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I am a teacher: Sixteen brief reflections against terror and obscurantism, in homage to Samuel Paty

Pierre Tevanian reflects on the killing of the teacher Samuel Paty, and the reaction from the French media, government and public. 

Pierre Tevanian10 November 2020

I am a teacher: Sixteen brief reflections against terror and obscurantism, in homage to Samuel Paty

The following lines were inspired by the horrific news of the killing of my colleague, Samuel Paty, and the difficult week that followed. In tribute to a teacher who believed in education, human reason and freedom of expression, they offer a few reflections calling on people, despite the emotion, to think about the present and discuss it rationally. These reflections obviously do not claim to embody the thought of Samuel Paty, but they are written for him, in the sense that the effort of thought, of discernment, of nuance, of reason, has been made with him in mind, and as a way to pay homage to him. Continuing to think freely, to express and exchange arguments, seems to me the best of tributes.

First of all, on learning the news, there was horror, sadness and fear in the face of the crime committed, and thoughts for Samuel Paty’s relatives, his colleagues, his pupils, all the school communities in France and, beyond that, the whole human community upset by this crime. Then came anger at all those who, in one way or another, and even before knowing more about the ins and outs that had led to the worst, hastened to draw ready-made stereotypes seeking to minimise the atrocity of the crime or dissolve all the responsibility of the assassin (or possibly assassins) into indefinitely extensible entities (whether ‘Islamisation’ or ‘Islamophobia’) – not to mention those who exploit horror for agendas that are all too familiar: the reintroduction of the death penalty, the persecution of immigrants or Muslims.

Then there was fear, or fears, at seeing a hasty and exaggerated government reaction that has long proved ineffective (against terrorist violence) and harmful (to the state of community life and human rights). Instead of properly increasing police resources to investigate more and better than is presently the case, to monitor, trace and dismantle well-targeted channels, but also to provide real-time protection to those who ask for it, at the moment they ask for it, we see a spectacle of scapegoating.

A silent apprehension was therefore mixed with grief in the face of the wave of insults, threats, and Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-Chechen attacks that began immediately, but also faced with the possibility of other assaults that could occur in the future, on the prevention of which, to say the least, I do not see all government energies being concentrated.

Then, as I read on, a discomfort set in, concerning what I could read on social networks, ‘from my side’ this time – that is to say mainly, from people with whom I more or less share a certain conception of the fight against racism. What initially bothered me was the fact that they were immediately able to give explanatory analyses when, in fact, we knew almost nothing in detail of the facts: what exactly had Samuel Paty done, which drawings had he shown, what interactions had he had with his pupils and with parents? Who protested and in what terms, under what conditions and in what forms? Finally, what was the profile of the murderer, what was his Russian, Chechen and French background – his experience in all its dimensions (family, socio-economic, school, medical), his social milieu and his religious, political, criminal and terrorist connections (or lack of connections)?

I was embarrassed, for example, by the a priori hypothesis, from the first hours after the crime, that Samuel Paty had ‘screwed up’, when it was not even certain, for example, that it was the disgusting drawing of the bare-arsed Prophet (I will come back to this later) that had been shown in class (since it was also stated that the teacher had filed a complaint ‘for defamation’ as a result of accusations made against him), and that we knew nothing about the conditions and the way in which he had organised his lesson.

Furthermore, in the event (which was eventually confirmed) that it was indeed this particular drawing, which was indeed problematic (I shall return to this point later), that had served as the trigger or pretext for the campaign against Samuel Paty, something else bothered me. First of all, the failure to point out that showing a drawing, however questionable, obscene, crude, in bad taste, or even racist, can very well be part of an educational approach, especially in history classes. ‘After all, we show vile anti-Jewish cartoons when we study the rise of anti-Semitism,’ a fellow historian confided to me, and this is obviously not in itself a pure and simple perpetuation of the racist offence. The two cases are different in many ways, but it always comes down to the way in which documents are presented and then collectively commented on, analysed, criticised. In this case, however, we remained for a long time ignorant of what exactly had happened, and what we ended up learning was that Samuel Paty had not had any malicious intent: it really was a matter of discussing freedom of expression, around a particularly contentious case.

Moreover, when it later turned out, from the accounts that could be reconstructed (notably in Libération), that Samuel Paty had not made any malicious use of the cartoons, and that the parents of the pupils who had initially been concerned had understood this fairly quickly and easily after discussion; when it also turned out that, beyond this particular episode, Samuel Paty was a very involved and appreciated, warm-hearted, jocular teacher, it is a pity that this was not hammered home from the outset, both by fans of the ‘Charlie spirit’ and by those people legitimately shocked by some of the cartoons. That even if the teacher had ‘screwed up’, whether a little or a lot, even if he had failed to take pedagogical precautions, even if he had intentionally sought to hurt – in short, even if he had been a ‘bad teacher’, haughty, obscurantist, or even racist, nothing, absolutely nothing justified the crime against him.

I can well imagine that in most of the immediate reactions this went without saying, but I think that, in the world in which we live, and where such horrors take place, everything now in this matter (I mean: in terms of distancing ourselves from hyper-violence) must be said, always, even when it goes without saying.

In other words, even if we consider it necessary to recall, on the occasion of this crime and the discussions it has revived, that it is good that not everything is allowed in terms of freedom of expression, this is, in my opinion, tenable only if we add another reminder: that it is also good that not everything is allowed in the way of limiting freedom of expression, in the way of reacting to offensive speech, and more precisely that the use of physical violence, a fortiori murder, must be absolutely prohibited.

We are unfortunately at a time, I repeat, when this no longer goes without saying.

This last remark is, it seems to me, the great unspoken that is most lacking in the whole public debate that has polarised for years between the ‘Charlie’s’, who are unconditional about ‘freedom of expression’, and the ‘non-Charlie’s’, who are anxious to place ‘limits’ on ‘freedom to offend’. Neither freedom of expression nor its necessary limitation should in fact be set up as a categorical and fundamental imperative. Both are arguable, but in a space of speech subject to another fundamental law, which everyone can and should agree on beforehand, and which is the absolute rejection of physical violence.

In other words, as long as this fundamental law is respected, and expressly guaranteed, the freedom of speech and the freedom of press and expression, to which Samuel Paty was so attached, can and must also imply the right to say that certain caricatures in Charlie Hebdo should be considered obnoxious:

– those, for example, which presents the prophet of the Muslims (and therefore, through an inevitable association of ideas, all the faithful who venerate him) as a terrorist, by portraying him, for example, armed to the teeth, with a hooked nose, bulging eyes, a paunchy face, or wearing a bomb-shaped turban;

– the one that gratuitously wounded believers (and ordinary, tolerant, non-violent believers just as much or even more so than ‘jihadists’ eager for pretexts to spill blood), by representing their prophet bare-arsed with his testicles in the air, and an Islamic star in place of his anus;

– the one that animalised a veiled Muslim trade-unionist by giving her a monkey face;

– the one representing the Romanian tennis player Simona Halep, winner of the Roland Garros championship, as a Romany with an unsightly appearance, brandishing the cup and shouting ‘Scrap metal! Scrap metal!’;

– the one that asked us to imagine ‘little Aylan’, the child of Kurdish migrants found dead in the Mediterranean, ‘if he had survived’, and shows him becoming ‘a crotch grabber in Germany’ (following a series of rapes committed in Germany);

– the one depicting the sex slaves of Boko Haram, veiled and pregnant, shouting for their ‘benefits’;

– the ones that fantasise an invasion or ‘Islamisation’ in the form of a ‘great replacement’, for example by showing a bearded Muslim whose excessive facial hair fills the whole front page, alongside a tiny Macron fighting ‘against separatism’, armed with scissors, but only managing to cut a few hairs;

– the one that feeds the same fantasy of invasion by featuring a Macron declaring that the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women ‘is none of his business’ as president, while the rest of the page is occupied only by veiled women, with a legend worthy of a far-right tract: ‘The Islamic Republic on the march’.

