‘French schools are no longer untouchable, they are a target’

‘French schools are no longer untouchable, they are a target’
‘French schools are no longer untouchable, they are a target’

France commemorated Samuel Paty tonight. The history and geography teacher was murdered and beheaded on Friday. He had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson. It was an attack on someone who embodied the heart of the French republic, secular education, said President Emmanuel Macron.

The perpetrator, who was shot by police after his act of terrorism, is an 18-year-old Chechen Muslim extremist. “This attack was a huge shock, but not a total surprise,” said French history teacher Iannis Roder. “Anyone who delved into the writings of IS and the views of Islamists knew that schools were a potential target.”

‘IS wants to influence young people’

Roder has been teaching in one for twenty years suburbs from Paris. He is a member of the French Council for Secularism (the division between church and state) and has written several books in which he warns against the growing fundamentalism in the classroom. “I always thought the school was in danger.”

Jihadism expert Hugo Micheron has also seen French schools as a “target” of fundamentalist Muslims for some time. Micheron spent years researching the origins of jihadism in prisons. “IS no longer has territory in the Middle East, but the ideas live on. Also among supporters in Europe, especially among young people.”

“French schools are no longer untouchable. And that has a reason: IS wants to influence young people. That is what the Salafists, the jihadists and other militants are targeting: the youth. With this attack they want to talk about freedom of expression at school. to make impossible.”

A poll from last September found that 40 percent of French Muslims consider religion more important than the values ​​of the French republic. As many as 75 percent of young Muslims, under the age of 25, say that their faith is more important than French values.

“There are very deep fault lines through French society,” says Dutch historian and terrorist expert Beatrice de Graaf. Between Muslims from the former colonies in North Africa and the rest of France. State schools don’t talk about religion at all, while among the six million Muslims the young people increasingly identify as Muslims. They are parallel societies and that clashes in the schools.”

Not daring to say everything anymore

For years, the hold of fundamentalist Islam on the French Muslim community has grown. Suburban teachers see religion playing a major role in students, says teacher Roder. “I notice that in the behavior and words of some, not all, students. You see behavior and hear them say things that I didn’t hear ten years ago.”

Micheron: “Four out of ten French teachers have had problems related to freedom of expression. Teachers already take this into account in the classroom when they say what they do and what they don’t say.”

Roder says teachers have long warned of the growing influence of political Islam. “This problem has been downplayed for years. It is being shoved under the rug. People did not like to talk about not inciting anger or appearing stigmatizing towards the French Muslim community. But by not talking about it, Islamism has grown. It seeped through the cracks. “

It is precisely wanting to keep religion completely outside the school walls, which makes young people more susceptible to radical ideas, says De Graaf. “Religion has disappeared from the school picture, but it returns in this way.”

Terrorism via class in smartphones

What is even more tragic is that Paty was a teacher trying to talk to students about these kinds of difficult topics. The attacker was not one of his students, De Graaf emphasizes. “This is not an act of anyone from that broad French Muslim community.” The radicalized Chechen probably tracked down the teacher through social media reports from an extremist organization.

“Terrorism, not as an attack but as a phenomenon, enters the classroom every day via smartphones,” says De Graaf. “You can no longer exclude that. I think schools would do well to really pay more attention to this.”

Roder: “I am not naive. The fight will be long. That fight, which I hope we are really entering now, will last for many years, maybe decades.”

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