Last October, a French teacher was beheaded after being condemned by an online hate campaign that stemmed from a now alleged mistake. The girl whose complaints sparked the online hate campaign is now admitting that she spread false claims that resulted in her beloved history teacher’s beheading, and it seems that he was most likely not the hateful man he was shockingly portrayed to be.
Samuel Paty was a history and geography teacher in France who was targeted for the beheading after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class, a serious offense to Muslims because Islamist tradition explicitly forbids images of Muhammad and Allah. In his free speech and blasphemy class, one of his students, a 13-year-old schoolgirl (officially unnamed), had originally told her father that Paty had asked Muslim students to leave the classroom while he showed cartoons of Muhammad.
France: the Beheading of Samuel Paty
The girl’s father then filed a legal complaint against the school teacher and started a social media campaign, identifying Paty and the school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a west Paris suburb, accusing him of Islamophobia. Prosecutors explained that there was a “direct causal link” between the campaign and Paty’s murder, as Paty was murdered by 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot by police shortly after the attack.
Anzorov had paid two teenagers, a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old, almost $400 to identify Paty, telling them that he wanted them to, “film the teacher [and] make him apologize for the cartoon of the Prophet [Muhammad],” according to anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard. Anzorov told the two students that he wanted, “to humiliate him, to hit him”. The unnamed pair of teenagers were two of seven people that French authorities were seeking to prosecute over the brutal attack.
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However, the girl rescinded her original claims that she was suspended because she didn’t want to leave the classroom after Paty allegedly asked the Muslim pupils to leave the classroom because of the images he was about to show. According to Le Parisien newspaper, she was actually suspended because she was repeatedly absent from school.
Her father, Virginie Le Roy told RTL radio, “So to come and say now, sorry, I believed my daughter’s lies, that’s really weak,” and her lawyer, Mbeko Tabula told AFP news that, “She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson,” in reference to how the girl explained she saw the cartoons because a girl in her class showed them to her.
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What Paty had actually done, as he had in his previous years as a respected, experienced teacher, was to warn his students that he was about to show a depiction of Muhammad and that if anyone might feel offended, that they could close their eyes. The girl had made up the story because she didn’t want to upset her father.
President Emmanuel Macron presented Paty’s family with the nation’s highest honor, the Legion d’honneur, after his murder. Aside from the details of the case, Paty’s beheading caused heavy waves throughout France in its similarity to the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish cartoons of Muhammad, resulting in 12 murders by Islamist extremists in their own offices back in 2015. France prides itself on its secularism, or laicize, remaining central to its national identity, where “the state cannot intervene in matters of religion, and thus should not curb expression to protect the feelings of a particular community.”