “repeated deviations from the values of the Republic those which often result in the creation of a counter-society.” Under this plan of reform, he aims to establish a board of certification for French-trained imam’s detached from foreign influence, an influence that often tends to impose religious rules incompatible with French society. A depiction of this was also attempted by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo… The French President’s approach, however, is being met with firm resistance; the mainstream media’s obsession to comply with the postmodernists and suggest ‘reform’ for any institution that doesn’t comply with their values is growing. Macron, however, doesn’t offer something that lies juxtaposed to that very pattern, to ‘reform’ an institution within the French Republic so as to ensure its compliance within the society in which it exists. ‘Incidents’ such as those mentioned earlier point to a problem that isn’t sporadic but exists in communities throughout France where religious adherence interferes with the homogenous integration of a community with larger society. And these very cracks splinter into larger rifts leading to tensions in certain regions, an issue that Macron intends to counter with his crackdown on radicalisation.
As France engages itself at home and in the Middle East with the Turkish President questioning Emmanuel Macron’s mental health, the future of the French Republic lies in the balance. The direction the nation chooses will become the bedrock for its society as it navigates the labyrinth to bring together ironically enough: Laicite and Islam.