Refugees Experiencing Backlash After Paris Attacks

Nov 17, 2015
Originally published on November 17, 2015 9:44 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene, live in Paris, where we've set up an ad hoc studio along a street, the Rue Saint-Lazare. And a stroll before dawn down this boulevard showed us how Parisians are trying to get back to normal.

We walked down the street in one direction. There's an open-air bakery right on the corner selling baguettes and croissants to the tune of a pop radio station.

Now if you go a little further up the boulevard, you come to a tobacco shop that was packed with immigrant men at the early hour of the morning, putting down your euro coins for packs of cigarettes, lottery tickets and paper cups of espresso. You know, Paris, it's long been a city of immigrants. But there are now fears of a backlash against the refugees who are streaming into Europe. And my colleague Lauren Frayer met one Syrian refugee who was here in Paris at the time of the attacks.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: So how many people live here?

SHADI ABU FAKHER: Three. Bastille (ph) and Sophie (ph), they are actors.

FRAYER: Actors?

FAKHER: Yeah.

FRAYER: Shadi Abu Fakher rents a room from two struggling French actors next to the superhighway that encircles Paris. Music by Fayrouz, an icon in the Arab world, plays softly in the cramped apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

FAYROUZ: (Singing in foreign language).

FAKHER: All the time we hear Fayrouz in Syria in mourning, people in Syria have a special memory with Fayrouz because...

FRAYER: Shadi fled Syria three years ago. He's a peace activist, did time in Syrian regime prisons and finally got refugee status in France. On Friday night, he was in a Paris cafe when smartphones started beeping. Suicide bombers had struck the city. He says his heart sank for the victims and for his fellow Syrian refugees.

FAKHER: Because at most, this person go out Syria because they see more dead. I don't want to see another dead. Don't want to see another war, another bomb, another problem.

FRAYER: Syrians are fleeing war only to find ISIS here in the place where they sought refuge. Shadi says he's already feeling a backlash against Syrian refugees.

FAKHER: This is crazy for me. It's - you refugee? Yeah, I am refugee. But why? What's problem? I don't hate you.

FRAYER: A Syrian passport was found near the body of one of Friday's bombers.

FAKHER: All the world - ah, you see. But I am not make this and the refugee of Syria not make this. Make this, the - the people of Europe, not we.

FRAYER: The people from Europe, he says, have trained with ISIS in Syria and then gone back to attack their own countries. It's the chaos of war that allows ISIS to operate, he says. He hopes the Paris attacks jumpstart cease-fire talks in Syria, where even children now can identify warplanes.

FAKHER: You know, children in Syria looking for - oh, this is F-22. No, no, no, this is Mirage. This is game now in Syria for children. OK, I can - you can watch something.

FRAYER: Shadi logs on to Facebook to show me a video...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

FRAYER: Of bombs exploding at a Syrian elementary school. He sighs and rubs his eyes. He thinks he'll have to be here a while longer. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Paris.

GREENE: So as we just heard right there, Syrians are fleeing ISIS, often only to find the signs of ISIS again here in Europe. Terrorism, it can have a long tale and a heavy impact for many generations. And last night, we met Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc. He heads the French Association of Victims of Terrorism. He works with victims of terrorist attacks and their families. And we stood with him in a quiet courtyard in Paris as dusk was falling. And the sounds of children playing was filtering down from the apartments above. He has personal experience with terrorism, as he told me.

GUILLAUME DENOIXX DE SAINT MARC: I've got 26 years of experience in victims of terrorism. I've lost my father in a terrorist attack 26 years ago.

GREENE: Where was that? What attack?

SAINT MARC: It was an attack on a French plane over Niger. And it was 170 person killed. And my father was on board. And I'm the person who, many years after, negotiated directly with Gadhafi and the Gadhafi Foundation for the Libya to recognize their responsibility on it and give a compensation to the families.

GREENE: So you negotiated with Gadhafi's son?

