N.H. Franco-American Centre Director: French 'A Very Resilient People'

Nov 16, 2015

A man cries in Paris at one of several makeshift memorials to the 129 killed in a series of terror attacks in Paris. The attacks also wounded 350 people.
Credit Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It’s been a busy few days for John Tousignant.

He’s executive director of the Franco-American Centre in Manchester, which promotes French language, culture and heritage.

Since Friday’s attack in Paris, he’s been fielding calls from people offering words of support.

He’s also been out speaking with those in the French community here in the Granite State about the reaction here in the region.

On Monday, NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Tousignant.

In the days since the attacks, what’s been the sentiment among the French community here in the Granite State? What have you heard?

Of course, it’s been a tremendous shock and discouragement on behalf of both French nationals that we know but also people who associate with French through their heritage.

You attended a vigil in Boston Sunday to honor the victims. Talk about what you heard and saw there.

It was a large gathering of people. There were very brief remarks with a one-minute moment of silence. Other than the sounds of the traffic, you really could have heard a pin drop. People were certainly very stunned by this and the solidarity that people showed through their silence was deafening.

It certainly brings back some raw feelings in Boston and of course some echoes from Sept. 11, 2001.

Yes, I think certainly most recently in Boston with the marathon bombings, but with Sept. 11, there was a case where this attack – very well coordinated and very well executed, terribly – represented an attack on the average person. Everybody becomes an enemy combatant when you’re in that type of situation. It’s very difficult to figure out how one should react.

There’s a feeling of helplessness, I think, of raw emotion and shock. This was described as an act of war by the president of France. Do you fear an attack like this could forever change Paris and the country as a whole?

John Tousignant
Credit Courtesy

The French people that I know – friends, relatives, and business contacts – are a very resilient people. They’ve gone through a lot over the course of their history. So I think in the long term, it will not have a lasting negative repercussion in Paris. In the short term, it’s another reminder to us how fragile life is and the fact that we need to always be vigilant when we’re looking around us. In the 21st century, no one is safe thoroughly.

What do you make of the global reaction to the attacks, particularly across Europe? Right now, they’re dealing of course with a huge migrant situation. Are you worried about a backlash against some of that?

It’s hard to tell. I think that it’s a very difficult time to look or act differently than the norm in any country of the world, but certainly in Europe with all the migrants coming in. Terrorists don’t wear badges identifying themselves as such, so people need to remain vigilant, but at the same time, people need to realize that the terrorists are a minority of the larger population, so it’s important not to fall into the pit of creating a broad generalization about everybody who looks a certain way or worships a certain religion.

But do you worry that attacks like this will do just that, dividing people even further?

I think in the short term, it’s a natural reaction. I know from my own experience after Sept. 11, the first time I flew on a plane I found myself looking at certain other passengers in a way that really wasn’t justified but it was that innate, raw emotional response. Hopefully, people will get past that response and be able to look at things more objectively as we get a little distance from this event.