To defend freedom of expression, unity is essential

The struggle against terrorism is a very long-term undertaking: the particularly atrocious attack on a French history-geography teacher, Samuel Paty, who was beheaded on Friday in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, outside Paris, is new proof of this. Nearly six years after the assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, freedom of expression is once again at the heart of a barbarous act. And once again it was an intellectual, committed to defending diversity of opinion and religion through his profession and his personal convictions, who paid with his life.

We could argue forever, as we like to do in France and as we have the immense good fortune to be able to do, about the circumstances of this new assassination, about the assailant or assailants, about the conditions in which he was able to carry out his act and to be in France. We could debate the fonts implemented by our successive governments to combat the plague of radical Islamism, we could debate their strategies, priorities and means. Such polemics are inevitable and such debates indispensable in any democratic society.

But they change nothing of substance. A man was savagely killed, with premeditation, because he had included in his teaching the freedom to think, to say and to draw. This freedom must be taught. It is among the founding values ​​of our country, it is at the heart of our history, our identity, our culture, and it is under attack.

It has been ceaselessly under attack for several years. When, on November 13, 2015, terrorists struck at the Bataclan and outdoor Paris cafes, they targeted the freedom to live in a diverse society and to listen to music. When, on July 14, 2016, families out to see fireworks in Nice were massacred, the target was the freedom to gather for the national holiday.

The French have learned to live with the terrorist threat, but they probably do not appreciate how present it remains, as shown by the number of attacks that have been thwarted by the police. Nor to what degree their freedom remains fragile and must be protected. The teacher’s assassination, at a time when the perpetrators and their accomplices in Charlie Hebdo attack are on trial, and shortly after a meat cleaver attack by a young Pakistani outside the former headquarters of that weekly, is a tragic reminder of this.

By coincidence, this new attack took place on the eve of the start of a curfew in nine big French urban areas aimed at slowing the circulation of the Covid-19 virus. Announcing these measures on Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron called on the French for solidarity in confronting the health crisis. “We need each other,” he said. “We will overcome this crisis, together. “ He renewed this appeal for unity on Friday evening, this time in the context of the fight against terrorism and what he had defined, in a speech two weeks ago in Les Mureaux, not far from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, as “Islamist separatism. “ We must “Stand united,” the president said. “They will not divide us. “

On January 11, 2015, millions of French citizens, appalled by three days of attacks against journalists, police officers and Jewish compatriots [at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris], marched to demonstrate their commitment to the values ​​under assault. Today, faced with this double crisis, the mobilization and solidarity of French citizens of all origins, all opinions and all religions are essential, now more than ever.

Translation by Meg Bortin / Translation by Meg Bortin

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