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Muslim Community In France Mourns Mass Shooting Victims

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Among the millions of French people following this drama, included are many Muslims. Almost 10 percent of France's population is counted as Muslim. They're mostly immigrants from former French colonies or their children. Some are practicing Muslims. For others, like our next guest, they have a Muslim identity by heritage. His name is Madjid Messaoudene. He's a councilmember in the predominantly Muslim suburb of - Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

Good morning, and thank you for joining us.

MADJID MESSAOUDENE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let me begin by asking you about your neighbors in Saint-Denis and how they've responded to the murders. What are you hearing?

MESSAOUDENE: Well, yesterday there was a huge gathering in front of La Tutelaire de Saint-Denis (ph). Muslims are not - are of course upset and sad about what happened. This doesn't deal with religion. This has nothing to do with Islam. This is a crime.

The problem is that many people are doing are making a link between these two pillars and the Muslim population. We faced yesterday at least three attacks against mosques or shops that are owned by Muslim people. So we are afraid of what could happen in the next days. Some are saying that Islam is a threat, is not suitable with democracy. And the huge majority of the Muslim people in France are just asking to live their life freely.

MONTAGNE: Well, clearly Muslims are not monolithic in general, not monolithic in France. But these alleged killers and other attacks suggest that there is a strain of extreme Islam in the population, albeit in small numbers. What has been said among the Muslim community in terms of condemning these attacks?

MESSAOUDENE: I'm not comfortable with the idea that we have to ask the Muslim people to prove that they are condemning what happened, to prove that they are against violence, to prove that they are for democracy. We don't - I don't have to apologize for what happened two days ago. For me, the two killers that killed 12 people two days ago are not Muslim. They...

MONTAGNE: They are not Muslim in your view.

MESSAOUDENE: No, for me, they are not Muslim. You can't kill someone in the name of Islam or in the name of any other religion. So they are not Muslims. These are fanatics. And we don't have to put all the Muslims in the same bag.

MONTAGNE: I understand that the massacre at Charlie Hebdo would seem to have special resonance for you because I understand you knew two members of the staff. What was your relationship?

MESSAOUDENE: Yeah, yeah. I knew particularly Bernard Maris, who was called Uncle Bernard in the newspaper. He taught me economy at the university. He was a very good man. He was very clever, very smart, and I also knew Charb, who was the leader of the newspaper now.

MONTAGNE: Charbonnier, the...

MESSAOUDENE: Yes. Yes, Stephane Charbonnier. I met him several times, and we have debates with him about the way Charlie Hebdo dealt with Islam. I did not agree.

MONTAGNE: Did you think that the cartoons were insulting to Islam?

MESSAOUDENE: Yeah. I think that you can't draw the prophet knowing that, for the Muslims, the huge insult this can do, without thinking in the context you are living in. I mean that if he drew the same cartoon 15 or 20 years ago, maybe the things would have been different. As for Charlie Hebdo, it became a huge weapon of religion destruction. They...

MONTAGNE: Did you say this, though? Did you say to your friend Stephane Charbonnier who ran...

MESSAOUDENE: Yeah. Yeah, I told him...

(CROSSTALK)

MONTAGNE: Did you think it was OK for him to do it, though - freedom of speech?

MESSAOUDENE: He continued, yeah.

MONTAGNE: Did you think that he had a right to do it, regardless of your opinion?

MESSAOUDENE: Yeah, of course. I never asked for the censorship of Charlie Hebdo. But what I told him is that he could not do whatever he wanted to do without taking into account what were facing the Muslim community in France. Islam cannot justify what happened two days ago. Muslim people that I know, they are afraid. They are afraid to live in such a violent world and such a difficult world for the Muslim people.

MONTAGNE: That's Madjid Messaoudene. He's councilmember in the predominantly Muslim Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. We will be following events in and around Paris throughout the day.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And we are picking this up fact by fact as we go along, just to review what we know happened this morning. At about 8:30 this morning - that's Paris time - a woman had her car stolen by her from two gunmen, who she said were the two known suspects in the shooting - the massacre in Paris earlier this week. Those two men are now believed to be holed up inside an industrial building well outside of Paris. It's a possible hostage situation. Prosecutors have described with more certainty a hostage situation in a different area in eastern Paris where a gunman moved into a kosher market and is believed to have taken several hostages there. Authorities are pointing to some evidence that the two situations are connected. We'll bring you more as we learn it right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.