French weekly magazines review 1 March 2015


Paris Fashion Week gets ample coverage in this week’s magazines. A Guantanamo Bay ex-inmate tells his story. There are more reports on the Charlie Hebdo inquiry and the effects of the attacks on public opinion. And Gérard Depardieu is a surprise nominee as a “new right” thinker.


Paris Fashion week begins on Tuesday, one of six weeks every year of haute couture, ready-to-wear and men's wear. Some of the weeklies make one wonder how the industry would survive without advertising from the French fashion industry. L'Express, for instance, includes a 168-page supplement devoted to "100% MODE". It's fatter than the news magazine, which weighs in at 108 pages.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

Le Monde magazine doesn't bother with a supplement. Its cover, adorned by an expensively dressed model, simply declares "Spécial mode" and invites us to read about "Colette", a "trendy establishment", Colette being a quirky, outrageously expensive Paris boutique selling avant-garde clothing and accessories on the fashionable rue Saint-Honoré. Plus, there we can learn about "the changing style of beauty".

Not all the weeklies travel this route and it is not all frocks and frivolity in those that do. Le Monde tells the story of Mourad Benchellali, a French citizen captured in Pakistan in 2001 at the age of 19, who was interviewed by RFI’s Alison Hird last month.

Washington claimed he'd attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and was likely to participate in fighting against US and allied forces. He was detained in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp before being transferred to French custody in 2004. He was tried and convicted in France but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals.

Much of the Le Monde story revisits old ground. The mag reminds us that Benchellali has said for a decade that he was not a jihadist. Rather, he'd made the mistake of listening to his older brother and going to Afghanistan on what he thought was "a dream vacation". What's new, says Le Monde, is that people is France, including politicians and members of the intelligence services, have begun to believe him and listen to what he says.

No longer part of the problem, he's part of the solution; discouraging young people who might be tempted by Islamist extremism. It's quite an undertaking. Benchellali told the mag that only now are we starting to understand that the temptation of jihad isn't confined to "popular districts", a euphemism for poor suburbs inhabited by immigrant families. It reaches into all corners of society.

The Obs – fashion-week free - claims to have revelations about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, which left 17 people dead.

It says the anti-terrorist services now believe the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly did not prepare the attacks alone. The lone-wolf theory, already undermined by the arrest of four people suspected of providing logistical support to the gunmen, is dead and buried, the Obs says. The security services are hunting at least five other presumed accomplices.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The investigation dossier shows how, over several months, the killers and their helpers sought money, weapons, carried out reconnaissance and juggled between telephones. All this outside the radar of the anti-terrorist services. The paper takes us, step by step, through the 12 days preceding the Paris attacks. We have a much better understanding of how they prepared, says the Obs. One hopes we have a better understanding of how to prevent the next attack.

In a related story headlined "After Charlie, France turns inwards", the paper says the country is anxious and fractured as it tries to recover from the January attacks. It enlivens the piece with the results of an opinion poll. Among the most widely held views: France must not open its doors to the world; France is a republic where everyone has the right to express themselves even if what they say displeases certain communities; and French Jews are French just like the other French. A small majority, 56 per cent, believe that Islam is a threat to the French Republic.

Right-wing Le Point has a cover story on what it calls "the true right - Those who still have ideas." Five individuals are pictured. Two of them - "enfants terribles" on the French landscape - will come as a surprise to many, which is probably why they were chosen.

The actor and bon viveur Gérard Depardieu and the novelist and polemicist Michel Houllebecq. The others are Maud Fontenoy, celebrated sailor and environmentalist. Agnés Verdier-Molinié, vice-president of the iFRAP thinktank; which aims to act as a watchdog on public bodies. And Alain Finkielkraut, an essayist and intellectual who is outspoken about what he sees as the decline of the Western tradition as a consequence of multiculturalism and relativism.

Others said to represent the "real right" feature inside but they need not detain us. What of Depardieu, the one most people will have heard of?

Le Point promises more than it delivers. All I could find was a note sent to the then-prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in December 2012. "I am leaving," says the actor. "After paying 85 per cent income tax in 2012. But I will retain the spirit of that France which is beautiful and which, I hope, will remain." Oddly enough, this sturdy pillar of the right took Russian citizenship. Do national treasurers pay lower taxes in Moscow?

Finally, L'Express has a cover picture of the current PM, Manuel Valls, looking very stern. The headline is "Le bulldozer." Not the language of Victor Hugo, for sure. But enough to tell the story.

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