Samuel Patty wanted to teach his students a lesson about free speech. He ended up paying his life. 47-year-old Patty, a middle-school teacher in a Paris suburb, announced to her civic class in early October that she would show some of Prophet Muhammad’s adventures that the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was published in 2015 and that students were free to choose images. Out of view.
The father posted Patty’s name and school address on social media and encouraged all Muslims who shared their concerns to help him expel the “rogue” instructor. The father and his entourage repeatedly described the relationship as racism and Islamophobia.
An 18-year-old Chechen refugee, Abdullakh Anzorov, learned the ruckus from social media. He came to middle school and bribed the students to find out which teacher was Samuel Patty. Anzorov followed Paty when he left school, then beat him to death, stripped him, and posted a picture of the teacher’s head on Twitter..
Later that day Anjorov was confronted by the police; He attacked her with a knife and was shot and killed.
This was not an ordinary act of terrorism. Other atrocities by Islamists in France were either coordinated attacks by terrorist groups (in the form of Charlie Hebdo and the Hypercasser supermarket massacres in 2015) or the murders of random civilians by Islamic extremists who did not rely too much on outside help (2018 In) Paris knife attack by Khazat Azimov).
Patty’s murderer appears to be linked to the Syrian jihadists, but the victim was chosen by a Twitter mob. The “shocked” and “angry” people are said to have said that Patty made them feel threatened because of his identity. He linked his personal experience with a large history of persecution – eventually to the extent of paranoia by comparing the current situation of French Muslims with the victims of the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Bosnia’s Serebrenica. He encouraged supporters of victim identification to consider themselves personally victimized by the alleged perpetrator.
In short, he demanded that Samuel Patty be revoked.
Anzorov’s crime has often been described by French commentators as “barbaric”, “backward” and “medieval”. But really it was amazing. It was sparked by identity-driven politics of the early 21st century, and its perpetrators were inspired by social-media platforms. The whole case is a cruel reminder that the redistribution of politics amid the battle of identity is ill-suited for democratic societies, in which diverse people agree to co-exist and take collective identities as “people”.
Three decades ago, Samuel Patty and I were students together in Lyon. We had about 40 classe prépa. I was not close to Samuel, but, when I saw his name in the news on 17 October, I immediately remembered him, as well as his passion for history, his embarrassment and sense of duty.
In France, Samuel Patty is now officially celebrated as a hero. And rightly so, though he had a less important, compassionate kind of valor. It was allowed to talk to unknown people and to give room for conflicting dialogues. The world he thrived in became far from the new, alternative model of society based on group identity, censorship, ignorance, and destruction.
Mr. Dubruil is a professor of literature at Cornell.
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Edition printed on October 26, 2020.