On each of these drawings, most of them published on the front page, I could argue in detail to explain why I consider them odious and often racist. Many other examples could also be mentioned, such as a cover published on the occasion of a murderous attack in Brussels in March 2016, claimed by Daesh (resulting in the death of 32 people and 340 wounded), which shockingly featured the singer Stromae, an orphan of the Rwandan genocide, singing ‘Papaoutai’ while pieces of shredded limbs and eyeballs fly around him. The list is not exhaustive, others could be mentioned – those that invite us to laugh (one is tempted to say sneer) at the fate of raped women, abused children, or people dying of hunger.

We have the right to hate such humour, we have the right to consider that some of these cartoons incite racist or sexist contempt or hatred, among other possible grievances, and we have the right to say so. It is lawful to write this down, to go and say it in court, and even on demonstrations. But – and this used to go without saying, but the attack of January 2015 forces us to state it expressly – whatever evil one may think of these drawings, of their brutality, their indelicacy, their gratuitous nastiness towards people who are often destitute, their racism at times, the symbolic violence they exert cannot be compared with the extreme physical violence of homicide, and cannot therefore provide the slightest beginning of justification for that.

In short, we have the right to denounce very forcefully the symbolic violence of cartoons we deem illegitimate and harmful, on condition, however, that we continue to say what, I repeat, we should always have done: that no symbolic violence justifies physical hyper-violence. This applies to Charlie Hebdo’s worst drawings as well as to the worst outpourings of a Zemmour or a Dieudonné, as well as to anything else that offends us – from the rather dubious to the perfectly abject.

What indeed remains of freedom of expression if one defends the right to caricature but not the right to criticise caricatures? What becomes of democratic debate if any radical criticism of Charlie today, and – who knows – of Zemmour tomorrow, of Macron the day after tomorrow, is automatically equated with incitement to violence, and therefore complicity in terrorism, and therefore outlawed?

But, conversely, what becomes of this democratic space if denunciation of the intolerable and the call to stop it are not preceded and tempered by a clear and explicit reminder of the fundamental prohibition of murder?

Something else that has bothered me in some analyses is the search for ‘those really responsible’, a formula that suggests that ‘behind’ an ‘apparent’ responsible person (the murderer) there are ‘those really responsible’ other than him or her. Now, while it seems to me necessary to consider in all its strength and complexity the impact of social determinisms, it is problematic to dissolve in these determinisms the whole individual responsibility of this 18-year-old – which sociology does not do, contrary to what some polemicists claim, but which certain discourses can sometimes do.

In my opinion, it is a good thing for people to always wonder about their possible responsibility, so long as we don’t push our zeal to the point of ‘we are all guilty’, which dissolves any real guilt and lets the main culprits off the hook. What bothered me was the chain of questions that, in response to the question ‘Who killed?’ puts the person who actually committed the crime on an equal footing with other individuals or social groups (the school management, the police, the father who launched the public campaign against Samuel Paty on Youtube, the daughter who seems to have misled her father about the way lessons were conducted), all of whom, whatever their level of responsibility, did not in any way ‘kill’ – the distinction may seem simple, even simplistic, but it seems to me crucial to maintain.

What also bothered and even sickened me, when the oversight was deliberate and the ‘neoliberal system’ and Islamophobia became the ‘main culprit’, or even ‘the enemy we have to fight’ in the singular, was the absence in the list of persons or social groups that could share some of the responsibility, beyond the individual Abdullakh Abouyezidovitch. What bothered me was that the role of the killer’s more or less immediate entourage – whether an organised terrorist group or a more informal group of close or less close friends (via social networks), not forgetting, of course, the accomplice of the supposed ‘angry father’ – was forgotten or undermined: a certain Abdelhakim Sefrioui, a well-known entrepreneur of hate, unmasked and ostracised a long time ago in militant circles, starting with the pro-Palestinian milieu and anti-Islamophobia activists [Sefrioui is a Salafist activist who has rubbed shoulders with figures of the neofascist far right and was egging on the father who denounced Paty online].

I am familiar with sociological works that rightly criticise the mainstream approach that focuses exclusively on the propaganda techniques of terrorist organisations, and shifts the focus to the study of the social conditions that make these propaganda techniques audible and ‘effective’. However, it is precisely these social conditions that cannot be taken into account without also observing how they weigh on particular individuals, whose responsibility is not thereby removed. In particular, the responsibility of individual or group ‘coaches’ cannot be ruled out, especially if the question is asked in terms of: ‘Who killed?’

