PARIS — In 2015, the rallying cry was “Je suis Charlie.” Now, it is “Je suis Samuel.”
Samuel Paty, the middle school history teacher who was beheaded for having shown his students caricatures of the prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free expression, was to be posthumously granted France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur, and commemorated in a national ceremony at the Sorbonne University in Paris on Wednesday.
His gruesome killing in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine has revived the nation’s horror at the 2015 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. And just as France stood by the satirical newspaper then, it is rallying around its teachers.
“Today, with you, we are all teachers,” first lady Brigitte Macron, a former theater teacher, wrote in Le Parisien. “To be a teacher … is to develop the critical spirit [of students] to make them free.”
“All of this, Samuel, you knew, and better yet, you embodied it,” she wrote.
Whereas Charlie Hebdo relishes causing offense in its pursuit of free speech, Paty — according to the accounts of those who knew him — did not.
He attended training courses at Paris’s Arab Institute to better understand his students. He organized an Arab music concert to honor their culture. And when he introduced the topic of the controversial cartoons in class, he acknowledged that it might be hurtful to Muslim students and offered them a chance to look away.
But one parent complained about the episode on social media — which is how authorities believe it came to the attention of the attacker, Abdoulakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old Russian-born Chechen who lived 50 miles away.
Police shot and killed Anzorov shortly after the attack. Seven people, including two minors, were set to go before a judge on Wednesday for related charges, the Associated Press reported, citing an anonymous judicial source.
Among those who have been detained are the father who posted about Paty and cleric Abdelhakim Sefrioui. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has accused both of launching a “fatwa” or religious order against the teacher. And Sefrioui’s organization, the Cheikh Yassin Collective, is being ordered to disband.
Authorities have also questioned students who may have helped the attacker identify Paty outside the school.
The killing has provided further impetus for a French government effort to rein in radicalization and — controversially — to “reform” how Islam is practiced in France.
President Emmanuel Macron, speaking on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, said, “Several dozen concrete actions have been launched in recent days against organizations, associations or individuals who carry a project of radical Islamism, or an ideology of destruction of the Republic.”
By while the French are shocked by Friday’s attack, some have questioned whether the government is going too far with its crackdown — conducting raids, threatening deportations and targeting organizations with tenuous connections to Paty’s killing.
The government ordered a mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin to close for six months for having shared on Facebook a video calling for action against Paty. The mosque deleted the video and expressed regret.
“There’s no room for violence in our religion,” the Pantin mosque said Monday, in a Facebook statement. “We strongly condemn this savagery.”
Darmanin, meanwhile, signaled that more than 50 French Muslim organizations are under scrutiny and would be shut down if found to be promoting hatred. And he specifically threatened to dissolve the Committee Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), characterizing it as an enemy of the Republic.
The CCIF acknowledged in a statement that it was contacted by the parent about Paty and had been looking into his claims, but it denied participating in a harassment campaign against the teacher.
The umbrella group European Network Against Racism expressed extreme concern about Darmanin’s statement.
“This proposal to dissolve a professional anti-racist organisation which does crucial work to combat racism and defend the rights of racialised groups is a violation of democratic freedoms,” the organization wrote. “It reflects institutional racism within the French government, in a context where it has recently announced a bill which stigmatises and targets French Muslim communities.”