Two days ago, in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the outskirts of Paris, a 47-year old French teacher of the humanities, Samuel Paty, was decapitated in the street by an Islamist for having dared show his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a course on freedom of expression. It is no exaggeration to say that France is in a state of shock. Mass demonstrations are planned, the usual flowers and candles are being brandished, politicians are expressing outrage, and teachers are carrying placards declaring ‘Je suis enseignant’ in solidarity. We have seen it all before with Charlie Hebdo, except that this time it seems that teachers are on the front line.
The politicians’ expressions of outrage are welcome so far as they go. Macron has declared that Samuel Paty died in defence of freedom of expression, and that the values of the Republic are under threat. Blanquet, the Minister of Education, has declared that all teachers should be able to show their pupils these cartoons. But whether any teachers will choose to risk their lives doing so in class is another matter. Whether Macron and the French Republic will review its support for continued mass immigration and open borders, along with the dream of a multicultural society, is also another matter.
Five years ago, Western leaders including Cameron converged on Paris to pronounce ‘Je suis Charlie’ in solidarity with the murdered cartoonists, and then scuttled home to redouble their efforts to stifle free speech and criticism of ‘multiculturalism’ by declaring anyone who causes offence to protected minorities a ‘hate’ criminal, and anyone who offends Muslims an ‘Islamophobe’. No-one in the media dared publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, not only for fear of being murdered, but also for committing a hate crime. So much for freedom of speech.
Yet one senses that this time something more is in the air, that people recognize there is more at stake. Only one teacher killed – so far – but the monstrous irony that he was teaching his pupils a course in freedom of expression cannot be lost even on the liberal at heart.
In a powerful editorial in the Figaro this morning, Vincent Trémolet de Villers has voiced what millions of French must be thinking: ‘After the soldier, the Jew, the cartoonist, the journalist, the cop, the priest, the teacher is now the target of the barbarians. The goal is clear: make it impossible, by murder, to criticise Islam.’ He castigates the political class whose past response has been to ‘track down “hate speech” from the depths of a guilt-ridden France’, and ends: ‘Yesterday our country was struck in the heart. A teacher died of teaching freedom. When are we finally going to wake up?’
But it is philosopher and scourge of multiculturalism Pascal Bruckner who has caught the mood of readers with this suggestion as to how the nation should respond to the Islamists’ macabre warning to all teachers that they must ‘be silent or perish’. He has in mind something other than flowers, candles, and minutes of silence: ‘The whole nation must join in an act of daring: we must immediately reproduce on a massive scale all the caricatures of Charlie, display them on all our walls, and silence the murderers. They can kill one person,but they cannot kill us all.’
We shall see if the Figaro, France’s conservative standard, takes the lead on Mondaymorning.