Paris Residents Eye Each Other Cautiously, Migrants Face Scrutiny

Nov 17, 2015
Originally published on November 17, 2015 8:44 am
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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I'm David Greene live in Paris in our makeshift studio that we've set up along Rue Saint-Lazare, a street that leads to a Metro station and commuter train station here in Paris. It has been four days now since 129 people were killed in a massacre in this city. Last night, we were at a cafe just up the boulevard here. The television above the table next to us had the banner headline, France is at war. And that is what President Francoise Hollande told the country yesterday. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Hollande this morning here in Paris. At the meeting, Secretary Kerry spoke of the extraordinary response of the French people to the attacks and also of steps the United States can take together with France to be more effective against ISIS. Last night and this morning, French warplanes continued to pound ISIS targets in Syria. You know, there is such a chill still in this city. Even the weather has turned cold and dreary since the day of the attacks. Last night, we met Anne Sophie Pratta. She's a 25-year-old pharmacist. She had just gotten out of a taxi. She was juggling her bags and fumbling for the key code to her apartment building. She's still thinking about Friday.

Has this changed the way you live?

ANNE SOPHIE PRATTA: Yes. Today, I had to go to university. So I took the train. And everyone was looking to everyone. And it was very frightening to take the train today. We didn't want to move. We just want to stay home. It's - it's worrying. And in the cab, the guy told me that I was the first client to smile today because everybody was very sad. And he told me, you are the first to smile (laughter). I was like, OK.

GREENE: Anne Sophie lives directly across from the Grand Mosque of Paris, its 90-year-old minaret towering over this neighborhood. There was a piece of paper hung on the iron-cast arched door. All classes at the mosque have been canceled, it said. But the doors were still open for prayers last night. And Mouloud Yousefi was leaving the mosque after praying and stopped to talk to us.

MOULOUD YOUSEFI: (Speaking French).

GREENE: He told us that in recent days, people have been shooting him dirty looks. But he said that's no different than after 9/11 and after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January. Yousefi said for him and his Muslim friends, it's now become a part of daily life, constantly reminding people that their religion is peaceful. People who commit these acts are not true Muslims, he said of the killings on Friday. A true Muslim, he said, would never do this. And there have been fears of a backlash against the Muslim community. Some of the police raids rounding up suspects have focused on poor, predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. Around the Grand Mosque, though, all was quiet. The residents we spoke to said the Muslim population is integrated with other residents. There was certainly no visible sign of tension anywhere. Emmanuel Zarpas is a software engineer. He was wearing a backpack. He was walking back home from a long day when he stopped to chat right outside the mosque. He said he's noticed differences in the neighborhood.

EMMANUEL ZARPAS: I live here. And I can still see that in 20 years, the atmosphere around the mosque change a lot.

GREENE: How is it changing?

ZARPAS: More people coming to pray, and with more external sign of their faith. And now you can see law enforcement people protecting the mosque, which is a change.

GREENE: And does that bother you?

ZARPAS: It's a complex question. It's a bit depending of which faith you are showing off.

GREENE: Now, Zarpas kept stressing to us that he has no problem with this mosque or with the Muslim community. But he said he doesn't blame people for being afraid.

ZARPAS: We are troubled by people who are different of us. And it's very easy to say, well, I'm not a racist. I'm tolerant. But I think that everybody on earth is troubled by the difference. That's something very understandable in a difficult time like now.

GREENE: Now, of the eight known suspects in the Paris attacks, seven are dead, and one is alive. Authorities believe several came from Syria as part of the recent wave of migration into Europe. Thousands of asylum seekers, many of them Syrian, are crossing the sea from Turkey to the Greek islands to get into the EU. Since at least one of the killers in Paris appears to have crossed into France as a migrant, many people are wondering if Europe is now going to close its doors. And my colleague, Joanna Kakissis, is on the Greek island of Lesbos.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: I meet Futun Soluman (ph) at a migrant camp a day after she arrives on the island of Lesbos. She studied mathematics at Damascus University with dreams of becoming a computer scientist. Soluman fled Syria four days ago, after Russian jets bombed her home.

FUTUN SOLUMAN: That's why I left Syria. I saw dead bodies. I didn't accept that. I can't stand that.

KAKISSIS: But now she hears of European countries and the United States possibly rejecting Syrian refugees.

SOLUMAN: We come all this journey, and door closed in our face - that's so bad.

