Amid Mourning, Life In Paris Goes On | KERA News

Amid Mourning, Life In Paris Goes On

Nov 16, 2015
Originally published on November 17, 2015 1:07 pm

Over the weekend, I watched as crowds in the hundreds gathered in Paris' 10th arrondissement at the killing sites: a few neighborhood bistros like Le Carillon, and a Cambodian restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge — Little Cambodia.

The crowds moved quietly, like museumgoers, as they observed the memorial bouquets and candles or added to them with a hushed reverence.

There are bullet holes in the windows and walls, and the scenes of disorder inside were evidence of the chaos Friday night: beer glasses, still full, on the bar. A single shoe on the floor. Shards of glass.

One American resident of this neighborhood calls this Paris' Brooklyn: a gentrified, former working-class quarter, still affordable, racially diverse — with people from North Africa, eastern Europe, even the U.S. It's full of young couples, some pushing strollers.

On a Friday night, the tables would be full inside the eateries, and on the sidewalks outside them, too. Diners on the pavement outside one restaurant would face those at another. The brutal logic behind attacking these places with automatic weapons fire is evident: the sheer number of potential victims, arrayed like sitting targets, for a gunman in the street.

On the wall of Le Petit Cambodge now, there are white circles of chalk, put there by police. At the center of each is a bullet hole. I count seven, all up and down the wall. And on the ground, sawdust — it may have been thrown here to absorb some of the blood.

The victims of Friday night's mass murder fit no pattern, other than that they were in Paris.

Perrine Karst brought her 3-year-old son to the spot in front of the Cambodian restaurant to join her in lighting a candle.

"We didn't tell him any details," she says. "We just came here with a candle. We told him it was life. I just told him — I don't know anyway what I could tell him."

Another Parisian who came to pay her respects, Benedicte Joffre, says it has been tough trying to explain this to her children.

"What was attacked — and we talked about this a lot with the kids — is our entire society, beyond the freedom of the press," she says. "It's the idea of democracy, the idea that you can go out at night, that women can be at cafés, that women can express themselves, that men can go where they please, and the fact that you should respect what your neighbor thinks. It's just a very real attack against our society and our way of seeing things."

Another Parisian who came to see the killing sites is Tariq Jabloun, a restaurant worker who emigrated from Tunisia eight years ago. He says he has often stopped at Le Carillon for coffee. He could have been a victim — a target, he says, because of the nature of this neighborhood.

"The owner of this bar is Algerian," he says. "So these fanatics don't differentiate between French or Muslim. They attack everyone. They're attacking a symbol of France, the symbol of social diversity, harmony in living together, different communities and religions. And this neighborhood is a symbol of that."

As for how some French-born Muslims could become attracted to such fanaticism, Jabloun can't say. We should search for the reason, he says.

But Sahid Eder, another visitor to the crime scenes, says it really isn't about France.

"This is an ideological war," he says. "It's simple."

Eder is an immigrant from Algeria who says he opposed the Islamists there back in the early 1990s. "We could be born in the U.S., we could be born in France, ideology doesn't have borders, sir, I'm sorry," he says. "Ideology has no borders. This is an ideological war."

He says everyone must confront the arguments of radical jihadists when they hear them.

If people fear for the spirit of Paris these days, and doubt that it can survive last Friday's assault, Moroccan-born Mezian Ahmed is Article 1 in evidence to the contrary. He owns the Boulangerie Lina, across the street from a bistro that was targeted.

Friday night, as he was alone baking bread, gunmen sprayed his storefront with bullets. One went in the doorway, through a refrigerated display cabinet, through a row of Coca-Colas and out the other side. Five bullets in all hit his shop.

He was unscathed. He came to the aid of a woman who was shot in a car outside. Then, he said, about 15 people ran into the bakery and took refuge.

A couple of hours later, President Francois Hollande declared three days of mourning and Mezian Ahmed faced a choice: Should he stay open?

"I am a baker and the son of a baker," he says. "I know very well that bread, even during wartime, must always be made. Because for the people, it's a necessity. If other jobs close, it's not serious. But bread is essential. Bread is something that everyone lives with, the rich, the poor — everyone eats bread. It's a noble profession, and I'm really very proud to be a baker."

So, just after this night of unspeakable terror, Mezian Ahmed went back to work. The bakery has stayed open, bullet holes and all.

In Paris, life goes on.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

France is at war - those words spoken today by French president Francois Hollande as a manhunt continues for those behind Friday's terror attacks in Paris. Speaking before Parliament today, Hollande said France will prevail in its fight against ISIS in Syria. He called that country the largest factory of terrorists the world has ever known. We'll hear more about the investigation in just few minutes.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

First, we're joined by our colleague Robert Siegel, who's in Paris. And Robert, to begin, three days after the attacks, what's the feeling there now.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Audie, I think the city is still pretty nervous. There have been stories of scares at a couple of schools and elsewhere, people fearing some new attack. Of course, nothing like that has actually happened. This was still an official day of mourning. Although, a great many Parisians were back at work today. At noon, there was a national moment of silence that people observed. I saw it in the biggest subway station in Paris where most people did stop and remain quiet for a minute.

