Amid the ongoing debate about freedom of speech in France, the former French Minister of Education, Luc Ferry, has criticized the act of showing Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures to students with a new angle.
The former minister, known for having implemented the headscarf ban in French public schools in 2004, defended freedom of speech. However, he denounced the act of showing such caricatures to young students, not only because of their offensive nature.
“In order to teach freedom of speech, we don’t have to show cartoons that border on pornography,” Ferry said.
The minister made the statement when asked about the importance of teaching freedom of speech during an interview with France Info on November 2.
The statement was Ferry’s first public response to the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty on October 16. An 18-year-old Chechen refugee assassinated Paty near France’s capital, Paris, after the teacher had shown caricatures of Prophet Muhammad to his students.
‘Pornographic drawings do not belong in schools’
While Ferry did not explicitly criticize the drawings’ anti-Islamic nature, he denounced their “borderline pornographic” aspect. Some of Charlie Hebdo’s drawings depict Prophet Muhammad without clothes and in an inappropriate posture.
“We can teach freedom of speech without showing pornographic and ignoble drawings. God knows that I am not defending Islamist terrorism, but I think that we do not have to insult people in order to defend freedom of speech,” Ferry declared.
The former minister also criticized the fact that a large number of caricatures published in France under the name of freedom of speech target Islam and Muslims.
“If we’re showing [students] caricatures such as Charlie Hebdo’s, we should show those that portray Jesus as well as Moses and Muhammad,” he said.
Ferry presented an alternative for teaching students about freedom of speech, giving the example of the 1831 caricature of King Louis Philippe of France. The drawing, which compared the monarch’s face to a pear, was controversial at the time and, according to Ferry, could be a good illustration to introduce young students to freedom of speech.
“Charlie Hebdo can publish what they want. I obviously support that, total freedom of expression for newspapers. But we do not have to do the same thing Charlie does in classrooms. That’s absurd,” he concluded.
Ferry, who served as minister of education between 2002 and 2004, is known for implementing the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, most commonly known as the French headscarf ban.
The law banned wearing religious symbols in French public primary and secondary schools. The legal text’s impact still echoes to this day, as the French Republic’s value of secularism continues to clash with the religious freedom of Muslims.