Many French teachers have experienced how difficult it is to talk about religious topics with pupils who profess Islam, complaining that instead of supporting their efforts, the state throws obstacles in their way of teaching.
It has been less than three weeks since French President Emmanuel Macron announced a crackdown on radical Islam. Some elements of French society criticized him for being too strict while those on the right asserted that his measures would do little to stamp out the problem. Now, following Friday’s beheading murder of the history teacher Samuel Paty in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, the pressure on Macron has only intensified as his government enters a deep crisis.
Paty, who taught his pupils about the circumstances of the attack on the editors of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in January 2015, will receive the Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest French state award for his commitment to the freedom of speech, but many teachers feel that the honor is an attempt from the government to save face after ignoring the problem for years.
“It has been several years since I stopped explaining the Quran to my students,” a grammar school teacher named Jeanne described her experience to Le Figaro.
When she saw how her students react to the interpretation of the fundamental texts of the world’s religions, she was in shock.
“Pupils at my school are influenced by Muslim fundamentalism preached by the local imam. My explanation of the religious texts did not go into depth, yet many students began to disagree, saying that I am making things up, that the Quran is always right and that religious dogma is superior to law and scientific knowledge,” said the young woman who teaches in the Yvelines department on the outskirts of Paris.
“Besides, I am a blonde woman, and the students have made it clear to me that I am the embodiment of evil for them,” she added.
In her school, pupils often arrive with the flags of the countries where they or their parents were born. Frequently, they also swear at Jews in class. If they complain about how they are being taught at home, their parents do not hesitate to cause a scandal at school.
“By avoiding this topic, I saved myself a lot of trouble,” said Jeanne about teaching religious topics, noting that she had no support from her superiors and school management.
Many of her colleagues from other French schools speak similarly. They complain that the state, instead of supporting their efforts, throws obstacles in their way.
“If we point out the problem, nothing happens. When parents complain, an inspector comes to review us. We are alone in this, we do not feel any support from the state,” said a French teacher in the discussion program of the France 2 news station about the current problems of teachers and French education.
The French government says it wants to immediately deport 231 radical Islamists who do not have French citizenship and who are considered high-risk individuals by the secret services. Muslim associations, which could have radicalization potential, have been banned. Each organization will have to sign a declaration that it adheres to the principles of secularism.
Authorities also closed the mosque where imams — together with the father of one of the pupils — initially called for “revenge” against Paty on social networks before his death, which included posting his name and address on the mosque’s Facebook page. Another mosque in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, which condemned Paty’s teaching on its Facebook account, was also closed down.
The government also wants to tighten oversight of the social media content as calls for violence and radicalization often spread on the Internet. French police are already investigating more than 80 Islamists suspected of hate speech on the Internet, many of whom have publicly approved of the murder Paty. So far, 15 people have been taken into custody in relation to the attack, but also for charges of spreading and promoting radical Islam.
But while the government hastily prepares the deportation of radical Islamists after the assassination of Paty, others with similar views are growing up in French schools.