Friends describe the man killed by an Islamist as an even-tempered character. It was not his style to pour oil on the fire.
Memorial: In front of the school where Samuel Paty worked Photo: Michel Euler/ap
In Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, about a thousand students gathered with their parents, colleagues, some representatives of the authorities and other fellow citizens the morning after the murder of a history teacher at the local middle school. They laid flowers at the scene of the crime. Some of the young people reportedly saw on their Snapchat groups the macabre picture the assassin had published of the decapitated victim on Twitter.
Signs read "JeSuisSamuel." It is more than understandable that the solidarity slogan "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) is thus linked to the terrorist attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo: The 47-year-old teacher Samuel Paty became the target of a terrorist attack on Friday because he had shown two Mohammed cartoons that had previously appeared in the Paris satirical newspaper as part of his lessons.
In doing so, he was merely following the curriculum, like thousands of others in the French school system, and explaining to his students what freedom of expression means in France – even if this disturbs some people. The fact that a fellow citizen, who is in himself completely ordinary, was murdered in a bestial way for this reason is all the more frightening.
A black and white photo of the victim has been in the newspapers since Saturday: An athletic man looking into the distance through sunglasses and with a serious expression. A former colleague of Samuel Paty, from the time when he still lived in Lyon, published this picture on the Internet. Like others who met him in the teaching profession, a former colleague says that Paty understood his profession as a vocation and was convinced that education could change people.
Former students confirm this in the media. They respectfully call him "Monsieur Paty," saying he was a rather reserved, never provocative teacher and person. "I knew him as a class teacher from meetings with parents. His remarks were always balanced, he never spoke to say nothing. It was not his style to pour oil on the fire when there were disagreements," reports Myriam Moire, who had met him several times as a member of the parents’ association FCPE.
Teaching in a quiet suburb
After his studies in Lyon and first posts in the Paris region, Paty joined the Bois d’Aulne (in German: Erlenwald) secondary school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine five years ago as a history and geography teacher. This suburb at the confluence of the Seine and Oise rivers in northwest Paris is home to a mixed population living in terraced houses or single-family homes. However, the place cannot be compared to one of the "banlieue ghettos" with an almost homogeneous population of immigrant families, such as exist in other zones outside Paris.
With his partner, from whom he had been recently separated, he moved into an apartment in the quiet Grillon quarter of Eragny. Their son together is 5 years old. "I still see him coming home with his son with the groceries. He was a nice and quiet person who said hello to everyone, but was a little shy. He looked younger," a neighbor is quoted as saying by Le Parisien. Paty played tennis regularly, he trained at the local club three times a week.
That he could be considered an enemy by Islamist fanatics with this life and his way of practicing his profession is something that none of his private and professional acquaintances understand. The polemic over a lesson on freedom of expression remained incomprehensible even to him. A student told the Journal du Manche: "For several days, he lowered his head in the corridors. They said he was Islamophobic and racist, but I don’t think that was true." But the rumor, spitefully fueled on the Internet, penetrated as far as Evreux, Normandy, where a young Chechen lived.