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French weekly magazines review 18 January 2015

As you'd expect, the French weeklies are preoccupied with the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris and their aftermath. Last week, most were already being printed as the drama unfolded and they missed the story. This week, the coverage is extravagant.


Le Figaro magazine devotes 30 pages to the story under the cover headline "The France which fights". Le Nouvel Obs echoes this, urging readers to "Continue the fight." The magazine interviews an expert on Islamic art to find out whether representations of the Prophet Mohammed really are forbidden. She tells the Obs that "In the Koran there is no strict condemnation of showing the face. What is unlawful is the worship of images and idols."

Interesting. Though it’s a far cry from representing the Prophet in conversation with an angel to mocking him in savage cartoons.

Right-wing Le Point publishes two editions this week. One packed with comments from a star studded array of writers, including Salman Rushdie and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. The other exploring at length "the French response": the secret service, schools, prisons and how to prevent a divided nation.

L'Express declares that "We are France", below a cover illustration recalling the French revolution - in which the bare-breasted national icon Marianne and others appear to be charging a barricade - armed only with pencils. The paper runs a 40-page dossier on the Charlie affair and its fall-out. It includes lessons to be learnt from the tragedy; such the failures of the security services and what it calls the "mission impossible" of tracking every potential terrorist.

This, it says, is "a Titanic task when the number of Islamic radicals on French soil is estimated at 5,000 individuals." The magazine looks at Yemen, where the Kouachi brothers - the two men responsible for the slaughter at the offices of Charlie Hebdo - claimed to have been schooled and trained by the jihadist group which calls itself Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

The paper profiles the man it says was the Kouachi brothers' hero - a Franco-Tunisien named Boubaker el-Hakim, who, L'Express says, is today a member of the entourage of Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It also considers stepped-up efforts to persuade young people to avoid the temptations of Islamists, rather than fighting them at a later date.

The reporting is thorough and wide-ranging. The magazine's editorial is best described as grandiloquent. It tries to find the positives in the aftermath of the bloodshed. Which is perhaps forgivable, as France, still a little dazed by the attacks on the 7 January, picks itself up, dusts itself down and starts all over again. Notably events last Sunday when millions marched in Paris and elsewhere, united in grief and in anger and, most importantly, as a nation.

"Strange," says the writer, "because we haven't seen this France for a long time." What we've been seeing is a France sullen, pessimistic and in decline. Last Sunday showed that another France is possible. There's no need for a French resurrection because France is alive." Je suis Charlie" is "a global rallying cry."

Phew! Up to a point. Lest we get too carried away, Le Monde magazine reminds us that, before the killings, Charlie Hebdo mostly catered to nostalgia. Many of its readers were what are known here as soixante-huitards - greying survivors of the May 1968 student revolt, when young people occupied universities, thumbed their noses at authority and threw cobblestones at the police. The paper was selling only around 50,000 copies a week.

The cover of left-leaning Marianne tells us to "Beware of the phonies!" The front page cartoon pictures a crocodile in a dark suit, holding a "Je suis Charlie" placard and crying crocodile - that's to say insincere - tears. To re-enforce the message a dog is urinating on his trouser leg.

Marianne says we must get things straight. First, be clear about why the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were murdered. To say that they died defending freedom of expression isn't enough. If that was what the terrorists wanted to kill they could have struck any editorial team. What they were defending, the paper says, was the right to blaspheme. This, despite numerous law suits and urgings from politicians, intellectuals and journalists to tone things down, not push provocation too far and not to represent the Prophet Mohammed – since that was a “causus belli” – a Latin phrase which translates as “a reason for going to war.”

They didn’t listen and the war came to them. Marianne says that liberty is what it calls “a hardliner”. Whether or not a provocation goes “too far” is decided by the only law that counts – that of the Republic. If one proclaims “Charlie”, one must dare to blaspheme and unreservedly support the right to do so. “Otherwise, the battle is lost in advance,” says Marianne.

"Charlie" certainly and deservedly gets star billing this week. But, that's not to say the magazines don’t have other stories to tell. Le Figaro magazine marks the 50th anniversary this month of the death of Britain's war time leader Winston Churchill - describing him as "A giant of history"; The story is laced with memorable quotes. They include "To believe in the perfection of man is all very well for a man of the church, but not for a Prime Minister." And, "I always avoid predictions in advance; it's much better to predict an event after it has happened."

A little Churchillian mischief is a welcome relief.

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