Cartoon in Dutch school stirs up unrest

Youth arrested on suspicion of making online threats against teacher who showed graphic

Premier Mark Rutte (above) called threats against the teacher“absurd” and “intolerable”.
Premier Mark Rutte (above) called threats against the teacher“absurd” and “intolerable”.PHOTO: AFP

AMSTERDAM • A month after a teacher in France was beheaded for showing caricatures of 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 Prophet caricatures.

Local media had, the day before, reported that another teacher was threatened after he showed a cartoon depicting Prophet 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, Mr Arie Slob and Ms Ingrid van Engelshoven, wrote.

At the centre of the incident at the Emmauscollege high school in Rotterdam was a picture shared on social media of a cartoon posted on a classroom wall by a teacher several years ago - but noticed by students last Monday and shared on social media.

The cartoon depicted a decapitated person wearing a shirt labelled "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.

Mr Joep Bertrams, a Dutch political cartoonist, drew the cartoon in January 2015, when Charlie Hebdo was targeted by assailants angered by its caricatures of the Prophet 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 offences against the school and teacher", the police said. The teacher has since gone into hiding.

The incident came after Dutch schools held memorials last Monday for Mr 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.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday called threats against the teacher from Emmauscollege "absurd" and "intolerable".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2020, with the headline 'Cartoon in Dutch school stirs up unrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe