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A Roundtable Of Reactions: The Lingering Horror Of The Paris Killings


Now it's time for our weekly visit to The Barbershop. That's where we gather with a group of interesting people to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And what remains on all of our minds today is what's happened in Paris. Sitting in the chairs this week are Bridget Johnson. She's Washington bureau chief of PJ Media. That's a conservative-libertarian news and commentary site. Also back with us, Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera's Washington bureau chief and Arsalan Iftikhar, who is an attorney and senior editor of Islamic Monthly. It's good to have you all back with us. And given all that we know at the moment, why don't we just go around and ask what your thoughts are right now. Arsalan?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think - like anybody in the world, I think that our thoughts are with the people of Paris. It's sad and tragic that it takes a terrorist attack to sort of bring the world together, but it's a time for trauma in the world. I mean, whether you look at Beirut, in Egypt or in Paris today, you know, the sanctity of human life I think needs to be honored more.

MARTIN: Bridget, what are your thoughts?

BRIDGET JOHNSON: It's very unnerving at this moment. You know, about a month ago, I uncovered online this 63-page guide that ISIS had put together. And what they did is they pulled it together from 12 old al-Qaida lectures on how you do an operation without being noticed, on how you blend into the populous, even wearing a cross if you have to. We've seen ISIS - you know, a lot of things that they do seem very scattershot, like, you know, they're kind of recruiting anybody who walks in the door unlike, you know, al-Qaida, who'd, you know, be a little bit more disciplined about it. But now that they seem to have adapted some of that al-Qaida discipline to be able to plan and conduct this attack under the radar as they did, that I think kind of moved us into a new stage. And we need to really be watching out for the future.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, what about you? What are your thoughts?

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Well, the French president called it an act of war, but he was stating the obvious. It had been a state of war between various governments and these groups, whether it's ISIS or others. And it's a vicious cycle. And unfortunately, civilians - whether in France or elsewhere, such as, you know, in Syria or Lebanon or Egypt, it's civilians who are paying the price at such a high rate, unfortunately.

MARTIN: I want to go back to something Arsalan just said, which is this is a time that brings people together. But for other people, it actually sends people in an opposite direction. And, you know, you can't ignore the fact, Abderrahim, that this takes place against the backdrop of a massive displacement of people moving through Europe. And this has occasioned many people to think about stricter migration policies, and they point to terrorism as a concern. It would seem that it's going to affect that dialogue. And if so, how do you think it will?

FOUKARA: Well, obviously, you know, the people being mourned, whether in Paris or elsewhere in the world, are obviously the primary victims and their families. But as you say, there's a flow of refugees from Syria, and everybody's describing it as unprecedented since the Second World War. And these people are -you know, they will find themselves high and dry trying to gain access to safety but being rejected because of legitimate fears - who may be among them - the few who may be willing to carry out these attacks. Look, the source of the issue is what is happening in Syria, what's been happening in Syria in 2015. And so far, all the parties have failed to find a solution to that. Fighting ISIS is one part of it, but what to do with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who, by, you know, the position of the Americans, the position of the French and many others, is the original source that started all this problem. The Russians are basically fighting on his side and making the situation even more - much more intractable.

MARTIN: Bridget, I understand you also have some thoughts about this whole question of whether this really even should be connected to the migration conversation. Do you want to tell us what your thoughts are about that?

JOHNSON: The automatic reaction from people last night on Twitter saying everything from no Muslim migration to no, you know, Syrian migration - that's completely missing the strategy of ISIS and al-Qaida. They are looking for people who are already in their neighborhoods, who are situated there, who grew up there, like the shooters that we saw in Garland, Texas, who grew up in the United States. They basically have a strategy that does not consist of lone wolves. They have a strategy of, you know, people who are already there, who are ready to conduct attacks, who need maybe a little bit of training that they can do on their own.

MARTIN: But Bridget, particularly coming from a libertarian perspective, you know, where is the line here between scrutinizing people who may or may not be citizens, who probably are citizens - or at least have their legal right to be where they are - and then addressing these attacks properly? What's your take on that?

