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News Brief: Notre Dame, Asylum-Seekers, Indonesia Election


How exactly was it that a French cathedral caught fire?


Much of the world has a real interest in that question. To be short, no one was killed as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned. The building itself was damaged but not destroyed. So it's not really the cost but rather the emotional significance of the church beside the Seine that leads to the pressure for some answers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Paris and has been listening to investigators.

Ofeibea, hi there.


INSKEEP: How did this fire unfold in the way that it did?

QUIST-ARCTON: Steve, there's a question mark about why. But the how is that these 800-year-old timbers - trees that no longer grow in France that were a lattice work that made up the roof - just burned. And that's why, when you see those dramatic images looking up to the skies through Notre Dame Cathedral, you see no roof. That came down. And that's when we saw those flames shooting into the sky and the black plumes of smoke that made people so desperate that they were going to lose Notre Dame.

INSKEEP: There was a fear that they would lose the entire church. It looked - from the outside, at one point - as if the whole thing, other than the stone walls, might burn. But that's not actually what happened in the end.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, especially when the spire came crashing down, caving in, and everybody held their collective breath. But France's deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez, he, yesterday, was speaking to journalists. And he laid out what the challenges are - were facing the firefighters, who, he said, were so brave and had battled the blaze.


LAURENT NUNEZ: (Through interpreter) A handful of firefighters risked their lives to go up the towers and attack the fire from the inside, and this helped save the edifice. We only realized this morning that we came within about half an hour - or even 15 minutes - of losing it all.

INSKEEP: Wow - within half an hour of losing it all, meaning - what does he mean by that?

QUIST-ARCTON: That if these firefighters had not decided to go into the bell towers, those would not have been saved. And then, perhaps, the whole of Notre Dame would have come down. But it didn't happen. You know, with the roof punctured, the walls charred, the floors, you know, covered in this sea of ash, we're seeing what could have happened. But the belfries were saved. And you can still see a facade that Notre Dame is still there.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And it's remarkable to think of people risking their lives not for other lives but for a building that is of such significance to so many - so how to repair what is left of Notre Dame.

QUIST-ARCTON: And how long it'll take - and that's what's facing not only the French authorities but, I guess, experts all over - and how they're going to do it because, of course, we're talking about a medieval cathedral here, Steve. You know, 800-plus years - although, the spire was built in the 19th century. How are they going to get this extraordinary, symbolic place of worship back to its former glory? Everybody is now focusing on that.

INSKEEP: And you have a tape here, I think, from an architect, who has worked on restorations of old buildings before.

QUIST-ARCTON: That's right. Francis Maude - he worked on the restoration of Windsor Castle - Queen of England's - Queen of Britain's castle - following a fire that broke out in the chapel there back in '92. Have a listen.

FRANCIS MAUDE: Having stabilized it, you can then move in and do - from a safe vantage point - a thorough investigation of the debris, which has fallen from the roof and from elsewhere. And within that, you may well find there are quite large chunks of material, which can be reincorporated into the rebuilt cathedral.

QUIST-ARCTON: Steve, an emotional roller coaster, though, here. French people, Parisians, tourists - everybody absolutely aghast. And lots of money coming in - almost half a billion dollars so far. Everybody wants to see Notre Dame restored.

INSKEEP: And Emmanuel Macron, the president, is saying he wants to do it in five years.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure - thank you.


INSKEEP: President Trump's administration is working again to make sure that people who seek shelter in the United States will feel pain.

GREENE: Let's remember. In 2018, the administration separated parents and children at the southern border. Officials openly described that move as a deterrent to stop people from coming. The administration abandoned that policy under pressure. Well, now Attorney General William Barr has made another move. It's aimed at people who come to the U.S. seeking legal asylum. Barr's order says they should be held indefinitely without bail as they await a hearing on their asylum claims. President Trump has complained about what he refers to as catch and release policies, allowing people to go free as they await a hearing.

INSKEEP: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. He's on the line.

Joel, good morning.


INSKEEP: How significant a change is this?

ROSE: Well, until now, migrants who've crossed the border illegally can ask for asylum. If they pass the first hurdle by showing what's called a credible fear of persecution or torture back home, then they can ask an immigration judge to release them on bond. And if the judge decides that there's no reason to hold them, the migrants can be released until their full hearing in immigration court. That's been the process in place for more than a decade. But Barr's decision overturns that precedent.

