Students pay tribute to beheaded French teacher who feared for his safety after teaching a lesson about freedom of expression

  • The French teacher who was beheaded by an 18-year-old man on Friday after teaching his pupils about freedom of speech has been identified as Samuel Paty. 
  • Paty had shown his pupils a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad while discussing the Charlie Hebdo case in a lesson that was part of an obligatory "moral and civil education" course.
  • Tributes have been pouring in for Paty, who has been described by his students as someone who "loved his job."
  • The incident, which occurred in the northwestern Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, has shocked the country and prompted the hashtag #JeSuisSamuel to go viral on social media.
  • The lesson prompted several Muslim parents to issue complaints to the school and Paty to receive a number of unspecified threats had him "concerned for his safety."
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Tributes have been pouring in for the French teacher who was beheaded on Friday afternoon after teaching his pupils about freedom of speech and showing them controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher at College du Bois d'Aulne, was attacked in the northwestern Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday afternoon by an 18-year-old man who was later shot dead by police.

The brutal attack has shocked the country as the hashtag #JeSuisSamuel (I am Samuel) began trending on social media, similar to the #JeSuisCharlie movement that went viral after the 2015 attack on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. 

Earlier this month, Paty had shown his pupils a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad while discussing the Hebdo case in a lesson that was part of an obligatory "moral and civil education" course that all primary and secondary French schools have in their curriculum.

He gave Muslim students the opportunity to leave the classroom if they thought they might be offended, according to multiple media reports.


The history teacher's lesson however, sparked complaints from several Muslim parents. One family lodged a legal complaint while the father of a 13-year-old girl who chose not to leave the class posted a YouTube video complaining about the teacher.

In the video, the father said that Paty had shown a "photo of a naked man" claiming he was the "Muslim prophet," according to the Guardian. He also called Paty a "voyou" (thug) and asked other parents to join him in collective action against the teacher.

The video has since been removed.

Paty had received several unspecified threats in the days following the lesson. He had been "concerned for his safety," another teacher at the school said, according to The Sun.

Heartbroken colleagues and students laid white roses in front of the school on Saturday to pay tribute to the teacher, described as someone who "really loved his job."

Some teachers at the school were holding signs reading "Je Suis Enseignant" ("I am a teacher").

One of Paty's former students, Martial, 16, said Paty "really wanted to teach us things — sometimes we had debates," according to the BBC.

"When I saw 'teacher — Bois d'Aulne — beheading', I made the direct link: 'it's Mr. Paty'," said the 16-year-old who had run to school from his soccer training on Friday after he heard about the attack, according to the Huffington Post

Another former student, Nathan, described Paty as being a "small" man who had short brown hair and glasses and "always had a nice shirt," the Huffington Post reported.

Parents also took to social media to pay their respects. One father wrote on Twitter that his daughter "is in pieces, terrorized by the violence of such an act. How will I explain to her the unthinkable?" the BBC reported.

Politicians have also condemned the brutal attack, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer saying on Saturday that France would "never back down when confronted by terror, intimidation," according to the BBC.

President Macron, who went to the scene on Friday night, told reporters that Paty had been a "victim of an Islamist terrorist attack" because he "taught the freedom of expression, of believing and not believing," according to Sky News.

Muslim leaders in the country have also come forward to condemn the attack. "A civilization does not kill an innocent person, barbarism does," Tareq Oubrou, imam of a mosque in Bordeaux, said, according to the BBC.

A national tribute will be held for the teacher, the French presidency has said. 

Nine people have been arrested, including the suspect's grandfather, his 17-year-old brother, and the parents of a child at Paty's school.

Police say the suspect was an 18-year-old man who was born in Moscow and was of Chechen origin. He had a petty criminal record and was not known to the country's intelligence service.

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Covid’s Comeback Is Bigger But Less Deadly, at Least for Now

The coronavirus was always expected to make a comeback this winter, but an autumn rebound in infections across Europe and North America could make the colder months even more daunting than public health officials had anticipated.

The pandemic’s resurgence is less deadly so far than during its bleak early months, when thousands were dying daily. The risk is that with official case numbers already jumping to records in many countries, caring for the sick will overburden hospitals.

The return of the virus has been particularly pronounced in Europe, where long lockdowns brought the virus to heel following a deadly spring. After authorities eased restrictions in an effort to jump-start their economies, infection rates began climbing in Spain, France and other nations in August, fueled by vacationers and the virus’s insidious ability to spread from asymptomatic people.

“When people went on vacation they really let their guard down,” said White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx at a Friday press briefing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We’re asking now that you’re back from vacation, put your guard back up, not only in the public places but in your private places, including your home.”

The impact is being felt in both Europe, where many people take holidays in August, and in the U.S., where the effect has been creeping northward in the east and Midwest, Birx said. People should stop assuming that their families and close friends are free of infection just because they appear healthy, she said.

“We take down our guard when we’re with people we know, and we assume that if I know you, you couldn’t have Covid,” she said. “The message has to change that we’re giving to the community, that community spread is now occurring in small gatherings day after day in households and families.”