JOHNSON: That's definitely a challenge. And I think that's where you have to draw in not only friendliness towards the Muslim community but cooperation. Now, as long as you have lines drawn up against it, you know, with people protesting outside of mosques, saying, you know, get out of my neighborhood - well, there's some of the same people in that mosque who are going to be the ones who are going to help you root out the people who are going over the edge, who are being inspired by Inspire magazine, ISIS propaganda, et cetera and taking that to the next level of an attack.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what are your thoughts about this? I mean, you're one of these people who's been engaged in this kind of conversation for many, many years now really since 9/11. What are your thoughts about all this at this moment?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think what's important to keep in mind is that ISIS as one of their stated goals has been to destroy this gray zone between Muslim-Western coexistence. I mean, if you look at some of their writings, when they commit, quote, unquote, "spectaculars" like this, you know, they want these Western governments and Western societies to fan the flames of Islamophobia. They want these governments to crack down on their Muslim diaspora communities so...

MARTIN: How come?

IFTIKHAR: So that they can have a new pool of recruits. You know, as somebody who has worked closely with the French government in the past after the 2005 social unrest in the banlieues, in the suburbs of France, you know, people don't understand that in the Muslim suburbs of France, first of all, Muslims constitute 10 percent of the French population, which is huge minority. In the Muslim parts of France, we have unemployment rates upwards of 25 to 30 percent. The employment discrimination that happens against people with North African, Maghrebi, Arabic, Muslim-sounding names is without any nuance - I mean, they would literally throw your resume in the trashcan if you have a Muslim-sounding name. So - and now we have, you know, people like Marie Le Pen in the Front National, you know, who are using this tragedy to come out with slogans like an immigrant today, a terrorist tomorrow. So, you know, again, I'm afraid this will ultimately feed into the narrative of ISIS in destroying this gray zone of coexistence between Muslim diasporas and their Western countries.

MARTIN: Do you think so, Abderrahim? You spend a lot of time in France as well.

FOUKARA: I do, and I lived in Europe for many, many years before coming to the United States. And obviously, the nature of immigration to Europe in general - to France in particular - is different from the nature of immigration from the Middle East, from the Muslim world, to the United States. I mean, the perception here in the United States - despite everything that has been said about Islam and Muslims in the United States since 9/11 - but the perception is that immigrants from the Muslim world are faring much better than they are in many parts of Europe, particularly in a country like France, as Arsalan has said, where the rejection has been so internalized by several generations of immigrants. And, you know, the rejection becomes mutual. It goes in both ways. Society rejects them, but they also reject society that has ousted them over the decades. You know, there's another dimension to it which separates Europe from the United States, and that is geographical proximity. Europe is so close to North Africa, so close to the Middle East. And in terms of just the sheer size of the human exchange between North Africa and Europe, for example, it makes it very difficult for the Europeans to have the kind of Islam that they want to have in Europe. But it also makes it very difficult for the immigrant communities to find the kind of environment that they would want to find. For example, the issue of imams in French mosques has always been a contentious issue because many of these imams are imported from North African countries. And basically, their worldview is different from European worldview. And therefore, what they preach tends to be sometimes problematical from the point of view of the host country. These problems do exist to a certain extent in the United States as well, but they're not as accentuated as they are in Europe.

MARTIN: So going forward, now that we know kind of the outlines of the what, what's the what next? Arsalan, do you want to start?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is these refugees are escaping the exact same carnage and violence that happened in Paris yesterday. And so, you know, to use the millions of refugees as a political scapegoat for this I think is being intellectually dishonest and I think does nothing to advance the conversation.

MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think?

JOHNSON: I think Americans tend to still have such a strong isolationist streak, even though we're so globalized that when something like this happens, there's still this attitude of it's over there. But, you know, they need to realize that, like, for example, we were talking about Jihadi John, you know, having been killed, the British guy - can't be viewed by Americans at all as a problem that's going on over there.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, final thought from you.

FOUKARA: I mean, my final thought is that I hope something good may come out of something really, really bad, as what we're seeing in France, what we saw in Beirut, what we saw in Egypt, what we have been seeing in Syria over the past four or five years.

MARTIN: And what would that be? What would that good thing be?

FOUKARA: The good thing would be that, you know, the focus on what is happening now, what's happened in Paris is good to try to deal with this tragedy. But you also have to take a longer view because just focusing on combating terrorism while being forgetful of some of the reasons that actually feed it - even by the admission of many Western governments, including the government of the United States, does not actually help the fight against terrorism long-term.

MARTIN: Abderrahim Foukara is Al Jazeera's Washington bureau chief. Bridget Johnson is the Washington bureau chief of PJ Media. That's a conservative-libertarian news and commentary site. And Arsalan Iftikhar is an attorney and senior editor of Islamic Monthly, and they were all here in our Washington, D.C., studios. I thank you all so much for speaking with us today.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you, Michel.

FOUKARA: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.