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‘We cannot let fear prevail’: As free speech debates rage after teacher’s beheading, French magazine reprints Mohammed cartoons

France’s L’Express magazine has reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, some of which were used in a lesson by murdered teacher Samuel Paty. Local authorities want to publish a book of caricatures and distribute it in schools.

The French publication ran a story featuring cartoons of the Islamic prophet, two of which – the drawings taken from satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – were part of a lesson on freedom of speech given by Paty. 

Back in 2015, twelve people were shot and killed after two Islamist extremists stormed Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office, as retribution for the cartoons.

The French magazine argued that Paty, who was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee, had been murdered for “doing his job” and promoting France’s secular values. The outlet warned that the country cannot allow itself to self-censor. 

The fear is there. Fear is everywhere. But we cannot let it prevail

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Police stand outside Samuel Paty's school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France October 19, 2020
Mosque says it ‘regrets’ sharing video aimed at the beheaded teacher. French interior minister wants it to be closed

The decision to run the cartoons comes amid an outpouring of anger over Paty’s murder. On Monday, the presidents of France’s 13 administrative regions announced that they were launching an initiative to publish a book of political and religious caricatures, and they want it to be distributed in schools across the country. 

In a statement, one of the leaders behind the initiative said the book was intended to “defend the values ​​of the Republic and the fundamental right of each and every one of our fellow citizens to live in peace and in freedom.” 

Paty was attacked and killed last week after the father of one of his students published several videos on social media in which he denounced the instructor as a “thug” and said that he had issued a complaint against him. The videos reportedly spread among the region’s Muslim community, and one of them was even shared by a local mosque, the Grand Mosque of Pantin. 

The mosque removed the video after Paty’s murder and expressed “regret” for sharing it, while arguing that the teacher was never identified by name in the clip. According to reports, the place of worship has been ordered to close, after French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused the mosque of spreading “hate” and arguing that it should not be allowed to operate.

Notably, Hassen Chalghoumi, president of the Conference of Imams of France, claims that he warned the mosque’s rector about a “fundamentalist” within his congregation. 

The French government has vowed to crack down on Islamic extremism in the country following Paty’s killing. Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Paris and cities across France to denounce the teacher’s murder. 

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