In the Netherlands, a cartoon in school leads to online threats and an arrest
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In the Netherlands, a cartoon in school leads to online threats and an arrest
People visit a makeshift memorial for Samuel Paty, the teacher who was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France, Oct. 22, 2020. Threats against a high school teacher who displayed a political cartoon that supported the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have alarmed Dutch officials. Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times.

by Elian Peltier and Claire Moses

ROTTERDAM (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- A month after a teacher in France was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class, fears are growing in the Netherlands that the ripple effects of the attack are spreading in that country.

On Friday, an 18-year-old woman in the Dutch city of Rotterdam was arrested on suspicion of making online threats against a high school teacher who had displayed in his classroom a cartoon supporting Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper that had originally published the Muhammad caricatures.

Local media on Thursday reported that another teacher was threatened after he showed a cartoon depicting Muhammad during a class about free speech at a high school in the city of Den Bosch.

“Actions in relation to freedom of speech in schools in Rotterdam and Den Bosch have led to unrest and even threats,” two Dutch education ministers wrote in a letter to Parliament to register their dismay. “To intimidate and threaten teachers cannot be tolerated in any way,” the ministers, Arie Slob and Ingrid van Engelshoven, wrote.

At the center of the incident at the Emmauscollege high school in Rotterdam was a picture of a cartoon posted on a classroom wall by a teacher several years ago that was shared on social media. The cartoon depicted a decapitated person wearing a shirt labeled “Charlie Hebdo” sticking out his tongue at a bearded man holding a sword, with the word “immortal” below it, according to the Dutch newspaper NRC.

Joep Bertrams, a Dutch political cartoonist, drew the cartoon in January 2015, when Charlie Hebdo was targeted by assailants angered by its caricatures of Muhammad in a terrorist attack in Paris that killed 12 people.

Pictures of the cartoon in the Rotterdam classroom were posted on Instagram and Snapchat, and circulated among students, attracting some angry attention. “If this isn’t removed quickly then we’re going to deal with this differently,” read a caption under one picture that showed the cartoon in the classroom on Instagram.

It was not clear if this comment involved the 18-year-old woman who was arrested, but not named, as the authorities did not specify the nature of the threat she is accused of making. The post has been deleted, but was pictured as a screengrab in the Dutch media.

The woman was arrested on suspicion of having posted a message on social media that “incited others to commit criminal offenses against the school and teacher,” the police said.

The incident came after Dutch schools held memorials on Monday for Samuel Paty, the teacher who was killed in France last month.

The incidents in France and the Netherlands underline the growing tensions between governments in the region that are taking a hard line on issues such as free speech, and their many citizens of Muslim faith who have found material like the caricatures produced by Charlie Hebdo and the language used to defend them deeply offensive.

After Paty’s killing, French authorities waged a crackdown against Muslim individuals and groups that has unsettled many in the community. President Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister, a hard-line right-wing politician who once suggested that Islam needed to be “totally assimilated to the Republic,” has been the leading figure in that effort.

In a letter to parents on Tuesday, Emmauscollege high school said “the context around the cartoon completely disappeared” as it was circulated on social media. NRC reported that some students at the school, which includes a large number of Muslims, mistakenly believed that the cartoon depicted Muhammad.

“The consequence is that threats were made,” the letter said. “We find these threats unacceptable.”

In an interview, Bertrams, the Dutch cartoonist, said his drawings depicted a terrorist, not Muhammad.

“I act against fanatics within a religion that do things that I don’t agree with,” Bertrams said about his cartoons. “I never drew cartoons of the prophet, and I suppose I will never do, even if I could, because I respect religion.”

In Rotterdam, the police increased surveillance around Emmauscollege, and Dutch officials urged teachers to report any threats or intimidation.

The threats have alarmed officials in the Netherlands for their similarities with the events that took a deadly turn in France last month.

Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher, faced a backlash from offended students after he showed the Charlie Hebdo caricatures in a class on freedom of expression. Paty later apologized, but an angry father complained about him in videos he uploaded on social media. An 18-year-old teenager who saw the videos went on Oct. 16 to the middle school where Paty taught, and killed him in the street after he left school.

“What happened in France has gathered a lot of attention, we are taking these threats very seriously,” said Lillian van Duijvenbode, a spokeswoman for the Rotterdam police.

Dutch media and Slob, one of the education ministers who wrote a letter to Parliament, said the teacher in Rotterdam, who has not been named, had gone into hiding. Emmauscollege refused to comment on the teacher, and the police declined to comment on his whereabouts.

Officials in France said a core pillar of the country, its public education system, had been targeted by the attack on Paty. And authorities there as well as in the Netherlands other countries, have vowed to defend freedom of expression, encouraging teachers to discuss the killing of Paty with their students.

Since the attack, French authorities have reported several other related incidents. Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said a minute of silence held in memory of Paty in French schools on Monday had been disturbed on a number of occasions. And earlier this week, a teacher in a Paris suburb filed a complaint after she said she heard a man threatening to “avenge the Prophet” and target teachers near a primary school.

Rens Goedknegt, a history teacher at a high school in the Dutch city of Haarlem, said Paty’s killing and the incident in Rotterdam had been discussed widely at his school.

He said that he had talked about Paty’s murder with his students and that a lot of them found “it hard to understand why such a cartoon would be hurtful.” But, he added, “it was a good view into how other kids would have found it offensive.”

Bertram, the cartoonist, said caricatures needed to be contextualized when showed to students. The attacker he represented in 2015, he said, was covered in black, a clothing reminiscent of those worn by Islamic State fighters who were making headlines at the time.

“A cartoon is very useful to explain problems in societies, because its simplicity makes it very easy to understand it,” Bertrams said. “The danger is, because of the simplicity, misunderstanding can also happen very easily.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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