France marks first anniversary since teacher killed over Mohammed cartoon

Paty, 47, was stabbed and then decapitated after leaving the middle school where he taught history and geography in the tranquil Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the evening of October 16th, 2020.

Paty’s violent death stunned France’s educators, who saw it as an attack on the core values teachers have taught generations of schoolchildren, including the separation of church and state and the right to blaspheme.

READ ALSO: What we know about the murder of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty

Upcoming tributes to the murdered teacher include a memorial plaque to be placed at the entrance of the French interior ministry in Paris on Saturday, with Prime Minister Jean Castex, other government ministers, Paty’s parents and members of his family expected to attend the inauguration.

The family will meet with Macron at the Elysee Palace later in the day.

Also on Saturday, a square facing the Sorbonne University in the capital’s Latin Quarter will be named after Samuel Paty in a ceremony that the mayor’s office said would be “simple and contemplative”.

Schools in at least three towns have already been named after Paty, including in the multi-ethnic eastern Paris suburb of Valenton.

A choir of students sing at a tribute to Samuel Paty at Jean-de-la-Fontaine high school in Paris on October 15th, 2021. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Coming in the wake of other attacks blamed on Islamist extremists, the anniversary of Paty’s death has reignited debate over integration and immigration in France’s officially secular society as the country heads to 2022 presidential polls.

‘We will not forget’

Paty’s killer, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, claimed the attack was revenge for Paty having shown his class the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed printed in the virulently anti-religion magazine Charlie Hebdo in a lesson on free speech.

The lesson infuriated some parents and set off a social media fury fraught with rumours and falsehoods about what had been taught.

Paty’s killing prompted an outpouring of emotion in France, with tens of thousands taking part in rallies countrywide in defence of free speech and the right to mock religion.

But French President Emmanuel Macron sparked a backlash when he vowed the country “will not give up cartoons”, with counter-protests popping up in some Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Libya and Tunisia.

On Friday, schools across France commemorated the teacher with a minute of silence, debates or the screening of documentaries on the freedom of speech.

“We will not forget Samuel Paty,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said during a visit to one Paris high school.

He had previously called the memorials “a chance to talk about the role of teachers, and of knowledge”.

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