A French philosophy teacher has resigned from one of the country’s only state-funded Muslim schools, claiming it promoted “Islamism” and was riddled with anti-Semitism.
The head of the Averroès Lycée strongly denied Sofiane Zitouni’s claims and threatened to sue him for defamation.
The teacher, who describes himself as a “French citizen of Muslim culture” had been at the private school in Lille for only five months but recorded his alleged experiences in French newspaper Libération.
A week after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Mr Zitouni wrote a piece entitled “today, the Prophet is also Charlie”, expanding on the “je suis Charlie” slogan that became a rallying call for the satirical newspaper’s supporters around the world.
He claimed that many Muslims failed to have a sense of humour with their faith, claiming the controversial Charlie Hebdo cover depicting a weeping Mohamed was hated only by those who “still have not understood the essence of his message”.
Mr Zitouni alleged that his article was badly received back at school, with pupils saying his stance was “blasphemy”, that he was grovelling at the feet of the “enemies of Islam” and that the murdered cartoonists “had it coming”.
A colleague warned him that he had made “enemies” with the piece, he claimed, whispering that he should “look behind him” as he walked in the street.
Another teacher from Averroès Lycée wrote an article in response in weekly French newspaper L’Obs. Sofiane Meziani, who is also a member of the French Association of Muslims, wrote that Charlie Hebdo “trivialised racist acts” and that characterising the attacks as a religious issue was reductive.
He concluded: “I do not share the ideas of my dear colleague, but he can be assured that I would fight for his right to express them. Especially in the staff room!”
On the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the school’s head teacher issued a statement expressing his condolences to the victims and saying the gunmen had “betrayed and defiled” the values of Islam.
Students held a minute’s silence and a protest holding signs reading “not in my name” and “the Prophet never asked to be avenged”.
But Mr Zitouni, writing yesterday, claimed he resigned from Averroès Lycée because it was playing a “double game” with the secular French republic – presenting a positive image and good exam results to secure public funding while “disseminating stealthily and perniciously a conception of Islam that is nothing other than Islamism – an unhealthy and dangerous mix of religion and politics”.
“The reality is that Averroès Lycée is a Muslim territory that is being funded by the state,” he wrote.
The school has been rated “excellent” by the French schools inspectorate and reportedly achieves an 100 per cent page rate in high school exams.
Mr Zitouni claimed to have been told by students that he was not orthodox enough in his own belief in Islam, that Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong and that a veiled female student refused to say the word “sex” or sit next to a boy.
“In more than 20 years of my teaching career, I have never heard so many anti-Semitic remarks from the mouths of students,” he wrote.
The teacher said he failed to dissuade a student from the theory that “Jews dominate French media” and that a “powerful Jewish lobby” was trying to crush Islam in France, being told that “Jews are the enemies of Muslims”.
The school’s head teacher, El Hassane Oufker, told France 24 staff and students were “hugely shocked and upset” by Mr Zitouni’s claims and that he would be sued for defamation.
“We are in a state of shock,” he added. “The teachers are depressed and the students are very upset. We never got the chance to discuss [the allegations of Islamism].
“We feel betrayed…he worked here for three months and he saw and heard things that no one else has.”
The school’s entire teaching body have reportedly signed a joint letter condemning that “slanderous lies” of their former colleague, France 24 reported.