Anna Triandafilidou: Let’s think about whether expressing our disagreement with the other’s values ​​should offend his other values!


Anna Triandafyllidou holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University, in Toronto. Prior to taking up the CERC at Ryerson, Anna was based in Florence, Italy, where she held a Robert Schuman Chair at the European University Institute and directed the Cultural Pluralism Research Area as part of the European University Institute’s Global Governance Programme. She is the scientific coordinator of the Horizon2020 projects: GREASE on Religious Diversity and Radicalisation; and BRaVE on Building Resilience against Violent Extremism and Polarization. Her recent books include The Problem of Religious Diversity: European Challenges, Asian Approaches (Eds. with T. Modood, Edinburgh University Press, 2018); Multicultural Governance in a Mobile World (Ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2017).

Anna Triandafyllidou is the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies


Marginalia: Ms. Triandafilidou, the brutal assassination of teacher Samuel Patti has led many to believe that his real executioner was Islamic State. Do you share this?

Anna Triandafyllidou:  The tragic assassination of Samuel Paty on 16 October creates a sense of insecurity and impotence among citizens who feel they cannot protect themselves against such radicalised individuals who decide to commit a terrorist attack and are prepared to die for it. And this is precisely how such terrorism acts achieve their aims: not by attacking the institutions and the values of the Republic but by leading the citizens to put into question those institutions because they feel threatened. As the famous French sociologist Olivier Roy writes: they play with our fears. This recent crime once again invites a reflection as to why marginalised youth like Anzorov find a recourse in radical Islam and actually chose to seek their own death through committing what they perceive as an act of defending the Prophet. As Olivier Roy has written in his book “Le Djihad et la Mort”, martyrdom is about being ready to die for one’s religion but is not about seeking death for one’s religion. The process of radicalisation of these young people is complex and cannot be dealt with as a security issue. Socio economic inequality and discrimination provide a breeding ground for certain forms of religiously inspired extremism as Hisham Hellyer and Michele Grossman point out in a recent paper. And part of the problem is to be found in the refusal to openly acknowledge that French Muslims often suffer from discrimination and racism and that the principle of equality is a mirage for many young people of immigrant origin. This is no justification of terrorism or of the assassination of Samuel Paty but we need to understand the wider context within which some young people find religiously inspired answers to their real life problems.   –

М: Patty’s assassination attacked the most sacred bastion of the Republic: the school and the physical body of the teacher. A teacher was literally beheaded for showing cartoons of Charles Hebdo during a lesson on freedom of expression. But what is your reading of this tragic event?


Anna Triandafyllidou: I think there are two events that actually took place two weeks ago in Conflans-Saint-Honorine. One event was the civic education course of Samuel Paty, his decision to show to his class the caricatures of the Prophet as an example of the freedom of expression – and perhaps of its limits and the related reaction of Brahim C., the father of one of Paty’s students, who protested with the school about Paty’s course. In addition to complaining with the school principal, Mr Brahim C. registered a video expressing his anger about the incident at Mr Paty’s course, which went viral on social media.


The second event was the horrible crime that a young radicalised man of Chechen origin, Abdouallakh Abouyezidovitch Anzorov, planned and executed, notably the assassination of Samuel Paty because, in the eyes of Anzorovo he offended Islam and the Prophet. While Anzorov had been radicalising and expressing his extremist views and violent intentions for a few months, it was the social media that provided the crucial connection between the two events.

Anzorov was looking for a victim and the social media through the video of Brahim C. offered him one. This is perhaps a very important lesson to be learnt from this tragic event. We need to be more aware about how we use social media and about how what we do in the social media can sometimes go out of hand and have tragic consequences for people that we hardly know. This is not to say that Brahim C. is responsible for Anzorov’s actions but unfortunately we do live in a social media world which plays an important in processes of violent radicalisation of young people towards different directions. We should all be more careful about our activities in the social media and about how they can be misused and misconstrued. This is one lesson learnt by the tragic and unacceptable assassination of Samuel Paty.

M:The assassination took place against the backdrop of the Charlie Hebdo trial and a few weeks after the knife attack on a minor in front of the old edition of the satirical newspaper. Does this mean that we have not made any progress in the last five years? Is France losing the battle against Islamism and freedom of expression?

Anna Triandafyllidou: I think that part of the problem is that such events are portrayed as representing an inherent feature of Islam as a religious faith or presenting all Muslims as potential terrorists. I think the process of violent radicalisation that some young people go through links to an aberrant version of Islam that represents only a tiny minority among Muslims and that is of great concern also in Muslim majority countries like Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia. We should not conflate that version of salafist radical and violent Islam to the mainstream faith that millions of people in Europe adhere to. At the same time we should not forget that freedom of expression comes with responsibility as Tariq Modood also argued in 2015. The fact that you can publish something that offends somebody else’s religious faith or core moral values does not mean that you should publish it so as to prove that you can exercise your freedom of expression. We should always ponder our acts and exercise responsibly our freedom, in all domains. It is of courase absolutely important that the state and our laws provide for the legal framework that protects our freedom and that we should have both our religious freedom and our freedom to express our criticism and disagreement. However it is our call, each time, to ponder on whether expressing our disagreement with somebody else’s values needs also to offend the other’s values or beliefs. Religious sentiment is at the core of many people’s sense of identity and dignity. While I am personally not a believer, it is part of my own core political and civic values to respect the rights and dignity of those who believe. We need to ponder carefully, each time, within each specific context – there is no one size fits all answer – as to where our freedom of expression ends and where the right of the other person not to feel denigrated or offended starts.  

M. As a prominent researcher of religious conflicts and modern terrorism, what are your hypotheses about the development of religious tolerance? Is there a chance for peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity, or are we on the verge of a new wave of Islamophobia?

Anna Triandafyllidou: I do not see a problem of coexistence of Islam and Christianity in Europe. But I think we need to pay more attention to the ways in which socio-economic inequality intersects with religious and ethnic discrimination and exclusion. We need to continue working to build together our societies in respect of cultural and religious diversity building resilience against all forms of violent extremism (whether of jihadist, white supremacist, far right or far left orientation). Particularly with regard to the Abrahamic religions we should not forget that they are part of the same tradition and we should work on remembering what brings people together and not what pulls them apart. There is in my view a concrete danger that events like those at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and their representation in public discourse lead young Muslim kids in different European countries to feel stigmatised and put in a box as potential extremists or terrorists. Making these young people feel ashamed about their upbringing or religious faith is not only wrong but also can become a breeding ground for extremism. Building these kids’ strong sense of security, acceptance and respect in society is what fights both Islamophobia and jihadist terrorism.

The questions were prepared by Yuliana Metodieva, editor-in-chief of the human rights website Marginalia



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