CORNISH: And you actually visited some of the sites that were attacked as well, correct?

SIEGEL: Yes. Yesterday, I saw several of them. They're in the 10th arrondissement - the 10th district of Paris. This is a neighborhood flanking the Saint-Martin Canal. There, gunmen shot and killed 15 people at a couple of eateries, a Cambodian restaurant, a bistro called Le Carillon. There were shots fired elsewhere.

One American resident of that neighborhood calls in France's Brooklyn, a gentrified former working-class quarter - still affordable, very racially diverse with people from North Africa, Eastern Europe, even the United States and, of course, many from other parts of France. It's full of young couples, many pushing strollers. Over the weekend, hundreds of people gathered to pay tribute, and here's more of what I saw and heard.

(CROSSTALK)

SIEGEL: The crowds moved quietly like museum goers as they observed the memorial bouquets and candles or added to them with a hushed reverence. There are still bullet holes in the windows and walls, and the scenes of disorder inside were evidence of the chaos Friday night - beer glasses still full on the bar, a single shoe on the floor, shards of glass.

On a Friday night, the tables would be full inside the eateries and on the sidewalks outside them too. Diners on the pavement outside one restaurant would face those at another. The brutal logic behind attacking these places with automatic weapons fire is evident - the sheer number of potential victims arrayed like sitting targets for a gunmen.

This is the sidewalk across the street from the Cambodian restaurant Le Petit Cambodge. On the wall, you can see white circles of chalk that have been evidently put there by police. At the center of each white circle is a bullet hole. That's where a round struck the wall - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven all up and down the wall. I can only imagine how many bullets were flying here on Friday night. And on the ground - sawdust - may have been thrown here to absorb some of the blood on this horrible scene.

The victims of Friday night's mass murder fit no pattern other than that they were Parisians. This wasn't about freedom of expression or anti-Semitism. Perrine Karst brought her 3-year-old son to the spot in front of the Cambodian restaurant to join her in lighting a candle.

PERRINE KARST: We didn't tell him any details. We just came here with a candle. I just told him it was life and hope. I don't know. And anyway, what I could tell him?

SIEGEL: Another Parisian who came to pay her respects, Benedicte Joffre, says it's been tough trying to explain this to her children.

BENEDICTE JOFFRE: (Through interpreter) What was attacked - and we talk about this a lot with the kids - is our entire society beyond the freedom of the press. It's the idea of democracy, idea that you can go out at night, that women can be at cafes, that women can express themselves, that men can do where they please and the fact that you should respect what your neighbor thinks. It's just a very real attack against our society and our way of seeing things.

SIEGEL: Another Parisian who came to see the killing sites is Tariq Jabloun, a restaurant worker who emigrated from Tunisia eight years ago. He says he's often stopped at the bistro Le Carillon for coffee. He could've been a victim, a target, he says, because of the nature of this neighborhood.

TARIQ JABLOUN: (Through interpreter) The owner of this bar is Algerian. So these fanatics don't differentiate between French or Muslim. They attack everyone. They're attacking a symbol of France, the symbol of social diversity, harmony in living together, different communities and religions, and this neighborhood is a symbol of that.

SIEGEL: As for how some French-born Muslims could become attracted to such fanaticism, Tariq Jabloun can't say. We should search for the reason, he says. But Sahid Eder, another visitor to the crime scenes, says it really isn't about France.

SAHID EDER: (Through interpreter) This is an ideological war. It's simple.

SIEGEL: Eder is an immigrant from Algeria who says he opposed the Islamists there back in the early 1990s.

EDER: (Through interpreter) We could be born in France. We could be born in the U.S. Ideology doesn't have borders, Sir. I'm sorry. This is an ideological war.

SIEGEL: He says everyone must confront the arguments of radical jihadists when they hear them. If people fear for the spirit of Paris these days and doubt that it can survive last Friday's assault, then Mezian Ahmed is article one in evidence to the contrary.

MEZIAN AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGEL: The Moroccan-born Mr. Ahmed owns the Lina bakery across the street from a bistro that was targeted. Friday night, as he was alone baking bread as always, the gunmen sprayed his storefront with bullets.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGEL: One bullet went in the doorway, through a refrigerated display cabinet, through a row of Coca-Colas and out the other side. He was unscathed. He came to the aid of a woman who was shot in a car outside his shop. And then he said about 15 people ran into the bakery and took refuge. A couple of hours later, France's president declared three days of mourning, and Mezian Ahmed faced a choice. Should he stay open?

AHMED: (Through interpreter) I am a Baker and the son of a baker. I know very well that bread, even during wartime, must always be made because for the people, it's a necessity. If other jobs close, it's not serious, but bread is essential. Bread is something that everyone lives with - the rich, the poor. Everyone eats bread. It's a noble profession, and I'm really very proud to be a baker.

SIEGEL: So just after this night of unspeakable terror, Mezian Ahmed went back to work, and the bakery has stayed open, bullet holes and all. In Paris, life goes on. I'm Robert Siegel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.