France protest Samuel Paty
People gather at the Place de la Republique in Paris, to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France, October 18, 2020. Placard reads "I am a Samuel". Image Credit: Reuters

It is a little more than a week ago since schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in a heinous act of murder in the northern Paris suburb of Egrany. An 18-year-old extremist was shot dead by police in the aftermath of the killing and about a dozen others arrested.

Paty’s death is a very sad case indeed, and he has been posthumously awarded France’s highest honour as tens of thousands took to the streets in displays of solidarity with the victim’s family and those in the teaching profession.

Sadly too, Paty’s death is also being considered an opportunity by some to stoke divisions and tensions within French society, with expressions of Islamphobia and anti-Muslim sentiments coming to the fore. Two Muslim women were stabbed under the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday as the perpetrator shouted racial epithets.

The act of one deranged extremist cannot and must not be used as an excuse to condemn an entire peace-loving segment of French society based solely on a gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of faith.

Would the act of a deranged man in killing some 50 Muslims as they prayed in mosques in Christchurch be representative of the Christian faith and the millions who subscribe to the faith’s central tenets? Clearly not. The vast majority of all, regardless of creed or colour, are horrified by this act of singular madness of one individual. Likewise, the vast majority are horrified too by the brutality surrounding the incidence of Paty’s death. Sadly though, there are those who opportunely seize on the case and stoke tensions and divisions.

Within 18 months, President Emmanuel Macron faces re-election — a tough campaign given all that has happened within France, Europe and beyond. Yes, no one could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout that follows. For any leader who has had to make difficult and largely unprecedented choices these past months, the prospect of hitting the campaign trail will be daunting. But we must urge President Macron not to use Paty’s death as a reason to seek political support from elements in French society who view others with suspicion and doubt. There are too many on the French political stage willing to go that route.

On Wednesday, President Macron eulogised Paty as a true hero of the French Republic. It’s worth stating those values of liberty, fraternity and equality apply to all within France — and must be applied to French treatment of the Muslim community.