Mother Of Slain French Soldier Fights Against Radicalization : Parallels After her son was killed in a 2012 Islamist attack, Latifa Ibn Ziaten vowed to prevent radicalization among her fellow Muslims. "I'm going to save others so they won't suffer like me," she says.
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Mother Of Slain French Soldier Fights Against Radicalization

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Mother Of Slain French Soldier Fights Against Radicalization

Mother Of Slain French Soldier Fights Against Radicalization

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Both terrorist attacks in Paris this year in January and November were carried out by French citizens who became Islamist radicals. This kind of homegrown terrorism also happened three years ago when another French citizen killed a Jewish teacher and several students. He also shot dead three French soldiers. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley says the mother of one of those soldiers who is Muslim has led a personal battle ever since.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It's in high schools like this one in Paris's gritty northern suburbs that Latifa Ibn Ziaten has led her campaign over the past three years. Most of the kids here are from immigrant backgrounds. The majority are Muslim.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The teachers bark orders at the rowdy teenagers as they fill the auditorium rows, but you can hear a pin drop when Ziaten begins her story.

LATIFA IBN ZIATEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The soft-spoken mother of five says her life changed forever on March 11, 2012, when Mohamed Mehra killed her 30-year-old son who was a French soldier. Soon after his death, she went to the housing project where Mehra lived and died in a shootout with police. She approached a group of young men.

ZIATEN: (Through interpreter) Ever since I heard them say, Madame, Mohamed Mehra is a martyr; he's a hero of Islam, I haven't been able to stop doing what I'm doing. I thought, God, no, we have to help these lost young people. So I promised my son. I said, Imad, I'm going to start an association, and I'm going to save others so they won't suffer like me.

BEARDSLEY: Amand Riquier is the principal here. He says so far, they haven't had any students who have radicalized, but teachers are always looking for the signs, such as a sudden and zealous display of religiousness. He says Madame Ziaten's visit is important.

AMAND RIQUIER: (Through interpreter) She'll be able to explain to them that secularism in public schools - the fact that you can't come to class wearing a Muslim headscarf or a Jewish skull cap - is not meant to constrain their faith but is a necessary principle in order for us to all live together.

BEARDSLEY: Ziaten recounts how she moved to France from Morocco at the age of 17. She tells the kids this country gave her and her French-born children every chance. She says boys like Mohamed Mehra and those who attacked Paris were abandoned by their families and society. They are utter failures who know nothing about Islam.

Islam is not at war with Europe, she tells the students. She says some are trying to turn Islam into an identity. But it's a religion, and it's a private matter, she says. Your identity is French, and you have a future to build in France.

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: She's well-received, and then the students pepper her with questions. Why do the media always point at Muslims after attacks, asks one boy. Ziaten agrees the media tend to stigmatize Muslims, but people are scared, she says, and that's understandable; we have to show who real Muslims are. One girl asks how young people can know the right way to practice Islam. Ziaten tells her they must learn from their parents and never turn to the Internet. But my parents don't practice, says the young woman. She's 19-year-old Souhir Khayat, and she says she became interested in learning about her faith after attending Catholic school.

SOUHIR KHAYAT: So I began to watch videos on the Internet, like everybody does, alone in my room. And I started to wear the veil and stopped listening to music, and I began having some radical ideas. But luckily, my mother noticed what was going on, and she's no, Islam isn't like that.

BEARDSLEY: Khayat says she never considered going to Syria, but she bets there are a few in the room who have. For her work, Ziaten has received a presidential award and threats. She leaves the lycee for her next appointment accompanied by an armed bodyguard. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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