Sunday, November 01, 2020

Should we in Britain have said more about the murder of Samuel Paty in France?

I very rarely agree with the views of the disgraced former Labour Minister Denis MacShane - indeed, considering the circumstances of his fall from grace, I find it astonishing that he is as successful as he is in finding mainstream outlets willing to publish them.

However, there is an exception to every rule, and I agree with him that the murder of the teacher Samual Paty in France - and the low-key response to it in Britain - is disturbing.

Paty was teaching a course on free speech. As part of this he covered the controversy over the publications in a Danish magazine of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed.

MacShane writes on "The Article" site as follows:

"The 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen” was approved by the National Assembly of France, on August 26, 1789. This foundational document makes plain what is at stake. Article XI states plainly that, “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.”

The men who organised Samuel Paty’s murder did so because, in his lesson on free speech, he had taken as his example the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that in 2005 had caused controversy first in Denmark and then world-wide. He wanted to show that every religion in the world has to tolerate being criticised and mocked, and that to murder the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the French Private Eye, for satirising aspects of Islam and its ideological offshoot Islamism, was unacceptable.

Being sensitive he invited any Muslim pupil who might be offended to take a break from the class. Some of them went home to tell their parents — and an infernal torrent of social media attacks on Paty was launched. He complained to the police about the threats. But the Islamist hate machine against Western values is stronger in France than anywhere else in Europe.

France is in a mixture of shock, mourning, and anger. Paty’s funeral involved a national ceremony of mourning in the courtyard of the Sorbonne, a centre of scholarship through the ages that has stood against superstition and hatred, and against the creeping authoritarianism of religious extremists.

He was decorated with the highest rank of the Légion d’Honneur with a powerful oration by President Macron."

"Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, stood beside Macron, as France stood in solidarity with the murdered teacher."

It is very important that we draw a distinction between the kind of people who were involved in the murder of Samuel Paty and ordinary decent Muslims.

Most Muslims are not Islamists. Most Muslims reject the idea that they should murder those who take a different view. It would be utterly wrong and unjust to use this terrible murder, or those in Nice a few days later, to whip up hatred against the Muslim community as a whole.

But killing people for exercising their right to free speech is wrong no matter who the perpetrator is and no matter who the victim is. Maybe we should have had a bit more to say in support of that principle.

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