Former professor, historian speaks about recent Paris attacks

Security officers escort released hostages after they stormed a kosher market to end a hostage situation, Paris, Friday, Jan. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

ALBANY, N.Y. – As people around the world focus on the terrorist attacks in France, people living in the Capital Region with ties to the country sat down with NEWS10 ABC to explain the tensions and what the attacks means for French nationalists.

Former University at Albany historian and French teacher Dr. Jean-Francois Briere came to the United States in 1979. He remains in contact with family still in France.

“They’re all asking what can we do to prevent that from happening again,” he said.

On January 7, al-Qaeda linked brothers Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi allegedly entered the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris and shot and killed 12 people. An associate was also suspected of killing two others.

On Friday, the brothers were cornered with a hostage in a printing house, and a gunman identified as Amedy Coulibaly took hostages in a kosher grocery on the edge of Paris wounding several people. Coulibaly threatened to kill his hostages if police attacked the Kouachi brothers, according to French police.

Friday evening, the brothers stepped out of the printing house shooting. They were killed by authorities, and the hostage was freed. Soon after, police entered the kosher grocery among gunshots and explosions. Coulibaly and four hostages were killed. Fifteen hostages were freed.

“They knew they were in danger, absolutely,” Dr. Briere said. “Like they were under threat.”

Dr. Briere said the history between France and the Muslim community is not one to boast about.

“They tend to be discriminated against,” he said.

Dr. Briere said the discrimination comes from times when France occupied predominantly Muslim countries, but still today, prejudice towards Muslims in France is common.

“Well, it’s going to be more difficult to you to find job than if you are called a Jacques or Jean,” he said.

But Dr. Briere believes the attack wasn’t just a religious cry to stop a satirical magazine from mocking Muslim beliefs. He also thinks it was an attack on free speech.

“We live in a country where people can express what they want to say; where the press can publish what they want,” he said.

Dr. Briere said free speech is a core value the French are uniting behind.

“I think the vast majority of people in France are going to want to keep this principal alive,” he said.

Being united is a major part of French culture and one Dr. Briere said is worth fighting for.

“Unity of the country is something that is highly valued. It is paramount,” he said. “The fear of having a society that is fractured is much higher than it is here.”

While Dr. Briere mourns the loss of life, he believes France will unite and not let this recent attack on free speech shatter their way of life.

“Keep the principal alive,” he said. “Gives more value to the concept of freedom of the press.”

Dr. Briere hasn’t spoken to his family since the attacks, but he knows all of them are safe.

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