The terrorist murder of French professor Samuel Paty in the Paris suburb in autumn 2020 has re-opened a debate concerning the liberty of teaching, freedom of expression and the role of secularism in a pluralist society. What is the specific nature of French laïcité? To what extent is there a growing confrontation with a part of the Muslim world? Why has this provoked a diplomatic incident between France and Turkey, and more broadly the boycott of French products in many Muslim countries? The on-going ideological debate concerning the role of religion in a secular society, has shown both its local and international implications, where many different actors use it for various strategic purposes. This dossier on the one hand will discuss the boundaries, the origins and the contemporary effects of freedom of expression and laïcité comparing the French, the Western and the Muslim contexts. On the other hand, it will analyse the geopolitical, local and international stakes of this debate.
- France, and what it represents, appears in many respects to be a priority target for political Islam in general, and for its extremist avatars in particular. This not a coincidence, since France embodies a singular conception of freedom of expression inherent to laïcité, which it has historically elevated to the rank of a cardinal republican value. “France is an indivisible, laïque, democratic and social Republic. It ensures the equality before the law of all citizens without distinction of origin, race or religion. It respects all beliefs.” It is precisely this respect for all religious beliefs that has been called into question and manipulated for largely political purposes by neo-Ottoman Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid the controversy generated by the republication, on September 2, 2020, of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by the Charlie Hebdo weekly newspaper.