The Beheading of a Teacher in France Exposes a Cultural Schism That Threatens President Macron’s Future

Even in a rustic that has suffered devastating terrorist assaults up to now 5 years, the macabre beheading of a schoolteacher Oct. 16 has surprised France, as politicians and common residents grapple with non secular extremism of their midst—igniting a political battle that might threaten the prospects of President Emmanuel Macron.

Samuel Paty, a middle-school historical past and civics trainer, was on his means residence from work Friday afternoon in a quiet suburban city north-west of Paris when an attacker cornered him on the road, and stabbed him repeatedly, earlier than decapitating him. Witnesses say the killer, later recognized as an 18-year-old of Chechen origin who got here to France as a refugee, shouted “Allahu Akhbar.” “I’ve executed one of many canines from hell who dared to place Muhammad down,” he wrote in a message briefly posted on Twitter, with a photograph exhibiting Paty’s severed head. Inside minutes, the police tracked down the killer and shot him useless.

The grotesque homicide—in retribution for Paty exhibiting his college students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed —has cracked open a deep schism, that’s hardly ever removed from the floor in France. At situation is how the nation’s 5.7 million Muslims—the biggest Muslim inhabitants within the European Union—assimilate, or not, in a rustic whose structure relies on an unyielding precept of secularism and which has seen a number of terrorist assaults by jihadists since 2015. Muslim leaders concern it should precipitate a crackdown that may deepen the divide between average and radical worshippers. “I concern that this assault would be the final drop that makes the water spill,” Hassen Chalghoumi, France’s best-known average Muslim cleric, tells TIME.

It additionally presents a steep problem to President Emmanuel Macron, simply 18 months earlier than he faces re-election, that threatens to shift the nationwide dialog to the turf of the nation’s resurgent far-right. “That is the start of the grand maneuvre across the subsequent elections,” says Emmanuel Rivière, CEO of the general public division of the Kantar polling company in France. The French chief isn’t well-suited to the present battle, he says; Macron faces a tricky reelection contest in April 2022, for a second five-year time period. “Macron is recognized with the financial system, with liberalism, along with his worldwide fame,” he says. “He isn’t recognized with crime and terrorism.”

Learn extra: ‘I’m in This Loss of life Valley.’ A Dialog with Emmanuel Macron

The federal government has but to handle questions surrounding the police response to threats towards the trainer. Eleven days earlier than his loss of life, Paty, 47, confirmed his eighth-grade college students cartoons of the Prophet, taken from Charlie Hebdo, the satirical journal infamous for lampooning faith that gunmen attacked in January 2015, killing 11 journalists. Paty’s college students say he was giving a category on freedom of speech.

One Muslim pupil’s father posted a Fb video denouncing Paty. That was then distributed by a self-proclaimed imam lengthy recognized for his hardline Islamist views, together with the college’s deal with and Paty’s cell-phone quantity. Alarmed, Paty lodged a grievance with police. And but the police failed to supply him safety—and certainly, when the killer surveilled the college final Friday, college students are believed to have identified Paty to him. “Regardless of threats and requires individuals to denounce the trainer, nobody thought it may go this far,” one unnamed police supply previous Le Figaro newspaper after the killing.

The killing has been greeted with horror by many inside France’s Muslim group. On Monday, Chalghoumi, who presides over the mosque within the largely Muslim Paris banlieue, or suburb of Drancy and has lengthy promoted interfaith dialogue, visited Paty’s center faculty, the place a makeshift shrine of candles and flowers has grown over the previous few days. There, he delivered a tearful speech concerning the “technology of hate” amongst French Muslims.

In colleges which are largely Muslim, Chalghoumi tells TIME, many lecturers now keep away from discussing the Holocaust, regardless of it being a part of the federal government curriculum, fearing the response from their college students. “The second you discuss concerning the Holocaust they are saying, ‘it’s for the Zionists,’” he says. “And it’s unimaginable to speak about Charlie Hebdo within the banlieues.” After that assault in January 2015, he says, “many children didn’t observe the minute’s silence at school.” He doubts that college students will observe a minute’s silence for Paty both; the federal government has known as for colleges to mark his killing on Nov. 2, when college students return from a two-week break.

Such frankness places Chalghoumi below continuous risk of assault, nonetheless. As we sit talking in a café in central Paris, his two bodyguards stand shut by, surveilling the room warily. “With out safety, I’d have been useless way back,” he says.

His concern now’s that Macron’s authorities opts to crack down laborious on these they deem to be extremists in response to rising political stress. Conservative politicians right here have seized on the homicide as proof that the President downplayed and tolerated extremism, favoring liberalism over law-and-order crackdowns. “If the federal government had listened to us, perhaps Samuel Paty would nonetheless be alive,” Nationwide Rally politician Sébastien Chenu mentioned Monday.

Learn extra: France’s President Emmanuel Macron Is Able to Reset His Troubled Presidency

The 2022 presidential election now appears more likely to be fought over questions not simply of regulation and order but in addition protection of the secularist rules that underpin society in France. Current polls present far-right chief Marine Le Pen and Macron neck-and-neck in a hypothetical run-off within the 2022 presidential elections. Le Pen’s social gathering, the Nationwide Rally (former Nationwide Entrance), gained extra seats than Macron’s En Marche in France’s elections to the European Union parliament final 12 months.

On Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers within the Nationwide Meeting, who had gathered for what they’d billed as an homage to Paty, engaged in a heated debate over the killing. “The federal government systematically refused our proposals about radical Islamists,” mentioned Damien Abad, chief of the conservative opposition the Republicans, itemizing a number of measures that Macron’s authorities had rejected, together with shutting radical mosques and deporting some overseas Muslim clerics. French Prime Minister Jean Castex mentioned the federal government had efficiently averted 32 terrorist assaults since Macron’s election in 2017. He accused Macron’s political foes of utilizing the killing “to feed this polemic. It’s not dignified below these circumstances,” he mentioned.

On Wednesday night the French chief will preside over a solemn nationwide memorial to Paty within the medieval courtyard of Paris Sorbonne College—the oldest in France. Officers on the Elysée Palace mentioned on Tuesday that the college had been chosen as “a monument symbolic of the spirit of Enlightenment.”

But whilst France mourned, the crackdown was already below means. On Tuesday Inside Minister Gérald Darmanin ordered shut a mosque within the closely Muslim city of Seine-Saint-Denis, exterior Paris, which had disseminated the messages concentrating on Paty. Later Tuesday Macron and Darmanin visited one other largely Muslim suburb to debate with native leaders fight extremism.

Paty’s loss of life got here simply two weeks after Macron delivered a serious speech towards Islamic separatism, calling for an “Islam of Enlightenment,” and he now plans to speed up a proposed new anti-extremism regulation, requiring imams to coach in France, and crack down on organizations that unfold extremist or separatist concepts. It might additionally enhance public funds for Islamic research, in addition to enhance the crumbling, low-income housing within the banlieues round Paris, which for years has been a hotbed of violence.

Such measures may assist stave off political threats from Macron’s right-wing opponents, the liberal cleric Chalghoumi says. “How can there be integration?” he says. “There needs to be mixing within the banlieues, and in colleges first.” He alsosays he’s positive it will additionally please many Muslims, even whereas it dangers evoking robust hostility from others. “We wish motion,” he says. “We don’t want flowers and candles.”


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