French Teachers Strike Over Safety After Muslim Backlash to Nude Art

Teachers at a school in a town near Paris went on strike amid fears for their lives after one of their colleagues sparked outrage over a 17th-century painting that she showed to Muslim students during class.

The teaching staff at a school in the town of Issou, a small town around 30 miles from the French capital Paris, are fearing for their safety in a time of heightened tension after Islamists murdered teachers in France.

Last October, a Muslim man murdered a 57-year-old teacher named Dominique Bernard in the playground of his school in Arras, north-west France. The suspect, identified as 20-year-old Mohammed M, a former student at Lycee Gambetta High School, where he stabbed Bernard to death, was arrested and placed under formal investigation after the murder, which was part of an Islamist attack against the school.

Another case of Islamist attacks against teachers in France that gained worldwide attention was the murder of Samuel Paty in October 2020. The 47-year-old secondary school teacher was killed and beheaded in Éragny-sur-Oise, a suburb in Paris located just 12 miles from Issou, by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee named Abdoullakh Abouyezidovich Anzorov after allegations of Paty showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during class. French police shot Anzorov after the incident.

The incident that sparked fears among teachers in Issou was a class where a French female teacher showed Diana and Actaeon during class. The artwork was a 1603 painting by Italian painter Giuseppe Cesari that portrayed nude female figures, which was typical for that style and period of painting.

Some Muslim students in the class turned away, saying their religion forbids them from looking at paintings, artworks, and photos depicting nude figures.

Then, false rumors began to spread that the female teacher insulted Muslims and made racist remarks against them. The teacher’s name was published on social media along with false rumors after the parents of the Muslim students complained to the school about her.

In response, the staff of the Issou school walked out, and the French education ministry sent officials to the school.

SNES, the most prominent workers’ union for teachers in France, said the atmosphere in the Issou school was similar to the situation before Paty was murdered in 2020, when false claims led to his murder.

"We know well that methods like that can lead to a tragedy.” The union’s general secretary, Sophie Vénétitay, told French media outlet BFMTV news. "We saw it in the murder of Samuel Paty. Our colleagues feel threatened and in danger."

The teachers at the school said the students admitted they fabricated the rumors, but it was too late.

"We’re dealing with vindictive parents who prefer to believe their children than us," the teachers said.

The school’s teaching staff also said discipline among students was already deteriorating before the incident, with fights and threats of rape among students becoming more common.

"We feel we are clearly in danger. We are supported by our direct superiors but not from higher up," said a teacher. "This is a real call for help."

Concerns for the safety of teachers in Issou also came after five of the six students connected to Paty’s murder were found guilty of helping in identifying the victim to the attacker. The sixth student was found guilty of false accusations after the court determined she was absent from the class where Paty allegedly showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.

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