Vigorous Return

Infection rates are spiraling across much of the European continent. Over the past month, France has reported about 340,000 new cases, close to half the country’s cumulative total since the outbreak began. Yet deaths have risen by less than 1,800 — a rate of about 0.5% — after the country previously recorded more than 30,000.

The U.K. has seen a similar trend. Countries that were less affected the first time around, such as the Czech Republic, became hot spots this fall. Even Germany, which weathered the spring better than many of its neighbors, is seeing growing case rates.

In the U.S., the seven-day average of new cases climbed to 46,824 Thursday, the most since Aug. 19, according to the most recent Johns Hopkins University data. One trouble spot is New York City, where outbreaks in a handful of neighborhoods and suburbs have stirred fears that the former U.S. virus epicenter could see a second act.

The virus’s vigorous return is happening even as the weather across much of the Northern Hemisphere remains temperate. Experts have long warned that as more people are forced inside, and as flu season kicks into gear, Covid-19 will surge. The spurt in infections across the globe means health officials will have little time to retrench and cope with what could be a taxing winter for health-care systems around the world.

“It is a problem that we know this thing gets transmitted by going inside, with large crowds, for prolonged periods,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania. “And the winter months are all about going inside for prolonged periods of time.”

Retailers, restaurants and businesses in the U.S. have worked hard to make public places safe from the virus, Birx said. The rising numbers are an indication that spread is taking place when people least expect it, which may be among their own household members, she warned.

Colleges and universities are already getting positive results with frequent testing of students and staff for the virus and an emphasis on prevention in all situations. The task force has been reminding governors that if the virus is allowed to gain momentum again, it will quickly translate into more hospital surges.

“It’s inevitable we will have a rise,” Emanuel said. “We do have a chance to control it and limit it. That’s the hope.”

Less Lethal

There may be some comfort in that Europe’s latest surge has so far been less lethal than in the past. While France and the U.K. reported 24-hour death tolls of more than 1,000 on some days last spring — with Italy and Spain close behind — current levels have been less than one-tenth that high on most days.

Over the past month, for example, France’s death rate of 0.5% compares with double-digit percentages in that country and others at the height of the first wave.

Health officials cite several reasons for a decline in the mortality rate, including younger, healthier patients, improved treatment and a massive ramp-up in testing.

The U.K. has increased testing by more than 10-fold from levels last spring. Back then, only those with symptoms were likely to be tested; now, with increased contact tracing, the net has been cast far wider, and the majority of positive tests in Italy, the U.K. and other countries are for asymptomatic cases.

Case tallies during Europe’s first wave were probably vastly understated, making the death rate from the disease seem artificially high. The World Health Organization has estimated that about one-tenth of the world’s population has had Covid. That would be more than 750 million people — 20 times the official total of about 37 million.

In that case the actual death rates would have been far lower as a percentage of positive cases. Now, with far more testing, health authorities are getting a better picture of the pandemic’s true lethality — one reason why there’s been less enthusiasm for full lockdowns as the virus spreads again. Instead, European countries are tackling the contagion with a patchwork of local restrictions.

Another difference now is that some new treatment options have emerged. Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir is more widely available, and the generic steroid dexamethasone is showing promise in preventing inflammation, a problem in acute cases. President Donald Trump touted Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s experimental antibody therapy after receiving it for Covid-19, and the company joined Eli Lilly & Co. in applying for emergency-use authorization.

That may give public health officials some new weapons by the time the colder months arrive.

— With assistance by Michelle Fay Cortez

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World News

France’s Le Pen Could Top First Round of 2022 Elections: Poll

French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Rally Leader Marine Le Pen would take the two top spots in the first round of voting if presidential elections were held this Sunday, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll published by Le Journal du Dimanche.

The 42-year-old president and Le Pen are neck and neck in the survey, with other politicians far behind, 18 months ahead of the 2022 elections, the poll showed. Macron would get 23%-26% of votes in the first round, versus 24%-27% for Le Pen, according to the survey.

Le Pen “could emerge as the winner in the first round of presidential elections,” Frederic Dabi, Ifop’s deputy general director, was cited as saying in Le Journal du Dimanche.

The approval ratings of Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex have dropped in recent weeks, as the government struggles to contain a renewed surge in coronavirus cases while trying to avoid a second nationwide lockdown. Protests erupted last month in Marseille, France’s second-biggest city, after the government’s decision to close bars and restaurants for at least two weeks. The number of new coronavirus cases in France reached a record on Saturday, with Paris also facing the possibility of stricter Covid-19 rules as of Monday.

The Ifop-Fiducial poll surveyed 1,608 adults via the internet from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, according to the newspaper.

A separate poll by Elabe for the BFM TV channel, also published Sunday, showed that 73% of French people are worried about the renewed coronavirus spread, and respondents are still divided over the government’s decision to shut down Marseille restaurants and bars as well as gyms in 11 cities.

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