Ceremony in memory of Samuel Paty, in front of a fresco by artist Alexandre Sarrat, in Eragny-sur-Oise (Val-d’Oise), October 16, 2021. BRUNO LEVESQUE / IP3 PRESS / MAXPPP
Danish teachers will therefore not be obliged to bring up the case of the Muhammad cartoons in class. So decided the deputies of the small Nordic country, Wednesday, May 10, after more than two hours of debate, during which the Social Democratic Minister for Children and Education, Mattias Tesfaye, opposed to the proposal, argued security risks for teachers and the country.
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The idea of integrating the cartoon crisis into the “canons” of Danish history – those crucial events whose teaching is compulsory – had been raised after the assassination of the history-geography professor, Samuel Paty, beheaded by an Islamist terrorist, in Conflans-Saint-Honorine (Yvelines), on October 16, 2020. A survey carried out by the newspaper Information, among 400 Danish teachers, revealed that a third of them did not dare to show drawings of the prophet in class, out of fear for their safety.
However, it was in Denmark that it all began, on September 30, 2005, with the publication of twelve cartoons of Muhammad, in the pages of the conservative newspaper Jyllands Posten. At the end of a campaign led by a group of Danish imams, the kingdom finds itself at the heart of an unprecedented international crisis: several of its diplomatic representations abroad are set on fire, its businesses boycotted.
In the years that followed, the Danish intelligence services thwarted multiple plans to attack the newspaper and the cartoonists. Out of solidarity, Charlie Hebdo published the twelve cartoons on February 8, 2006, and in turn became a target. After the attack on the satirical newspaper, which killed twelve people, on January 7, 2015, Jyllands Posten decided never to republish the cartoons again. “Violence works”, explained the daily, in an editorial.
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The assassination of Samuel Paty and the testimonies of teachers, who reveal their discomfort, relaunch the debate on freedom of expression in Denmark. Some teachers believe that including caricatures in the program would make their job easier. Others oppose it, such as the president of the association of school principals, Claus Hjortdal, who remarks that schools have been able to “teach freedom of expression for hundreds of years without showing caricatures of Muhammad” and that circulating them in a class “where Yasmin and Muhammad are sitting” risks hurting them.
In 2021, a motion was tabled in Parliament by right-wing and far-right elected officials. It demanded that schools’ safety plans be updated and asked the Department of Education to design teaching materials on the cartoon crisis. But while a majority of deputies supported it, the motion was rejected, after the Social Democratic Party, at the head of the government, had proposed to open discussions in Parliament.
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