“The dream of the reason produces monsters”. The Goyesque phrase, written in Spanish and French, was one of the slogans that could be read this Sunday in the Plaza de la República in Paris, where thousands of people gathered, as in other cities in France, in memory of Samuel Paty, history and geography professor beheaded Friday by an Islamist terrorist in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 50 kilometers from Paris.
The demonstration, a few hours after the curfew that came into force on Saturday in the country’s capital, was a cry in defense of freedom of expression and a tribute to teachers who, in some cases, have been facing threats for years, and now they see how one of their own pays with his life to do his job. French President Emmanuel Macron has called a national tribute ceremony.
The atmosphere was solemn in the Republic Square. All with a mask. Sporadic applause. Many teachers, but also politicians, activists and above all ordinary citizens. A minute of silence and then La Marsellesa a cappella, the whole square an immense choir, more than a national anthem, in these circumstances, a protest song, or funeral. The hope that Paty’s death would awaken consciences – today in France a teacher can be beheaded on public roads for teaching something as basic as freedom of expression – coexisted with despair in the face of the lack of solutions or the temptation to throw away the towel: the possibility that in the homeland of the Enlightenment and secularism, from now on teachers self-censor themselves so as not to get into trouble is one of the debates after the attack. Some had the feeling that there could have been more, as in the massive 2015 demonstration after the bombings. Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
“It seems to me that there are not enough people here. There was more with Charlie Hebdo. It is just as serious. I think that little by little they are scratching the republican spirit. There should be no resignation from the Republicans. Many people are not aware of the luck of living in a setting like ours. They must wake up and let it not be too late ”, says Jean-Yves Revol, a businessman who on the back of his vest has written a phrase by the philosopher Hannah Arendt:“ It is in the void of thought that evil is born ”.
Some protesters carried French flags. Some European looks. And magazine covers Charlie Hebdo with the Muhammad cartoons that have put this magazine on the Islamists’ target. “For me, it is not a teacher who has been the objective: it is a human being who wanted to do his job, as before, there were journalists who wanted to do his job or the priest who also wanted to do his job who was cut down four years ago their church ”, says Eva Lipa, who is carrying one of the covers of the satirical magazine in her hand.
“Teachers despised by society, poorly paid by the state, abandoned by the hierarchy, murdered by Islamists,” read another banner. The man who wore it did not want to reveal his identity: “It is too dangerous, you can end up in the target of malicious people.” He is a philosophy teacher at a high school (secondary school) and considers that the educational hierarchy did not adequately protect Samuel Paty. He explains that he has never had problems with students, but with parents who distrust the teacher. In Paty’s case, it was a father who orchestrated a social media campaign with dire consequences.
The banners in the Plaza de la República are sober, most of them improvised at home. “No to political Islam. Murderous totalitarianism, ”says one. “The dark ages will not pass.” A woman has written with marker on her mask perhaps the simplest and most revealing message: “Sad teacher”.