The time of shock, mourning, and bitterness ‘against my own side’ was, however, soon overwhelmed by a deafening media din, bringing its share of infamy in much more terrifying proportions. Samuel Gontier, loyally ‘at his post’, has given a chilling glimpse of this:

– political panels in which the ‘balance’ invoked by the presenter (Pascal Praud) consisted in a right-wing and far-right trio (LREM, Les Républicains, Rassemblement National), and where the different families of the left (Greens, PS, PCF, France Insoumise, not to mention the far left) were simply excluded ;

– ‘debates’ where policies are seriously put forward such as the expulsion of all women wearing headscarves, with forfeiture of nationality if they are French citizens, the reopening of prison camps in the Kerguelen Islands, the restoration of the death penalty, and finally the ‘criminalisation’ of all conservative Muslim ideologies, ‘not only jihadism but also Islamism’ (as if, following the attacks of the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction or Action Directe, there had been the intention to criminalise, therefore ban and dissolve, the entire socialist, communist, ecological and radical left, on the pretext that it shared with the terrorist groups ‘opposition to capitalism’);

– ‘platforms’ on which a Manuel Valls [former prime minister under François Hollande and extremist “secularist”] could call in all conscience and tranquillity, without causing a scandal, for trampling on the European Convention on Human Rights: ‘If at an exceptional moment we have to distance ourselves from European law, change our Constitution, we must do so.’ ‘I said it in 2015, we are at war. If we are at war, then we must act, strike.’

Then, very quickly, there was interior minister Gérald Darmanin’s offensive against the CCIF (Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France – an activist anti-Islamophobia group), devoid of any foundation from the point of view of the fight against terrorism – since the association obviously took no part in the crime of 17th October 2020, nor even in the public campaign (on Youtube and Twitter) that led to it.

This denunciation, already slanderous, has in fact been allowed to become more general, abstract and nebulous, in a crude sophism: the murder of Samuel Paty is an attack on the ‘values’ and ‘institutions’ of ‘the Republic’, which the CCIF is also ‘waging’, and accordingly the CCIF has ‘something to do’ with this crime and must therefore be dissolved. QED. The accusation remains both infamous and fanciful, since the association’s ‘fight’, far from being waged against the principles and institutions of the Republic, is precisely aimed at their lack of effectiveness. The whole activity of the CCIF (this can be verified, on the association’s website as well as in the reports of journalists over the years) consists in fighting discrimination on the grounds of belonging to or practising a religion, whether real or supposed, and therefore in enforcing a law of the republic. The CCIF carries out this work by the most republican means available, by recalling the rule of law, by proposing mediation or by bringing before the courts, a republican institution if ever there was one, cases of infringement of the principle of equality, a republican principle if ever there was one.

This work therefore makes the CCIF a valuable institution (at least in a democratic republic), what is called a ‘counter-power’: in other words, an enemy of the arbitrary action of the state and not of the ‘Republic’. Its work of raising the alarm even contributes to saving the said Republic from itself, one might say, or rather from its failing servants and its demons of racism and discrimination.

It quickly became clear that this offensive, which had no real connection with the fight against terrorism, was in fact part of a completely different agenda, the premises of which had been known from the start of Emmanuel Macron’s term of office in the minister of education Jean-Michel Blanquer’s violent insults and attempts to ban the radical union Sud Éducation 93, or more recently in the hateful persecution of MP Robin Réda, due to lead an anti-racist parliamentary hearing, against immigrant support associations, and in particular the GISTI (Groupe d’Information et de Soutien aux Immigrés). This agenda is nothing less than dismissing the role of ‘intermediary bodies’ of civil society, first and foremost the counter-powers that are the anti-racist and human rights associations, to be followed in due course by trade unions and political parties. It already involves a brutalisation of political debate, and in particular of Gérald Darmanin’s unprecedented attacks, contrary to republican tradition, against the Ecologists (Julien Bayou, Sandra Regol and Esther Benbassa), and then, in recent weeks, before the murder of Samuel Paty, against La France Insoumise and its supposed ‘Islamo-leftism which has destroyed the Republic’. An agenda which also includes, as we have just learnt, a legal fight against the information website Mediapart created by Edwy Plenel

