European fundamental values at risk

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Otmar Lahodynsky (photo: Ralph Manfreda, Wiener Zeitung)

Comment by Otmar Lahodynsky for Wiener Zeitung. The author is International President of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ).

In France and throughout Europe, the horror is back: last Friday, the French history teacher Samuel Paty was stabbed and decapitated in a suburb of Paris. An 18-year-old immigrant with Chechen roots committed the cruel act and was shot by the police shortly afterwards.

It was also an attack on freedom of expression, tolerance and the separation between state and religion, which is one of the basic republican principles in France.

The 47-year-old father of a family had dealt with the subject of freedom of expression in class, presenting caricatures of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo showing Mohammed and dangers of radical Islam.

A Muslim father of one of Paty’s students then sparked a hate campaign against the teacher in social media. Radical preachers joined this private “fatwa”. Islamic authorities – such as the official website of the Grande mosquee de Paris – also published the father’s hate video and demanded measures against the teacher for blasphemy. Now you can find there only comments deploring the murder of the teacher.

On the online forums of Islamic institutions in France one could read numerous comments that showed understanding for the decapitation of the teacher. Why should one be allowed to make fun of the prophet, now there would be a deterrent effect by the murder.

A similar argument was made almost six years ago after the terrorist attack on the editorial office of “Charlie Hebdo”. And only recently, a fanatical Muslim stabbed two passers-by in front of the former editorial office.

Only recently, French President Emanuel Macron called for tougher measures against the “Islamic separatism” of citizens who reject the liberal and secular values of the French society. Only recently, for example, the issuing of certificates of virginity was made a punishable offence. Now online forums are to be monitored more closely and hate postings deleted more quickly.

In all EU countries, basic values such as freedom of opinion and the rule of law must be better protected. It must be made clear that the Sharia cannot be reconciled with the European legal system. Hate preachers must be punished and prevented from talking to believers and especially young people. Religious instruction must be more strictly controlled, including what is preached in mosques.

Perhaps mandatory ethics education should be introduced, in which young EU citizens and migrants are taught the basic values that constitute civil liberties in European society. Calls for hate – and I include attacks on homosexuals by Catholic bishops and priests in Poland – must be punished. We all owe this to Samuel Paty, who had to die in defence of our values.