France shuts Paris mosque in crackdown after teacher’s beheading

Policemen pose a prefectoral decree on the entrance of the Grande Mosquee of Pantin, in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, France, 20 October 2020. [Julien de Rosa/EPA/EFE]

France ordered the temporary closure of a mosque outside Paris on Tuesday (20 October), part of a crackdown on Muslims who incite hatred after the decapitation of a teacher who showed his class caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Grand Mosque of Pantin, a low-income suburb on the capital’s northeastern outskirts, had shared a video on its Facebook page before the attack that vented hatred against history teacher Samuel Paty.

Paty was beheaded on a street in broad daylight on Friday in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a middle-class Paris suburb, by the 18-year-old Chechen, who was born in Moscow and had been living in France as a refugee.

Prosecutors said the !8-years old assailant, shot dead by police soon after the attack, wanted to punish his victim for showing his pupils satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class focused on freedom of expression earlier this month.

The beheading of a public servant by a suspected Islamist for his use of religious satire to explore with students the debate surrounding freedom of expression, a deeply cherished tenet of democracy in secular France, has convulsed the country and shocked the world.

President Emmanuel Macron, during a visit to the first local anti-radicalisation unit created by his government, said a group linked to the beheading had been disbanded and action would be taken against more such groups in the coming days and weeks.

Under pressure from political opponents who have accused him of not being tough enough on terrorism, Macron is cracking down on by what he calls Islamist separatism – attempts by some French Muslims to impose conservative Islamic beliefs eclipsing traditional values of the French Republic in their communities.

Police plastered notices of the closure order outside the mosque as the authorities promised a tough response against the disseminators of hate messages, preachers of radicalised sermons and foreigners believed to pose a security threat to France.

The six-month order was “for the sole purpose of preventing acts of terrorism”, the notice issued by the head of the Seine-Saint-Denis department read.

President Emmanuel Macron is increasingly concerned by what he calls Islamist separatism: the attempt by hostile elements within France’s large Muslim community to impose conservative Islamic beliefs over the traditional values of the French Republic in some communities.

‘Enemy within’

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said this week France was confronted by an “enemy within”.

The rector of the Grand Mosque of Panin, M’hammed Henniche, this weekend expressed regret over sharing the video on social media, after it emerged Paty had become the victim of a vicious online campaign of intimidation even before he was killed.

In the video, the Muslim father of one of Paty’s students said the history teacher had singled out Muslim students and asked them to leave his class before showing the cartoons. He called Paty a thug and said he wanted the teacher removed.

Henniche told Agence France Presse he had shared the video, filmed by the father of a student at Paty’s school, not to endorse the complaint but out of concern for Muslim children.

The student’s father is now in police custody.

Calls by Reuters to the mosque on Tuesday went unanswered.

“There’s no room for violence in our religion”, the mosque said in a statement published on Facebook on Monday. “We strongly condemn this savagery.”

One Pantin resident, who gave her name as Maya and said her husband prayed at the mosque, called the closure “sad for our community”.

A national tribute in honour of Paty will be held at Paris’ Sorbonne university on Wednesday. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Paty would be posthumously awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award.

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