Unlike the name of George Floyd in the U.S., that of Samuel Paty, the French school teacher beheaded in a suburb of Paris, has not become a rallying cry for social change.
The death of Samuel Paty, you see, can’t be used to flog the West for our perceived failures. Paty was decapitated by Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, 18, a Muslim refugee from Chechen.
Paty’s killer was angry that, in a class on free speech, Paty had dared to show to his class the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had appeared in the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. These cartoons led to the massacre of staffers by a Pakistani man.
Some have blamed Paty causing his death by showing the cartoons, and the reaction in the streets has been typically vapid.
Yes, Parisians took to the streets proclaiming “Je suis Samuel.” Spectator writer Gavin Mortimer captures the emptiness of this gesture. Mortimer notes that his ex-wife, who teaches in France, did not participate in the march:
A teacher herself in a state school in Seine-Saint-Denis in the north of Paris, a district often cited as the most deprived in France, she was profoundly shocked by the death of Monsieur Paty. Naturally, she has nothing but sympathy for his family but she had no wish to stand shoulder to shoulder with politicians, intellectuals, the judiciary and members of an education authority who for years have offered her profession little or no support in their struggle against Islamic extremism.
Some of those present at the Place de la Republique brandished placards on which was written ‘Je Suis Samuel’, surely a grotesque new low in this age of infantile self-absorption. Many at Sunday’s rally shouting loudly in defense of freedom of expression were at another gathering in Paris last November: an anti-Islamophobe rally at which they were shouting loudly against freedom of expression.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose friend and film collaborator, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by a violent Islamist, had some important thoughts on the Paty murder. From what Hirsi Ali has been able to learn, Paty was a sincere believer in freedom of speech. He told students who might be offended by the cartoons that they had the right to step outside the classroom.
Hirsi Ali is impressed by the response of French President Emmanuel Macron (who had critiqued Islamic separatism shortly before the attack happened). But it will take other leaders speaking out on what is a painful topic for the liberal west to make a difference. She writes:
I was impressed that Macron even acknowledged Islamic separatism. But other leaders need to follow his lead. France is not the only country with a parallel society subverting it from within. Nor is Islamism the only ideology that is the sworn antagonist of free speech.
Across the Western world, freedom of expression is under increasing pressure. In addition to the Islamists, we are seeing an Orwellian campaign against freedom of expression by self-styled “woke” proponents of critical race theory, radical feminism, and transgender rights. Increasingly, government officials, cultural and political institutions, and leading corporations feel obliged to yield to their pressure. All of this is done in the name of “inclusion” and “sensitivity,” but the results are no less harmful. In a powerful column this week, former New York Times writer Bari Weiss sounded the alarm about this assault on the foundations of liberalism. It is not only the Jewish community that it threatens.
The murder of Paty rings another alarm bell. Peaceful coexistence in diverse societies becomes impossible if more and more forms of expression are classified as blasphemy or “hate speech,” the secular equivalent. In the absence of more effective measures to uphold the principles of individual liberty, militant minorities who seek to enforce conformity nearly always resort to violence, barbarism, and beheadings.
Freedom of speech and other of our cherished values (women’s rights, for example) are under attack. So far, liberal Western societies refuse to mount a serious defense of our values.