French weekly magazines review 25 January 2015

Forgive me if you've been fed more than enough of this already, but "le plat du jour" - the dish of the day - in most of the French weeklies is again Islamist extremism, Jihadists and France's response to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris earlier this month in which 20 people died.

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Le Nouvel Observateur - or L'Obs, as it now calls itself - has page after page explored different angles of the story.

On the cover is Hayat Boumeddiene - the young woman who was allegedly the companion of Amédy Coulibaly - the gunman said to have murdered a policewoman and four hostages he held in a Kosher supermarket - before he was killed by police.

In a story headlined "the Fugitive", L'Obs describes the 26-year-old as "the most sought after woman on earth." She left France on the 2nd of January - five days before Paris attacks - and was captured on security cameras at Istanbul airport; apparently en route to Syria.

The magazine explores her difficult childhood and her journey into Islamist extremism. Evidently, Boumeddiene wasn't just flirting with Jihadism - she was fully engaged. As evidenced by a photograph showing her clad in a black burka and hijab - brandishing a crossbow. The photo was discovered by police in 2010 during an investigation into Islamism. In spite of this, Boumeddiene was never under surveillance.

In a separate story, L'Obs wonders how Cherif Kouachi - one of the Charlie Hebdo assassins - remained invisible for a decade. Arrested in 2005 and questioned by an anti-terrorist judge - he admitted being under the influence of Islamist extremists. He dreamt of fire-bombing Jewish restaurants and a synagogue in northern Paris. For the ten years that followed this, he lived behind a wall of silence to avoid suspicion. The paper says Kouachi was a terrorist who knew how to exploit the shortcoming of French justice and intelligence.

L'Obs journalists have been hard at work. They report also on the brothers Belhoucine - Mohammed and Mehdi - who are said to have helped Boumeddiene travel to Syria. French investigators don't know the extent of her or their involvement in the attack in Paris, says the paper. But, they very much want to question them.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

There's an awful lot more. The problems in French schools. A day in the life of Tahar Mahdi - a French Moslem Imam preaching peace and seeking to calm people's fears. French Jews considering fleeing France for Israel. Whether President François Hollande has what it takes to be a wartime leader. The jury is still out on that one. But, says L'Obs, the challenges he faces are colossal. Opinion polls shows that Hollande is more popular since the attacks. The magazine thinks the improvement will be short-lived.

And, in a simple yet revealing report, two reporters ride the tramway line T1, which runs north from the edge of Paris into the outskirts of the French capital. The carriage resembled a vertical "Tower of Babel", jam packed,a mosaic of colours, sounds and languages: from the Maghreb to the Antilles, to the Horn of Africa and eastern Europe. It is a journey, they say, into "a fractured France", where the majority of people do not associate with the slogan "Je suis Charlie" and were not among the millions who marched in a show of grief and national unity.

L'Express, Marianne, Le Figaro magazine and Le Point all dwell on the story in their different ways.

For example, Le Figaro investigate what it call "the Secret War"; how France tracks Islamists and special operations by the secret services to eliminate terrorists.

Marianne
celebrates those it says "really defend the Republic." Often what it calls "anonymous combatants for secularism". The magazine's editorial urges the French to "hold onto our common values."

L'Express leads on what it call "The Jihadist International". That's an echo of the long gone "Communist International". Created in Moscow almost a century ago, the Comintern aimed at worldwide revolution. The paper recalls that more than a few leaders and senior representatives from the Middle East joined the march in Paris a fortnight ago. Nonetheless, faced with the Jihadist threat, some are playing a double game.

Rather more soberly, Le Point looks at French schools. They have been criticized, it says. So, what really works, how do children's brains actually function and which establishments are performing miracles? The paper visits the Alexandre Dumas school outside Paris where problem students are prospering thanks to discipline and personal supervision.

Le Monde magazine is the odd one out this week. Maybe the editors feel their daily paper has covered the news and issues from the Jihadist front. Whether or not, much of Le Monde's weekend magazine is devoted to contemporary African art. The magazine cover flags stories on Okwui Enwezor - the New York-based Nigerian art historian, critic and curator, it described as "the master". Later this year, he will be responsible for curating the 56th Venice Biennal Art exhibition, the first African to do so.

Le Monde mag celebrates the vividness of African textiles, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from where a Dutch manufacturer - Vlisco - draws inspiration. "These fabrics arouse emotion," explained its Director Monique Gieskes. "They express jealousy, rivalries, their pride in being a wife or a mother, their social success." Who knew cloth could be so talkative?

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