One to remember, that of Samuel Paty, a French teacher murdered October 16 for generating a discussion on freedom of speech for his students two weeks earlier.
One to forget, that of Abdoullakh Anzorov, the 18 year old murderer of Mr. Paty. Anzorov was reportedly a Russian born Chechen refugee to France, essentially a guest. His name denotes a blend of his Islamic faith and Caucasus roots, slavicized by brutal Russian conquest subsequent to subjection by Mongol and Muslim empires.
According to reports, some of Paty’s students turned to social media to object to his displaying controversial cartoons made famous by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which depicted Islam’s prophet Mohammed. Paty seemingly permitted all who might be offended to not participate in the class, but the fact that he showcased the portrayals put him on Anzorov’s kill list.
Reportedly, Anzorov had no connection to the school, but believed errantly that Mohammed somehow needed defending, just as other terrorists did when they massacred employees at Charlie Hebdo offices in 2015.
The murder of Paty was especially gruesome and involved stabbing, decapitation, and photographing the mortal remains. French police countered Anzorov’s violence by gunning him down.
France is rightfully outraged. And many voices around the world, including from Muslim leaders, have indignantly condemned the heinous attack.
The condemnation of the violence has quickly morphed into French attacks on Islam, however, to which Muslim political leaders have responded with equal fervor, from Turkey, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, in calls for boycotts of France.
Lost in the cacophony is the debate on freedom of speech.
Lost is the mourning for a teacher.
Lost is the remorse that a misguided, troubled young man, with no nation to call his own, lived just long enough to establish for himself an eternal legacy of hate and murder.
For those who would see this tragedy as an opportunity to further expand the debate on freedom of speech, I would advise restraint and respect. Pragmatically, there is only pain, no gain, in mocking someone’s value system. Just as we’ve denigrated Christianity across our political and entertainment stages, some seek to deride Islam with caricatures of Mohammed or burning of Korans. Again. There is no moral, symbolic, spiritual, or comical advantage in this, so don’t do it.
To be clear, though, blame for this ugliness is at the feet of Anzorov and those who supported him. And those who may have picked up signals of his intent but did nothing. There is no justification for his actions. And, instead of calling out what may be perceived as French Islamophobia in this period of mourning and reflection, I would hope that Muslim nations consider amplifying calls for reform and messaging in their faith communities, and take actions to prevent future Anzorovs and others who perceive violence as a means to express religious devotion.
This is a time for grace and patience, and for people of all faiths to allow France space to grieve for Mr. Paty.