Many mourn the death of a teacher, who was beheaded on the street in France for showing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad to his students. Teachers in Sweden are also afraid, with one of them pointing out that it is not a question of if, but when similar attacks will take place.
The brutal slaughter and beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty last week has sent shockwaves through Europe, including Sweden’s teaching community, who voiced their concern that they could also fall victim to a similar attack.
Olof Linton told Sweden’s public broadcaster (SVT) that the killing, considered an attack against freedom of expression, could have happened anywhere in Europe, including Sweden. The secondary school teacher from Stockholm said “we must be prepared for attacks to happen. It is not a question of if, but when”. Linton stressed that it was important for teachers to keep children in the learning process and colleagues must not bow to extremist ideologies.
A teacher from a secondary school in Enkoping also stressed that it was key to have “free speech” discussions during class. Charlotta Hemlin said it was crucial to touch on sensitive issues in class, as the Swedish society is becoming increasingly polarised. Mattias Axelsson, a secondary school teacher in Gothenburg, told SVT that he was saddened and outraged by the murder of his French colleague.
The fears of Swedish teachers seem to be rooted in reality. According to the president of the Gothenburg teachers’ cooperative, intimidation and violence against teachers are common problems in their schools. In groups of special-need students, for example, teachers get bit, beaten and clawed on a daily basis.
In the town of Boras, violence and threats by students against teachers are also characteristic elements of school life. According to Karl Hallerup, a teacher there, students often hurl stones at the teachers who have – on some occasions – ended up in extremely difficult and perilous situations that could have spiralled out of control.
The phenomenon, according to the schoolteacher, takes a heavy toll on teachers’ work environment who often shy away from reporting the incidents, either because they fear that the situation will only get worse, or simply because they don’t believe that reporting the cases would lead to a tangible solution. In Boras the situation is so bad that several principals carry personal alarm devices for fear of an attack.