This was followed by the announcement of ‘punches’ against Muslim associations and places of worship, which the interior minister himself admitted were unrelated to the investigation into the murder of Samuel Paty, but primarily intended to ‘send a message’ so that ‘surprise would change sides’. That is a dreadful admission: the time has come not for the defence of one model (democratic, liberal, based on the rule of law and open to a plurality of opinions) against another (obscurantist, fascising, based on terror), but for a mimetic rivalry. Terror is responded to with terror, without even claiming, as a former right-wing Interior minister, Charles Pasqua once did, to ‘terrorise the terrorists’. Those who will be terrorised are not the terrorists. This evident fact is actually flaunted by those who respond to murder with stupidity and brutality, to ‘religious’ obscurantism with ‘civil’ obscurantism, to the chaos of hyper-violence with the chaos of state arbitrariness.

Mosques are therefore targeted even though we learn (notably from Jean-Baptiste Naudet’s remarkable investigation in L’Obs) that the killer did not frequent any mosque – which was already the case with many other killers in previous attacks.‘ Separatism’ and ‘communitarian withdrawal’ are attacked even though we learn (in the same investigation) that the killer had no ties or sociability in his community – which again has often been the case in the past.

Intensive courses of secular catechism in schools are advocated, intensive training in freedom of expression, with the distribution of ‘cartoons’ in all high schools, even though the killer had been out of school for some time and had only begun to ‘radicalise’ himself outside school – and here again, a familiar pattern is repeated. It so happens that one of the Bataclan killers was a pupil in the school where I work, a pupil remembered by all the teachers as having no ‘baggage’, and whose family was only able to observe manifestations of ‘radicalisation’ after he had passed his baccalaureate and finished university, once he had entered professional life.

And finally, the ultimate protection: Gérald Darmanin is thinking of reorganising supermarket shelves! This would be something to laugh about if there wasn’t danger around. One could laugh at such absurdity, such incompetence, such a disjunction between end and means, if the stakes were not so serious. One could smile at the martial gestures of a minister who himself admits to firing ‘abreast’ of the real culprits and accomplices, for example when he orders operations against Muslim institutions ‘not related to the investigation’. One could smile if there had not just been an atrocious murderous attack, which comes after several others, and if there were no reason to be serious, reasonable, and focused on a few well-defined objectives: better monitoring, detection, prediction, prevention, better emergency response, better protection. We could afford the luxury of broadening out and discussing clothing or supermarket shelves if human lives were not at stake – certainly not the lives of our leaders, over-protected by a tight guard, but those of teachers and students in particular.

This futility, this frivolity, this nonsense would be less guilty if there were not also a great underlying foundation of Islamophobic violence. This stupidity would be innocent, it would not have any consequences, if the debate on the clothing or food of various ‘religious communities’ had not been overdetermined for many years by very heavy and violent racist stereotypes. We could chat about lingerie and diet if religious habits and customs were not stigmas over-exploited by racists of all stripes, if the refusal of pork or alcohol, for example, or the wearing of a headscarf had not been recurrent grounds for insult, aggression and discrimination in education or employment for years.

There is therefore unfathomable stupidity in this absolutely irrelevant questioning of ‘communitarian food’ shops or sections which, in Darmanin’s words, ‘flatter the basest instincts’, whereas (as shown by Jean-Baptiste Naudet’s excellent investigation in L’Obs the man who killed Samuel Paty (like all previous authors of murderous attacks) had precisely no anchorage in a ‘community’ – neither in Chechen immigration nor in a local religious community, since he did not attend any mosque.

And there is an equally unfathomable wickedness in this nonsense: a sordid racism, against Muslims of course, but not only. There is also a contempt, an insult, a trampling on the memory of the dead Jews – since among the recent victims of terrorist killings were precisely the customers of a community shop, the Hyper Cacher, who were targeted and killed precisely as such.

Such is the cruel truth that immediately opposes Gérald Darmanin’s wild imaginings. By incriminating ‘communitarian’ lifestyles, and, more precisely, the frequentation of ‘communitarian’ places of worship or shops, the minister is stigmatising not the perpetrators of terrorist violence (who are characterised, on the contrary, by loneliness, isolation, compulsive internet surfing, a lack of community ties or assiduous religious practice, rather than frequentation of places of worship) but some of its victims (faithful attacked in their place of worship, or shopping).

