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After The Paris Attacks, What Should France Do Next?


Here's a tough question for France's leaders. What should the government do next? What should it do to prevent another attack like the attacks of last Friday? Well, here at the Place de la Republique, at the monument where people have left flowers and candles in memory of the victims of those attacks, I asked some ordinary Parisians, people like 20-year-old Antoine Moreau, a student of communications.

ANTOINE MOREAU: I think we have to eradicate Daesh.

SIEGEL: Daesh is the Arabic name the French use for the so-called Islamic State. Also, Antoine says, it's important to communicate a message to the French people.

MOREAU: A message of tolerance, a message of solidarity, humanity. I think it's important to communicate about this.

SIEGEL: Anna Didier, who comes to Paris from out of town a couple of times a week, approves of the state of emergency the government has declared and wants to extend. It gives the government broad powers to pursue terror suspects.

ANNA DIDIER: (Speaking French).

SIEGEL: "It's a good first step," she says, "but there's only so much you can do when people are willing to kill themselves." Alan Hamimed, an Algerian who's lived in Paris for several years, says, show them no mercy.

ALAN HAMIMED: (Speaking French).

SIEGEL: He remembers the '90s in Algeria when he says attacks like this happened all the time. But Marguerite Dubois, who is making her first visit to the monument in the Place de la Republique since the attacks, sounded a more cautious note.

MARGUERITE DUBOIS: (Through interpreter) Decisions are being made too fast. To answer violence with violence is not a good solution. We haven't yet buried our dead, and we are already making more of them.

SIEGEL: I also visited a couple of Parisians who were very well-versed in public policy. Sylvie Kauffman is a senior journalist at one of France's most prestigious newspapers.

SYLVIE KAUFFMAN: I'm editorial director at Le Monde, and I'm a columnist also.

SIEGEL: Francois Bujon de L'Estang was a foreign-policy adviser to then prime minister Jacques Chirac, and then he was ambassador to Canada.

FRANCOIS BUJON DE L'ESTANG: And I was ambassador of France to Washington from 1995 until 2002.

SIEGEL: The former diplomat and the Le Monde columnist talk politics on Sunday mornings on French radio. Sylvie Kauffman told me they often agree. And one thing they definitely agree on is that there are no easy answers to the question of what to do next. Both speak of economic and social measures. Bujon de L'Estang says the immediate focus must be security, to act against would-be terrorists before they act.

L'ESTANG: Now, as it happens, a number of these have committed a number of small misdemeanors and are very well known by the police. So administrative measures could be taken, probably, to isolate them or to follow them more closely.

SIEGEL: Would a regime of heightened security inevitably mean that the people being stopped and frisked most ardently would be people who appear to be North African or from the Middle East?

L'ESTANG: I hope not. Everybody should be treated exactly in the same way. But the fact is that the terrorists belong to that fraction of the population. And this is a fact of life. So you have probably to get ready for some incidents of that kind happening. But normally, absolutely everybody should be treated on an equal footing, of course.

SIEGEL: Sylvie Kauffman of Le Monde emphasizes policies to combat the radicalization of young people in France and not just Muslims who are poor and feel marginalized, she says. Some radicals come from prosperous household. Some others are converts to Islam.

KAUFFMAN: After the killings of Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in January, there was a lot of focus on this. I think we didn't go far enough. I hoped we would have a national conversation on this. We didn't have this conversation, I think. We didn't go to the bottom of it because I think we were afraid. The situation was very tense.

We have in France the biggest Muslim community in Europe. We also have the biggest Jewish community in Europe. And we kind of live together. We - I think this diversity is appreciated by most French people, but it is not easy. And somehow, people and political leaders definitely are afraid of facing, of confronting the problems that arise from this diversity.

SIEGEL: Do you think that free travel in Europe - open borders under the Schengen Agreement - will that be a casualty of what has happened here?

KAUFFMAN: I'm afraid so, probably for some time, at least. The interesting thing is that these attacks have overshadowed a huge crisis that we were going through and we're still going through, actually, but that's...

SIEGEL: The migration process.

KAUFFMAN: ...The role of the media - the migration crisis. So before these attacks happened, we were already talking about the death of Schengen - Schengen being the agreements which allow us to move freely and work freely across the European Union. This is - yes, symbolically and politically, this is a very important step, and it's a step back. It's a step back.

SIEGEL: Francois Bujon de L'Estang, the former ambassador to Washington, agrees that the policy of open European borders has to be changed.

L'ESTANG: Now there is another European aspect I want to insist upon. It is the fact that France is presently the only country in the European Union to have a serious defense effort and to project its forces outside of Europe in order to protect the European continent. This is what we did in Mali. If we had not intervened in Mali when we did, AQIM, the al-Qaida in the Maghreb, would have probably established a big land base into the country of Mali that would've turned into another Mohammed Omar-type Afghanistan.

Thank goodness we did it, and everybody applauded. But they applauded and did nothing else. And we get very, very little help, concretely, from members of the European Union. We get sympathy, but we get no help.

SIEGEL: Now that France has intensified airstrikes against ISIS, both Francois Bujon de L'Estang and Sylvie Kauffman agree other countries in Europe must take part as well. And Bujon de L'Estang says in Syria, France has one enemy - the Islamic State. The French may not like Bashar al-Assad, he says, but he's not the one firing on young people at a cafe in Paris. This is Robert Siegel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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