The importance of Free society

The beheading of Samuel is an act of terror aimed at destroying the values of free society in France. The attack strikes at the nation’s integral values of liberty, equality, and fraternity (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité). The imposition of a religious political project limits freedom of expression and free thought–making even cartoons of an Islamic figure punishable by death. The values of free society must be reaffirmed continuously not only in France but abroad as well.

The “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)article 11 articulates freedom of speech in the following way:

“The free communication of ideas and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man. Any citizen may therefore speak, write and publish freely, except what is tantamount to the abuse of this liberty in the cases determined by Law.”

While some people might argue that Samuel aimed to incite anger by “offending” the sensibilities of the Muslim community by showing a “blasphemous” depiction of Muhammad, I ask how this–even if true–justifies violence or death? Samuel did not force students to attend the classes. He gave the opportunity for students to leave the class before showing the cartoons. Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov–the Chechen born radical Islamist who committed the murder–did not even attend the classes that Samuel held.

A caricature of Muhammad made by Charlie Hebdo in September, 2011.

The far-left magazine Charlie Hebdo is known in France for its satirical cartoons that mock politicians, religions, cultural icons and celebrities. In January of 2015, armed radical Islamists of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. They killed twelve people including cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) for publishing cartoons of Muhammad. As with Samuel Paty’s killer, the Charlie Hebdo murderers believed that what they were doing was avenging the prophet for “blasphemous” and “humiliating” acts.

Androv attached a note to the severed head of Samuel Paty before being shot by police:

“In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful, … to [French President Emmanuel Macron] leader of the infidels, I executed one of your hellhounds who dared to belittle Muhammad, calm his fellow human beings before a harsh punishment is inflicted on you.”

Every believer of liberty, equality and fraternity is the target of this attack. Every non-Muslim and Muslim that believes in free society is a target for radical Islamists.

These extremists are against rights that ensure women are able to seek an education, have bodily autonomy and decide their own destiny. They are against LGBT people being able to love freely and openly. Extremists are against everything that makes free society, secularism and democracy possible.

Reactionary forces are already out in full force in response to France’s reaffirmation of secularism. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan decried Macron’s statement in a speech before parliament:

“France and Europe, in general, do not deserve the vicious, provocative, hateful policies of (French President Emmanuel) Macron and those who follow the same mentality…”

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran took offence at the cartoons:

“The West should understand that… insulting the prophet is insulting all Muslims, all prophets, all human values, and trampling ethics.”

These are the leaders of closed societies that are lecturing an open society on human values.

Within Turkey there are thousands of people that have been arrested on trumped up charges of terrorism including many journalists. Turkish citizens continue to face a clamp down on their human rights with hateful policies aimed at cementing Erdogan’s power. In the Islamic Republic of Iran there does not even exist any semblance of free expression against the Ayatollah, with thousands risking arrests, torture and even death for daring to express themselves. Both regimes are sponsors of radical Islamist terror that violates human decency, especially against peaceful Muslims that are victims of this terror. These leaders simply cannot talk on this matter at all.

President Erdogan at a press conference in February, 2020.

There is always a denial of free society wherever radical Islamism becomes entrenched. Combatting this extremism is imperative for any chance of free society to flourish.

There are writers such as Myriam François who are weary of France’s muscular reassertion of secularism (laicite). In an article for ABC titled, “The enemy within”: Is there a place for Muslims in France’s secular republic?” Myriam argues that France’s response to radical Islamism is coming at a cost to civil society, notably by fuelling an environment that creates discrimination against Muslims:

“Although much of the public conversation assumes that Muslims are the ones eroding republican values, it isn’t Muslims who are seeking to change or challenge France’s longstanding republican edifice — it is the French secularist majority who are attempting to weaponise these values in order better to target Muslims, which may be the very definition of discrimination.”

Myriam contends that the government is using the fight against secularism as a pretext to unfairly target Muslims, using examples from the past with regards to legislation limiting religious wear such as headscarves, increase in crackdowns on mosques and other activity that targets Muslims.

There is a thin line to tread with regards to combatting terrorism and maintaining civil rights. In many autocratic states such as China and Turkey, the fight against terrorism has come at a cost to civil liberties. The governments of these states use the narrative of fighting terrorism to curtail civil liberties in a heavy-handed manner. Myriam’s caution is not unfounded on this matter and does require addressing.

These laws are not aimed at discriminating against Muslims but are rather to ensure Republican secular values are maintained. French laws passed by Macron and his predecessors are not responsible for the rise in radicalism nor are they the real threat. If French secularism did create a radicalisation of the Islamic community in the state, then there would be more attacks committed by French Muslims in the Republic for that very reason rather than what is currently the case with foreign jihadists from elsewhere who pledge allegiance to foreign radical Islamist groups and who view France as “the flagship of disbelief”. This secular “radicalisation” is simply an overstated threat.

President Macron stands next to the casket of Samuel Paty, October 21, 2020.

The values of free society require constant reaffirmation against those of radical Islamism. A man who spent his teaching life departing lessons to young people about the value of knowledge, free expression and tolerance. The ideas of secularism, freedom of expression and free thought that Samuel Paty believed in must never be forgotten. Time may pass but those ideas will remain.

Je suis Samuel. Vive la laïcité.

Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson and Edited by Sean Hastings (20/11/2020)



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