The horrific killing of a French teacher, Samuel Batey, who had shown cartoons of the Islam Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression, shocked all over France.
It also imposed difficult discussions about freedom of expression and who could exercise it.
President Emmanuel Macron and his government responded to the murder by declaring their support for freedom of expression.
But they also redoubled their ongoing campaign to discredit French Muslims, and launched their own attack on freedom of expression.
Last week, for example, French police conducted investigative interviews with four 10-year-olds for hours on suspicion of “justifying terrorism”, after they appeared to question the teacher’s choice to show the cartoons.
The French government is not as a champion of freedom of expression as it claims. In 2019, a French court convicted two men of “contempt” after they burned an effigy of President Macron during a peaceful demonstration.
Parliament is currently debating a new law criminalizing the circulation of images of law enforcement officials through social media.
It is difficult to reconcile this approach with the fierce defense of the French authorities for the right to depict the Prophet Muhammad in caricatures.
The right to freedom of expression includes opinions that may be disturbing, offensive, or shocking, and the publication of cartoons depicting the Islam Prophet Muhammad is guaranteed under this right.
No one should fear violence or harassment due to the reproduction or publication of such photos.
But those who do not consent to the publication of the cartoons also have the right to express their concerns.
The right to freedom of expression also guarantees the possibility of criticizing the option to portray religions in ways that may be perceived as stereotyped or offensive.
Opposing caricatures does not make a person “separatist”, fanatical, or “Islamist”.
While the right to express opinion or opinions that may be perceived offensive to religious beliefs is being vigorously defended, Muslims’ freedoms of expression and belief usually receive little attention in France under the guise of “the universality of the principles of the Republic”.
In the name of secularism, Muslims in France cannot wear religious symbols or religious dress in schools or in public sector jobs.
France’s record on freedom of expression in other areas is equally bleak.
Every year thousands of people are convicted of “contempt of public officials,” a vaguely defined criminal offense that law enforcement and judicial authorities have applied in massive numbers to silence peaceful dissent.
In June this year, the European Court of Human Rights found that the conviction of 11 activists in France for campaigning to boycott Israeli products violated their right to freedom of expression.
The murder of Samuel Batey also led the French authorities to take measures reminiscent of the state of emergency that followed the 2015 Paris attacks.
At the beginning of that year, exceptional measures, approved by Parliament under the state of emergency, led to thousands of raids and arbitrary house arrest.
And unfair discrimination targeting Muslims.
In a disturbing sign that history is repeating itself, the French government is now working to dissolve associations and close mosques, based on the vague concept of “extremism”.
Throughout the state of emergency, the term “extremism” has often been used as a metaphor for “a religious Muslim”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanen also announced his intention to dissolve the “Collective Against Islamophobia in France” (CCIF), an organization that combats unfair discrimination against Muslims.
He described the gathering as an “enemy of the republic” and a “backroom for terrorism”.
The minister did not provide any evidence to support his allegations.
In a video posted on social media, a parent opposed to choosing Patti to display the cartoons suggested reporting similar “discriminatory acts” to the gathering and contacting organizations.
The French authorities failed to find a link between this type of community action and the notion that “the anti-Islamophobia grouping in France” had any role in promoting violence or “separatism”.
A few days after the killing, Darmanen declared his intention to expel 231 foreigners suspected of “extremism” and threatening national security.
The authorities began carrying out 16 deportations to countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Russia and Tunisia, where Amnesty International has documented the use of torture, especially for people who are labeled as a threat to national security.
While many in the United States and abroad hoped that the Biden / Harris administration would address entrenched racism in the country, the French Ministry of Education was engaged in a cultural war against multiculturalism and critical ethnic approaches.
The attempts to counter entrenched racism are based on ideas “imported from the United States” and that they constitute fertile ground for “separatism and extremism”.
But it is not extremist to note that Muslims and other minorities are the victims of racism in France.
It is a proposal that expresses reality, and saying that is a right guaranteed by freedom of expression.
The French government’s rhetoric on freedom of expression is not sufficient to mask its shameful hypocrisy.
Freedom of expression is meaningless unless it applies to everyone.
The government’s campaign to protect freedom of expression should not be used to cover up actions that put people at risk of human rights violations, including torture.