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French press review 22 March 2016


A mixed bag in today's French newspapers: Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba, the back stories of French-born jihadists, disagreement over proposed changes to the French constitution and how to de-radicalise militant Islamists.


The French newspapers can't agree on today's top story.

Centrist paper Le Monde is awfully excited by the visit to Cuba by the US President Barak Obama.

Its front-page headline calls it "an historic visit" and "the latest step towards reconciliation".

The paper waxes lyrical. "It took just three hours for Barak Obama to enter the annals of history," it declares.

The three hours were how long it took for Air Force One, the presidential jet, to carry him to the Cuban capital Havana after more than half a century of Cold War hostility.

In its editorial Le Monde concedes that the visit doesn't have the strategic importance of the visit to Beijing in 1972 by the then American president Richard Nixon.

Still,Obama's visit is historic, the papers says, reminding us that the last US president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928!

Le Monde says we can rely on Obama's "elegance" - evidently Le Monde is a big fan - and the party spirit of Cubans, to ensure that the visit is successful.

The editorial concludes that the United States is no longer seeking regime change in Cuba.

Instead, Washington is hoping for gradual change.

The danger is that Cubans want everything promised by the normalisation of relations - and they want it now!

What they will certainly be getting later this week is Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who, Le Monde reminds us, were dismissed by Fidel Castro, Cuba's revolutionary hero, as "the symbol of capitalist decadence".

Relax, comrade, it's only rock 'n roll.

France's home-grown jihadhis

The other papers stay closer to home.

Left-leaning Libération is worried about Islamist jihadists: Born in France, dead in Syria and Iraq.

Libé tells us that at least 168 have died after being recruited into the ranks of the Islamic State armed group and al-Qaeda.

The paper cites a study produced by the school of journalism at at the respected Paris university, Sciences-Po, which profiles 68 of them. The youngest was 13, the oldest 40.

The in-depth report offers fascinating insights into named individuals.

But there is no such thing as a typical French jihadist. They are not robots. Their individual stories are more complicated than a cardboard cut-out.

Anti-terror law rows rumble on

The Communist Party daily l'Humanité continues to complain about proposed changes to the French constitution, demanding that President François Hollande abandon plans to enshrine in law the state of emergency triggered by least year's attacks in Paris, which does seem rather brass-necked given the lamentable record of communist regimes with regard to safeguarding civil liberties.

Right-wing le Figaro is also critical of Hollande but for entirely different reasons.

Following the attacks in Paris in November which left 130 people dead, Hollande proposed to withdraw French nationality from dual nationals found guilty of terrorism.

Then, following criticism that this meant two levels of law for different types of French citizens, the lower house amended the law to allowing anyone convicted of terrorism to be driven out of the nation.

The Senate, France's Upper House, which is controlled by the right-wing opposition, reverted to plan A.

The result, say le Figaro, is that Hollande is about to scrap the proposal altogether.

"Hollande's fiasco," the paper calls it.

Not for the first or the last time, one suspects.

Does France lag behind in understanding violent Islamism?

As ever, Catholic daily La Croix has sober thoughts on a related issue.

"Against radicalisation, France still finding its way," is the paper's lede story.

Compared to its European neighbours, France has fallen behind in the understanding of jihadist radicalisation and organisation of prevention. 

The mobilisation is now under way but it lacks coherence and theoretical work, says La Croix.

The paper's editorial, headlined "Reform Islam", argues that it is a big task to cut the ground from under those who preach religious violence. 

But adds that it is not the role of government to involve itself in such a process. 

The temptation for government, constant in France, to influence the internal organisation of Islam is great. 

However, it is for Muslims themselves to make this work and this will take time, La Croix warns.



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