Then, barely a few days after the appalling attack, without any consultation on the ground with the profession concerned, the press (as usual) brought the astounding news that the regional councils of France had all decided to distribute a ‘collection of caricatures’ (we do not know which ones) to all secondary schools. ‘If blood has to be given, give your own’, the song says. So, let these elected representatives distribute their little republican Bibles in the markets themselves. But no: it’s our blood that must be spilled, it was decided in high places, the blood of us shitty little teachers, despised, underpaid and insulted for years. And possibly also that of our students.

Because we must face the facts: if this information is confirmed, and if we accept this role of heroes and martyrs for a government that plays at toy soldiers with flesh and blood teachers and pupils, we officially become the privileged target of terrorist groups. To an enemy that invariably functions, in its choice of targets and its political communication, in terms of challenges, symbols, and invocation of the honour of the Prophet, our leaders respond irresponsibly by challenges, symbols, and wielding the image of the Prophet. What should we expect? Are we ready for it? I am not.

As if all this were not enough, the leader of the left [Jean-Luc Mélenchon], from whom we might expect, given his recent commitments, some elementary but salutary warnings against the amalgamation and hateful stigmatisation of Muslims, never stops surprising – or rather appalling and horrifying – us, since, while he is indeed opposed to the persecution of Muslims, he immediately invites us on another hunt: the persecution of Chechens: ‘I think there is a problem with the Chechen community in France.’

So it only takes two crimes committed by a person of Chechen origin in recent years (the attack on the Opéra in 2018, and that of Conflans in 2020), plus a mega-riot in Dijon this summer involving a few dozen Chechens, for our man of the left to calmly infer a ‘Chechen problem’, involving a whole ‘community’ of several tens of thousands of people living in France.

‘They arrived in France because the French government, which was very hostile to Vladimir Putin, welcomed them with open arms’, Jean-Luc Mélenchon explains. ‘With open arms’, therefore, as in a speech by Le Pen – father or daughter. And of course, the reason for granting them asylum is quite inexplicable, France’s ‘hostility’ towards poor Putin – rather than a bloody persecution committed by the said Putin, declaring himself ready to go and ‘rub out’ the Chechens ‘in their toilets’.

‘There are likely some very good people in this community,’ Mélenchon finally conceded to his stunned interviewer. That is what he said: ‘likely’. So it’s not even sure. And ‘some very good people’, which means in good French: a few, not many.

‘But it’s our national duty to make sure’, he hastened to add – so even the ‘likely’ won’t last very long. And the culmination: ‘It is necessary to examine individually all the files on Chechens present in France; and all those active on social networks, as was the case of the assassin, or active in political Islamism, should be captured and expelled.’

Here again, we read correctly: ‘all the files on Chechens present in France’, ‘individually’! As for the suspects, they will not be ‘questioned’ or ‘arrested’, but ‘captured’: the vocabulary is that of hunting and safari. So this is where the leader of the main opposition party of the left is taking us.

Finally, when the history of these dark times is written, it will also have to be told how, at a time when the nation was invited to unite in mourning, in defence of a democratic model, in a rejection of violence, a violent press and tweet campaign was carried out to fire and replace the leaders of the Observatoire de la Laïcité, Nicolas Cadène and Jean-Louis Bianco, despite their having always remained faithful to the spirit and the letter of the laws on secularism, and that, to this end, the two men were accused of having ‘disarmed’ the Republic and ‘put themselves at the service’ of the enemies of secularism and the Republic. In other words, they were accomplices of a teacher-killer, since it was this enemy that was at issue.

What will also have to be told is how absolutely irreproachable academics on these issues, such as Mame Fatou Niang and Éric Fassin, were violently implicated by tweeters, one receiving abject videos of decapitation, the other threats of the same, with in both cases the accusation of being responsible for the death of Samuel Paty.

