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In Paris, Some Mourners Worry About Backlash Against Muslims

Impromptu memorials for the victims of Friday's terrorist attacks have been started all over Paris. Some mourners express both sorrow for the dead and concern over a potential backlash against French Muslims.
Olivier Corsan
Maxppp /Landov
Impromptu memorials for the victims of Friday's terrorist attacks have been started all over Paris. Some mourners express both sorrow for the dead and concern over a potential backlash against French Muslims.

In the wake of Friday's coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, the French people — and supporters around the world — have been grieving. More than 120 people died in explosions and gunfire when well-coordinated teams of assailants struck at least six sites across the city.

Many Parisians have been traveling to the sites of the attacks to honor the dead. And for some mourners, there is concern as well as sorrow — worry that the attacks will lead to a backlash against Muslims in France.

'It Should Not Be Complicated'

In the trendy Canal St. Martin neighborhood, in the 10th arrondissement, gunmen opened fire on several packed restaurants and bars on Friday night. The next day, a steady throng of young Parisians arrived to pay their respects.

Among those huddling and holding hands, staring at the growing pile of flowers in front of the establishments' shattered windows, was 18-year-old Ryan Abeichou, a third-generation French Muslim whose grandparents came to Paris from Tunisia.

The informatics engineering major said he worries the latest attacks may turn a growing segment of French society against its Muslim citizens — including secular ones like himself — even though they are just as horrified and hurt by what happened, Abeichou said.

"It's going to be difficult for Muslims in France because some people will say it's their fault," he said, adding: "But I think it should not be complicated, because making that connection is wrong."

His 17-year-old friend Mathilde, who is a pre-med student, said that isn't keeping people from doing just that even at these impromptu memorial gatherings. She was visibly upset as she recounted the scene a short while earlier in front of the Bataclan Concert Hall, which saw the worst bloodshed in Friday night's attacks.

"It's shameful what they were saying, calling Muslims terrorists," she said, her hands shaking as she pulled a cigarette out of her purse.

'They're Trying To Scare The World'

In the 11th arrondissement, outside a pizza place where five people were gunned down in the attacks, Javier Valdeperez was laying flowers and lighting candles.

Valdeperez, whose parents are originally from Spain, said that unlike the Paris attacks in January, which targeted the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as well as shoppers at a Jewish supermarket, these attacks seemed aimed at a diverse group of civilians with nothing in common with one another — except that they were enjoying themselves at a concert, a restaurant or a soccer game on a Friday night.

"[The attackers purposely] chose Friday night, and they chose this place full of young French people," Valdeperez said, gesturing toward the pizza place where people were killed. "When they attack and kill people, they're trying to scare the world. It's hard to prevent these kind of attacks."

He, too, said he fears the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, and worries that France's far-right parties will try to capitalize on the attacks.

"This kind of act enables hate against people coming from Syria. [The far-right parties] are going to come out saying that there's no way to host people from these countries. It's going to be a surge of hate!" Valdeperez said. "We have to be careful of that. It doesn't represent Islam or the Muslims. It's just a bunch of psychopaths."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.