TerrorismTeaching Anti-Terrorism: How France and England Use Schools to Counter Radicalization

By Jonathan James

Published 4 December 2020

The murder of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty, beheaded by 18-year-old Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov in October 2020 after Paty had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civic education lesson, has understandably caused shock and fear among teachers in France. Many teachers were already struggling to manage classroom discussions on sensitive topics such as the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s publication of the controversial caricatures. Some now fear for their personal safety.

The murder of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty, beheaded by 18-year-old Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov in October 2020 after Paty had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a civic education lesson, has understandably caused shock and fear among teachers in France.

Many teachers were already struggling to manage classroom discussions on sensitive topics such as the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s publication of the controversial caricatures. Some now fear for their personal safety.

My PhD research explores the impact of Islamist terrorism on education policy and practice in England and France. As I come to the end of my study, these events give rise to an unwelcome sense of déjà vu.

Controversy and Criticism
My interest in the topic began with the terrorist attacks on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 after it published the caricatures. The interviews I have carried out over the past three years show that these cartoons continue to cause upset and anger among some Muslim students. This leads to challenging classroom moments for teachers.

In the first week of school following the murder of Paty, some 400 students across France were reported to the ministry of education for refusing to take part in the minute’s silence in his honor.

Since Paty’s murder, there has been much talk about France’s “color-blind” approach to cultural diversity, which emphasizes that the same rights apply to all citizens. This is often considered to be in opposition to the multiculturalism of countries such as the UK, which gives greater space to minority cultures and religions.

French president Emmanuel Macron has responded to international criticism of his government’s response to the attacks by insisting on the singularity of the French approach, and the inability of Anglo-Saxon commentators to understand it.

However, this overlooks the striking similarities in the way the English and French governments have used the education system as a tool to promote social cohesion and build young people’s resilience to radicalization.

Fundamental Values
Governments in both countries have sought to emphasize shared values in the education system. Since 2014, schools in England have been required to promote the “fundamental British values” of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths.

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