It will have to be remembered how a renowned intellectual, invited on all the television platforms, calmly uttered, again without intervention by the presenters, the same type of accusations against the journalist and columnist Rokhaya Diallo: in criticising Charlie Hebdo, she is said to have ‘put weapons into the killers’ hands’, and ‘led’ to the death of the twelve at Charlie Hebdo.

It will also have to be told how at the top of the state, in these times of mourning, national harmony and the fight against obscurantism, the minister of national education himself stirred up these kinds of malicious accusations by declaring in particular: ‘What is called Islamo-Leftism is wreaking havoc, it is wreaking havoc in the universities. It wreaks havoc when the UNEF gives in to this type of thing, it wreaks havoc when, in the ranks of La France Insoumise, you have people who are of this current and flaunt themselves as such. These people favour an ideology which eventually leads to the worst.’

It will be necessary to spell out what these sophisms and outright lies have constructed or attempted to construct: a ‘national consensus’ based on blind rage rather than on shared mourning and a sincere and thoughtful ‘never again’. A singularly divisive ‘consensus’ in truth, radically and brutally excluding all the humanist and progressive counter-powers that could temper the violence of state arbitrariness and contribute to the elaboration of a relevant and effective anti-terrorist response: the anti-racist movement, the left-wing opposition, critical sociology... but including on the other hand, without the slightest hesitation, a republican right radicalised as never before, as well as the far right around Marie Le Pen.

I don’t know how to conclude, except by stating once more the burden, sadness, distress and fear that I feel – why hide it? – and my sense of powerlessness in the face of a brutalisation in progress. The brutalisation of political life had certainly begun long before this atrocious crime – the evolution of policing during all recent social movements bears witness to this, and the names Lallement and Benalla are two good emblems of it. But this attack, like the previous ones, obviously takes us to a new level of horror. As for the response to this horror, it promises to be disastrous and, far from effectively opposing force to force (which can be done but requires discernment), it adds blind violence to blind violence – while exposing and weakening us as never before. Naively, with no doubt a bit of the idealism that inspired Samuel Paty, I call for a collective awakening to reason.

To use a slogan that appeared after this atrocious crime, I am a teacher. I am a teacher in the sense that I feel solidarity with Samuel Paty, whose death upsets and terrifies me, but I am also a teacher because it is quite simply my profession. I am a teacher and therefore I believe in reason, in education, in discussion. For twenty-five years, I have been teaching philosophy with passion, and I try to transmit a taste for thought, for freedom of thought, for the exchange of arguments, for contradictory debate. I am a teacher and I strive to transmit the beautiful and complementary values of tolerance, the capacity for indignation in the face of the intolerable, and non-violence in indignation and the fight for one’s ideas.

I am a teacher and for twenty-five years I have been trying to promote respect and equal treatment, against all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and unequal systems. And I refuse to die at the front for a supposedly ‘republican’ crusade, led by an interior minister who began his political career, between 2004 and 2008, in far-right monarchist circles (with Christian Vanneste and Politique magazine, the organ of Action Française. I am a teacher and I refuse to sacrifice everything I believe in for the career of a minister who, in 2012, was still campaigning fiercely, alongside the ‘Manif pour tous’, against homosexuals having the same rights as others – not to mention his relationship with women, which is problematic to say the least, and what our great republican calls, in a delicate euphemism, his ‘life as a young man’.

I am a teacher and I teach secularism, genuine secularism, the secularism that was embodied in the fine laws of 1881, 1882, 1886 and 1905, and is simply a device to produce greater freedom, equality and fraternity. But what we are seeing these days is not this secularism, far from it, less than ever, despite the word being repeated ad infinitum. On the contrary, what I see being put in place is a liberticidal policy, discriminatory and therefore unequal, suspicious and hateful rather than fraternal, without even the excuse of efficiency in the face of terrorism.

I am a teacher, and I want to continue to promote this true secularism, this taste for thought and free speech. And in order to do so, I want to remain alive. In order to do so, I want to remain free, master of my pedagogical choices, in material conditions that allow me to work. And so I refuse to become a hostage to a hero’s or martyr’s costume cut for me by political adventurers without judgment, without heart and without principles – those false friends who only know how to praise dead teachers and despise living ones.

22 October 2020

Translated by David Fernbach

Originally published by lmsi