A spokesperson for the mayor of the Brussels district Molenbeek, Catherine Moureaux, on Saturday said that a teacher from a local elementary school had been suspended for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad while discussing the recent beheading of a French teacher who had used the same images.
"Our decision is uniquely based on the fact that these are obscene images. If it had not been of the Prophet, we would have done the same thing", the spokesperson pointed out.
She added that "two or three parents complained" about the teacher, whose name was not revealed, about his using the cartoons previously published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are considered blasphemous by Muslims, with the publication of such cartoons leading to a deadly shooting at Charlie Hebdo's office in 2015, when 12 people were killed and 11 more injured as a result of the attack.
The mayor's spokesperson also underscored that the suspension was not a punishment, but a step to preserve order in the classroom in the future, and that the teacher could face administrative measures after a disciplinary procedure.
Many netizens, meanwhile, were quick to express amazement over the teacher's suspension, which they insisted rides roughshod over the freedom of speech.
Suspend the people/person that suspended the teacher.— Brendan Maguire (@Sonofcondorman) October 30, 2020
Censorship isn't right!— Laira Vieira ⓥ (@LairaGVieira) October 30, 2020
The teacher should be immediately put back in their job, and the people that suspended the teacher should be fired.— Liarpoliticians, UK has rogue Parliament+police (@liarpoliticians) October 30, 2020
WHATEVER HAPENED TO FREEDOM OF SPEAK???— Butch the Lorry Driver (@ButchLorry) October 30, 2020
This is the creeping islamisation of the West, where our traditions of free speech, free thought and free inquiry are sacrificed in order to appease an alien and hostile politico-religious death cult.— Fitzwarren (@Fitzwarren12) October 30, 2020
This is censorship!— Nina Storrer (@NinaaStorrer) October 30, 2020
Perfect.— M. Tokouki Amaziane (@AmazianeTokouki) October 30, 2020
Freedom of expression ends when it violates the freedom of others.
Molenbeek has a substantial Muslim community and a couple of years ago, local media reported that at least 51 non-governmental organisations under observation in the district may have links to radicalism and terrorism.
In the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, then-Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon pledged to "clean out Molenbeek", after the district was confirmed to be the home of Salah Abdelsalam, one of the key suspects in the Paris tragedy that killed 130 people.
French Teacher's Killing
The Belgian teacher's suspension comes a few weeks after France was rocked by reports that French history teacher Samuel Paty had been beheaded on the outskirts of Paris after he showed cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad to his students. The attacker, an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin, was subsequently killed by police.
The French government has announced urgent measures to combat terrorism, including an increase of security in schools across the country starting in November and dissolving associations advocating radical Islamism.
Despite this, Paty's murder was followed by a knife-wielding perpetrator killing three people at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice on Thursday, in what prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to declare that the country is "under terrorist attack again".
The remarks were preceded by Macron vowing that France would continue fighting for freedom of speech and that the country would not "renounce caricatures, illustrations, even if others step back".