Paris' 'Little Bamako' Keeps Keen Eye On Fighting In Mali

One Paris neighborhood is known as "Little Bamako," named after the capital of Mali. It's a place where Malian immigrants welcome and closely follow the French military campaign against Islamist extremists in their home country. Some express disappointment that President Obama did not send U.S. troops alongside the French soldiers. They reject the harsh Sharia law of the extremists, saying Mali is in fact a very tolerant nation.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And now, some perspective on France's intervention in Mali, from Malians who live in France. Their home country was a French colony until 1960. And today, France is home to about 120,000 people from Mali. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited a neighborhood that goes by the moniker Little Bamako, after Mali's capital city. She talked with residents about what they think of French troops' return to their country.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: If it weren't for the frigid temperatures when you step into the courtyard of this apartment block on the eastern edge of Paris, you'd almost believe you were in Bamako.

There's like a market set up, a Malian market, where they're selling everything from, you know, roasted peanuts to Coke to cigarettes. There's two barbers who've set up their chairs here with mirrors and they're cutting people's hair. It's a freezing cold day, but a lot of people are in flip-flops out here.

Most of these Malians have been here for at least a decade, many longer. Some have families here in France, others left them back home. Some work legally, others, no. But everyone here is exuberant that France is back in Mali, says 25-year-old Sekou Simaga.

SEKOU SIMAGA: (Through translator) We're very happy that France is leading this war against the Islamists. The French president struck hard and just at the right time. Otherwise they would have gone all the way to Bamako. Thank you, France.

BEARDSLEY: Just off the inner courtyard, but still in the building complex is a bar where dozens of Malian men stand around drinking coffee and watching the war unfold on the television set mounted to the wall.

SALIMOU DRAME: (Speaking French)

BEARDSLEY: Salimou Drame says the Islamist militants have been in northern Mali for years and everyone knew it, but no one did anything about it. The Algerians chased them out in the 1990s and they just set up shop next door in Mali, says Drame. He calls them bandits and criminals. French President Francois Hollande is the new hero around here. Drame flashes an iPhone photo of himself posing with Hollande at a political rally a few months ago.

KARIM DRAME: (Speaking French)

BEARDSLEY: Hollande brought France in at exactly the right time says 55-year-old Karim, whose last name is also Drame. But Karim Drame, like others here, doesn't understand President Obama's hesitancy.

K. DRAME: (Through translator) All of Africa's disappointed in Obama. America spent billions fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's no difference between the war against terrorists there and in Mali, yet he does nothing for us.

BEARDSLEY: People here say the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya helped swell the number of militant Islamists in Mali. This tenement house, which houses about 400 Malians, is like a human beehive, humming with activity. In the central courtyard behind the market, blacksmiths hammer out traditional silver jewelry and in a large dining hall, a dozen women in traditional dress serve hot, home-cooked African meals.

There is rice, semoule, all kinds of sauces, chicken and even black-eyed peas, something I've never been able to find in France before. Thirty-five-year-old Mariam Traore is serving up plates. She's from the north of Mali, where the Islamists have taken control.

MARIAM TRAORE: (Through translator) They don't even consider women as human beings. They take away all our freedoms and they want us to cover our faces.

BEARDSLEY: Traore, who has been in France for five years, says it was a complete shock to come here and be free and at ease, but she worries about her family back home.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)

BEARDSLEY: Suddenly, the Muslim call to prayer blares out through the dining room from speakers on the walls, but no one here pays any attention. They seem more interested in eating and watching a television in the back of the room.

Though Mali is a Muslim country, everyone here says theirs is a faith of respect and tolerance, nothing to do, they say, with the fanatics who are trying to take over their country. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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