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French-Moroccan Activist Encourages Disillusioned Youth To Keep Dreaming

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One French woman is waging her own fight against extremism. She's calling attention to the suburbs of French cities, areas where Muslim immigrants tend to be isolated. She wants them to assimilate into European society.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Her struggle is gaining more attention after last year's two attacks on Paris. Her name is Latifa Ibn Ziaten. She is an immigrant from Morocco. She's Muslim. Through an interpreter, she told us the excruciating reason she became an activist. Her son enlisted in the French military and was killed in an extremist attack in 2012.

LATIFA IBN ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) So I went to Toulouse to see the location where my son had been killed because my son was everything to me.

INSKEEP: And on the street, she met people who sympathized with her son's killer.

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) And one of them said to me, look around you. Look where we live. Look at this closed ghetto. The Republic has forgotten us. And so I said, look at me. I am like you. I come from the other side of the Mediterranean.

INSKEEP: When you say that you told them, I am like you, do you mean to say that they were immigrants to France as you had been an immigrant to France?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Of course, I am an immigrant. I came from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. And I was able to integrate myself.

INSKEEP: Why did your son join the military?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Because he had baccalaureate plus four, which was advanced studies. And he had a friend who was also in the Army. And he spoke a lot about the Army. So he just joined. At first I was afraid. I told him, I'm afraid to lose you. No - that's what he said.

INSKEEP: He said he won't lose me. Is that what you mean?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Yes.

INSKEEP: What did he think about France?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) He really loved his country. He was proud to be French. He was very proud to serve the Republic.

INSKEEP: Why do you think that he felt differently about France, apparently, than some of the children of immigrants you met on the street there in Toulouse?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Because that was not the same education. That's the issue. So my children - I did not raise my children that same way. I raised my children with a very open mind. I was celebrating Christmas. And so at Christmas we had Saint Nick coming and with presents. I also celebrated Easter. I also celebrated Ramadan. So my children were raised with the two religions.

INSKEEP: You described young people in Toulouse saying to you, we're living in a ghetto. This state, the French state, has abandoned us. Were they right?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Yes, in really - in great part, yes, and I won't be afraid to say that. There is a ghetto. There is a very closed city. There is no mixing in the schools. When I talk to young people they don't have many dreams. It's terrible to hear a young person of 11 or 14 years old say, that I don't have any dreams. If you don't have dreams you don't have hope.

INSKEEP: What do you tell them?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) I tell them you have to dream. Look at me, in spite of my pain I have many dreams. If I could move mountains, I will move them for you. See, that's my dream. So you have to dream.

INSKEEP: And how do you know if you've done any good?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) They cry a lot. And they don't cry for my pain. It's because I touch their pain.

INSKEEP: It must be frustrating, though, that more mothers have suffered because of attacks linked to the very kinds of people that you wanted to influence in a different direction.

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Of course, it's very hard. It's very hard. I met the father and mother of a young woman who died in the Bataclan.

INSKEEP: In November, OK.

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) They invited me in their house. So I went to see them. So don't worry, what happened - God will condemn those who have brought you such pain. And she said to me, I don't want to harm anybody. She had no hatred toward the murderers. No hatred at all.

INSKEEP: Has France changed its approach to any of the problems you have described since the Charlie Hebdo attacks a bit more than a year ago, or since the attacks in November?

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) They try. Not a whole lot. It is a lot of work to do.

INSKEEP: And French-Moroccan activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten told us she believes that work will take a generation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.