INSKEEP: I'm a little confused here because, as I understand it, William Barr is telling immigration judges how to decide a request for bond. Why - normally, the attorney general would be separate from a judge. Why is that Barr's decision to make?

ROSE: Right. Immigration courts are not like criminal courts. They're part of the Department of Justice. So, yes, the attorney general can set the precedent, and an immigration judge has to follow it. And yet, this decision by Barr is certain to be challenged in court. Michael Tan is with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.

MICHAEL TAN: You can't lock people up without giving them the basic hearing before a judge, where that judge can look at the person and determine if they need to be locked up in the first place.

ROSE: So the ACLU and other immigrants' rights groups say they will challenge this decision in federal court. They're already fighting the administration in another case about bond hearings for asylum-seekers in Washington state. So that is where their challenge is likely to play out.

INSKEEP: How does this decision fit into the administration's broader effort to stop people from coming?

ROSE: It seems like William Barr is following the path laid out by his predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who tried to limit access to asylum for victims of domestic violence and gangs. The immigration system is straining because thousands of Central American migrants are showing up at the border every day. Many of them are claiming asylum. And the Trump administration argues that a lot of those claims are fake. And it wants to deter these people from coming to the U.S. and asking for asylum.

INSKEEP: Any early indications as to whether people will be deterred?

ROSE: Well, the administration's critics say no. They say bona fide asylum seekers will be kept in detention needlessly and that people will keep coming anyway because the situations they face in Central America are just so desperate.

INSKEEP: Joel, thanks for your work.

ROSE: Hey. You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joel Rose.


INSKEEP: A giant democracy - the biggest Muslim-majority nation voted today.

GREENE: Yeah. Tens of millions of people in Indonesia cast their ballots. Exit polls are projecting that President Joko Widodo has won another five-year term. The polls suggest he defeated his challenger easily. This race pitted Widodo against a former general. It was a rematch of an election in 2014. And another part of the dynamic here - the race revealed the growing influence of radical Islam.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about that part of the story with NPR's Julie McCarthy, who's in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: Indonesia has been seen as a place where moderate Islam flourished. What's changing?

MCCARTHY: Well, yeah, that's right. Five thousand miles away from the Middle East and the birthplace of Islam, you had Indonesia that had been seen as proof that Islam and democracy could live side-by-side. But there were signs in this campaign that suggested Indonesia is becoming more religiously conservative. Take the president himself, President Widodo - now, this is a small example. But it's telling. Here's a guy who loves heavy metal music. And there he was at his finale rock concert rally, taking pains to thank the country's clerics...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MCCARTHY: ...For their support (laughter).

INSKEEP: OK. So going for the heavy metal - got to like that - but also picking a cleric with hard-line views for his running mate, right?

MCCARTHY: That's right. And that's a move that really jolted some of his supporters. Widodo moved to the right in a bid to neutralize the allegation that came up against him that he's not Islamic enough. And the analysts agree this was a politically expedient move. And it alienated some supporters, but others looked past it. And what's that tell us, Steve? We're in a country that operates in a world of gray. It's not black and white.

But there are also some troubling signs that a climate of intolerance is growing. People are falling afoul of the blasphemy law. There's really no move to repeal it. The governor of Jakarta - a Christian - was charged with blasphemy, voted out of office. He was jailed. Now, Andreas Harsono with Human Rights Watch is the author of a new book titled "Race, Islam And Power." And he says faith politics is growing at a fast clip here. And he says Indonesia is becoming dangerous. Here he is.

ANDREAS HARSONO: The idea to change Indonesia into an Islamic state has been rising. And this is going to be a danger not only for the Strait of Malacca or for Southeast Asia, but it will bring a problem for the whole world.

MCCARTHY: Now, I would hasten to add, Steve, here, that there are plenty of others who believe that Indonesia has been a moderate state, will remain one. And the re-election of Widodo goes a long way in demonstrating that. The turnout was around 80 percent. That's quite high even by Indonesian standards.

INSKEEP: Although, I have to note, Julie McCarthy, we've seen this in the United States. Politicians make promises in campaigns that are seen as cynical pandering. But then they get elected, and people expect them to keep those promises.

MCCARTHY: Well, that's right. And so his big balance will be, how is he going to deal with this growing Islamisation while he seeks a - pretty much of a secular agenda, which is to, you know, focus on human rights and more on - focus less on human rights and more on human resources, like the developing of the human capital of this country. It's a very young place - 42 percent are under 25.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Indonesia.

Thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.