KAKISSIS: A Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers. A man using that passport was registered as arriving on another Greek island, Leros, last month. The fact that a fellow Syrian could at all be connected to the violence upset Mohamed Sabah (ph), who used to sell shoes before the war.

MOHAMED SABAH: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "A true Syrian person would never blow himself up like this," he says. "Maybe this man came from another country. These people think they're doing something holy, but they're just sick in the head."

More than 650,000 migrants have landed on Greek islands this year, crossing by boat from nearby Turkey. At least half have landed on Lesbos. They're screened in white, prefab buildings in a fenced-off area in the camp. Greek police captain Dimitris Amoutzias showed me around last month.

DIMITRIS AMOUTZIAS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: (Speaking Greek).

"This is where asylum-seekers are fingerprinted and photographed," he told me, "and this is where they're interviewed."

Three-thousand migrants are still arriving here every day. The Greeks have only 125 officers to screen them with help from about 50 officers from Frontex, the EU border patrol agency. Jean-Noel Magnin, a French police officer with Frontex, told me last month each interview is usually no more than 10 minutes.

NOEL MAGNIN: To register them as people we know, in order to identify them and to ensure the security of Europe.

KAKISSIS: The information goes to a shared database so police can flag someone with a criminal background. Hussein Omar Mahmud (ph), a soil scientist from Somalia, hopes that Europeans realize that Muslims are also fleeing terrorists.

HUSSEIN OMAR MAHMUD: If we explain to them the condition, they will - I think they will accept. And they will understand.

KAKISSIS: So far, there are no changes to the screening. But after Paris, many asylum-seekers now fear they may all be seen as potential terrorists, and the path to a safe haven will close. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on the Greek island of Lesbos.

GREENE: All right, and we're back sitting in our ad hoc studio along a boulevard in Paris. And I'm joined by Karim Miske. He's a resident of Paris. And he's also an author whose novel, "Arab Jazz," is set in some of the neighborhoods of Paris, minority immigrant communities where some of these raids have taken place looking for suspects in the attacks Friday. Karim, thanks for coming in.

KARIM MISKE: Thank you.

GREENE: Tell me about these neighborhoods. What are they like?

MISKE: Well, when it's inside Paris, it's very mixed actually. I've been writing about the 19th arrondissement, which is in the northeast of Paris. And you have post-colonial descendants of immigrants. You have Hasidic Jews. And you have also a new population because it's also a very gentrified area now. So it's all mixed.

GREENE: It's funny; the image I think some people are getting is it is a very poor, mainly Muslim neighborhood. It sounds like not the case at all, that these neighborhoods are very diverse.

MISKE: Yeah, it depends. If you really go in the suburbs, you have very, very poor areas. But inside Paris, it will never be that poor.

GREENE: So some of the neighborhoods in Paris - these mixed neighborhoods you're talking about - any reason to believe that ISIS has a presence there?

MISKE: Well, it's always difficult to say. But what we know is that some 10 years ago, we had a group called la filiere des Buttes-Chaumont. Buttes-Chaumont is a park in the 19th arrondissement. And they'd been sending jihadis to Iraq at that time. And they were all born and raised in the 19th arrondissement. So there is a history there.

GREENE: I understand that there's some eerie connections between some of the extremism in some of these neighborhoods and your book, which is a fictional novel. Tell me about that.

MISKE: Yes, because some of the characters of my novel, most of them belong to fundamentalist groups. But they can be Jewish, like ultra-Orthodox Jews, Salafi Muslims or even Jehovah's Witnesses. So it's all about extreme forms of religion. But for the Muslims, I was inspired by this filiere des Buttes-Chaumont, by this group of eight or 10 years ago. And this group was responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

GREENE: The attacks back in January.

MISKE: Yeah, and apparently there's still some connections with this group and the group that did the last attacks of Friday.

GREENE: People who live in these neighborhoods who have no connection to extremism, how are they reacting to these types of raids?

MISKE: Well, they are reacting exactly like all other French citizens. There is a debate now in France, like, should the Muslim condemn more strongly the attacks. But they are all condemning the attacks. I mean, all the Muslim organization and all the Muslim cities in France are really horrified by what happened. And of course you have a minority who is potentially violent out of, I don't know, emptiness, frustration, you name it, whatever.

GREENE: Karim Miske is an author of the novel "Arab Jazz," and also a resident of Paris. Karim, thanks very much.

MISKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.