Paris’s mayor: ‘These are people who are lawless and faithless’

Taking time out from the White House summit on countering violent extremism last week, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke with The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth about the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, anti-Semitism in France and other topics. Excerpts:

Q. You went to Denmark last weekend to lend moral support to Copenhagen’s Mayor Frank Jensen after a gunman inspired by [the Islamic State] attacked a literary forum and a synagogue. Do you feel the Danish killer was inspired by the attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market?

A. Yes. There is a very clear link between the two attacks. In both cases, the terrorist was a young, radicalized person. Evidently prison is a very important factor in radicalizing young people. The young man in Copenhagen had left prison 15 days before the attack. Moreover [in Copenhagen], you had similar targets to those attacked in Paris — freedom of expression and Jews.

In Europe — whether it be Paris, Belgium, Denmark or other countries — we have a lot of people going to jihad. We have extremism that has increased among young people. I fully agree with President Obama’s idea that you have to deconstruct the reasoning of these terrorists — [to prove] that terrorists are not heroes. . . . The terrorists think they are going to become heroes. So you have to explain that they are not. In France, the vast majority of Muslim people are not represented by these terrorists.

But the terrorists are all Muslims.

In this war, yes. These are people who are lawless and faithless.

But they all happen to be Islamic extremists.

It’s terrorism. . . . There are other groups of terrorists but this group is trying to attack our democracy. This group also attacks Muslims — for example, a French police officer killed during the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a Muslim.

A lot of financial companies have left Paris and tourists are afraid to go there. I assume part of your job is to increase security and make tourists feel it is safe to come to Paris?

On an economic level, Paris is a very attractive city. We have a lot of large international conglomerates [that are] still coming to Paris. We are the most visited city in the world, and I plan to keep it that way.

Is this still true after Charlie Hebdo?

Yes.

But you have had to increase police presence and put soldiers outside Jewish places of worship.

You have to secure and protect people. There is a police presence which is much more important since the attacks against Charlie Hebdo. But life goes on with all its energy.

Should the U.S. president or a high-ranking U.S. official have attended the march of solidarity after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo?

No, we did not feel we were treated poorly by the U.S. Right after the attacks, I received a call from the mayor of New York City, and President Obama came to the Embassy [in Washington]. I am surprised by the concern that was expressed on this side of the Atlantic. I had the great pleasure of welcoming Secretary [John] Kerry and the Mayor of New York [to Paris].

You said you were going to sue Fox News over its allegations that there are “no-go” zones in France — areas where only Muslims can go. Aren’t there places in Paris where people are afraid to go?

In Paris, there are no zones where you can’t go for a walk. The situation described by Fox News does not exist. What Fox News presented is a lie.

There is lot of concern about the reports of growing anti-Semitism in France. It has been proven that anti-Semitic incidents in France last year were double those committed during the prior year. What are you going to do to protect Jews in Paris?

First of all, it is a reality. I personally gave these figures on anti-Semitism yesterday during the summit conference. There is an increase in anti-Semitism, which is a source of great concern, and it probably has deep roots. Paris is a city which has an intimate history with the Jewish community. Then there was the tragic history of the Shoah [the Holocaust] — Jews in Paris were persecuted and deported in great numbers. We have a special responsibility to keep that history alive. You have also people who try to deny that this history took place. . . . Anti-Semitism is not a discrimination which is like other discriminations. Today we have protection for the Jewish community — police officers and military protect Jewish synagogues and schools.

The Anti-Defamation League poll on anti-Semitism conducted last year says that 51 percent of those polled in France said Jews have too much power in the business world and 37 percent had anti-Semitic feelings.

French people are not anti-Semitic but there has been an increase in anti-Semitic and racist acts, and you have to fight against that. In the Jewish community, there are strong concerns about anti-Semitism. But the vast majority [of Jews] want to live in France in peace.

What do you think of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that French Jews should move to Israel?

The prime minister of Israel is carrying out a reelection campaign, but it has nothing to do with the situation of the Jews in France.

Didn’t more Jews leave France last year than the previous year?

Yes, more Jews left France, but the Jewish leaders reminded people that going to Israel is a spiritual process — it should not be based on fear or the idea that there is no place for Jews in France.

How do you view the Islamic State?

It is a terrorist group you have to fight against. It is a movement that wants to attack democracies. It does not recognize women and their rights. It doesn’t recognize freedom of expression. We have to counter this through military acts, and today France is engaged with U.S. forces. We are striking in Mali, [and] in Iraq and in Syria we are humanitarily committed. But we must also act with the weapons of education and knowledge, which are the weapons of democracy. This is a long path, but we all have to become mobilized — all democratic countries.

Do you think that will work? That a martyr willing to blow himself up will be dissuaded by words?

If you explain to young people that they should become successful in life and involved in the society in which they live and find a job they can enjoy and that society is there to work with them, I think that is a greater source of encouragement than if you tell them to kill people and kill themselves.

I am not overly optimistic. But we must act. If we create the conditions for the young people who are in our country and might be tempted to become terrorists to refuse terrorism, I think we can make progress very quickly.

Do your fellow mayors or leaders in the [European Union] fear more attacks?

Sure. The terrorist threat exists and it is taken seriously in our all cities.

Can you prevent another attack?

Today the police services and the military in Paris have a deterrence role, and I think they might deter other terrorists from acting.

Do you think you can assimilate the Muslim community more than you have in the past?

The word assimilate is not a word we use in France — you have young people who are French, young people whose parents are from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, where a lot of the population is Muslim. A lot of these young people tell us that they were not granted the same opportunity as other children. We must work on that.

What did you learn from this summit on extremism?

I found that exchanging experiences and best practices with cities and other members of civil society as we did was good. It is better to talk than exchange weapons.

Do you agree with French Prime Minister [Manuel] Valls — who declared a war against terrorism and radical Islam, against everything aimed at breaking solidarity, liberty and fraternity?

Yes. I wouldn’t use the same terminology but I agree.

If I could say something it is —

Visit Paris. Parisians adore Americans

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