SAINT MARC: Yes, I did.

GREENE: When you saw Gadhafi was killed, did you - was there- how did you react to that?

SAINT MARC: I was not happy that he was killed because I would - I don't have any hate against him. I wanted him to be in a jail and, you know, wanted him to - for - to be judged in front of a court.

GREENE: You want him to - you wanted him to live to be judged.

SAINT MARC: Yes. I have no vengeance against him. I met his son. I also - the brother in Norway, Abdullah Senussi, the one who organized the terrorist attack. I met his daughter many times. And, yeah, I have no hate against the daughter and for his - her father. I just want him to be in Paris to be judged in France. That would be my dream.

GREENE: How did you let go of the vengeance?

SAINT MARC: You can see that mostly all the victims of terrorism are not seeking for vengeance. It's something that links us as victims of terrorism because vengeance just destroys you. Hate just destroys you. And you want to live. And the only way to live is to be different than them because we have to cut the circle of violence. And we have to be different. Our values are not their values. And that's - helps us not to be like them.

GREENE: How can you convince people though, I mean, who we've talked to on the streets in the last few days who have just responded and said let's go to war, let's go to war against ISIS?

SAINT MARC: You know, it's complicated for them, and they have some - a lot of emotion. And they have anger. But this will not last. And this is really common to all the victims of terrorism. Vengeance is never a solution because then you are the same level as the perpetrators.

GREENE: Is it wrong for political leaders to react with - in a very aggressive way after a terrorist attack and say, we have to - we have to start bombing, we have to be at war?

SAINT MARC: I don't want them to do it in our name.

GREENE: You don't want them to do it in the name of victims.

SAINT MARC: Yeah. We have to destroy ISIS. But I'm not sure that doing only security or military aspects would be enough. You cannot fight an ideology just by the weapons. Vengeance should not exist. We ask for justice.

GREENE: That was Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc. He heads the French Association for Victims of Terrorism. And I want to bring another voice in here. She's sitting next to me here in Paris. It's Nathalie Goulet. She's a member of French Parliament. She's vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate. Madam Senator, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.

NATHALIE GOULET: Thank you.

GREENE: You know, the activist - the activist we just heard from right there, you cannot fight an ideology only with weapons. It - I - just makes we wonder, could France be doing more to prevent the root causes of terrorism?

GOULET: Well, you point exactly what I did yesterday after the presidential speech because he was talking in term of war, in term of army, in term of intelligence. But he didn't told us anything about prevention. And that is a big missing part of his speech.

GREENE: But what - if there's something missing, what would you have put in that speech if you were giving it?

GOULET: What is missing? Because, you know, it's - if you don't work on the youth of this country - you know that we have a fairly impressive amount of French foreign fighters. You also have people under survey and in - above them - among the 10,000 people, you almost have 30 percent on convert, people who convert from Christian into Muslim to fight. And so you can close the borders. You can put people in jail. Then you will have more people who will join ISIL or be on the verge of radicalization - or because they got this radicalization in jail, which is a hell of a problem. Or because we don't stop them to convert and use this bad way to be Muslim.

GREENE: But let me just ask you if you're talking about more surveillance, how do you balance more surveillance against going too far and taking away individual freedoms and sort of being too aggressive in minority communities?

GOULET: But first of all, you know - let me put that in that way. You have to name the enemy. OK, it's easy. You have Daesh. You have ISIL. It's easy. You name the enemy. But if you don't name the other enemy, which is Salafism - you have to name it. So we have some - you know, we do not live in a communitarianism society. It's not United State here, you know? We have this laicity, clerical low, which means that the state is not to be involved in the religion. So you have to take care of the imam or chaplain. They are not trained here. They are trained abroad. They are trained in sometimes Salafism schools or those kind of institution. And you cannot check on them. So we have to prevent them to bring the people to radicalization.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking here with Nathalie Goulet. She's a member of French Parliament, and she's the vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the French Parliament. Senator, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.