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French weekly magazines review 19 April 2015


A family murder that never happened, a hard look at proposed reforms of the secondary school system, what happens to sacked government ministers and a posthumous book by Charb, one of the cartoonists murdered in the Charlie Hebdo killings feature in France's magazines this week. 

The Le Pen family saga gets the front-page treatment this week.

The far-right Front National (FN) party leader Marine Le Pen earlier this month told her father Jean-Marie, party founder, to take a hike because of his outspoken comments on a variety of sensitive issues.

Le Figaro Magazine speaks of "a rupture," assuring us, against all the current evidence, that the intestinal clan war is not over.

L'Express goes for metaphoric drama rather than accuracy with an offer to explain the "inside story of a murder".

The fact remains that, despite media predictions that Jean-Marie Le Pen, honorary president of the far-right operation, would not take his sacking from the party lying down, the old guy has quietly put on his slippers and gone out to pasture.

The headlines with "murders," "parricide" and the "ruptures" were all probably planned before 13 April, the day Jean-Marie accepted that he will not be the Front National candidate in the south of France in December's regional elections.

The editors clearly expected better from the 86-year-old FN founder. Figaro Magazine quotes Jean-Marie as saying of his traitor daughter "How can she hope to unite France when she can't even get on with her own father?", which shows a certain wilful naivety on the part of the father. The old guy is quoted as saying he hasn't even started fighting back against his daughter. Adding the threat, "I think I have a certain ability when it comes to fighting." In fact, he seems to have left the ring without even throwing a punch.

L'Express is at pains to tell us what we could have guessed anyway: this has nothing to do with a family struggle, still less a Freudian episode or Greek drama. It's pure politics. Marine Le Pen has calculated that her father's era is over, that the Front National needs to distance itself from the founding "values" of racism and anti-Semitism and evolve a new strategy to counter the conservative policies of Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP. Sacrificing the father has proved to be a potent symbol. Jean-Marie is probably quite proud of his little girl.

L'Express casts a cold eye on the latest reform of the secondary school system as proposed by the Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. She wants to give schools and individual teachers more autonomy to adjust the nationally imposed programme to the needs and problems of their particular students.

And that, says L'Express, is a very laudable intention.

But there remains the myth of the average student, the dangerous fiction around whose supposed capacities and needs the egalitarian principles of republican education have always been constructed. Which has hampered any expression of individual initiative by schools or teachers in the past and will certainly not help the current minister's case.

There is certainly a problem. Among the 34 counties in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, France has one of the highest proportions of students in difficulty, a fact which is in no way compensated by the remarkable achievements of those in the national educational elite.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

If anyone has been wondering what became of Arnaud Montebourg, the weekly L'Obs magazine tells us that the former minister for getting French business standing upright has become a furniture salesman. Following his sacking from the Valls government last summer, Montebourg now works for the Habitat chain of home decoration stores. The company refuses to reveal how much they are paying their new man.

L'Obs gives the front-page honours to Charb, one of the cartoonists murdered at Charlie Hebdo in January.

Just before his tragic death at the hands of self-proclaimed Islamic radicals who believed the weekly satirical magazine to have committed blasphemy, Stéphane Charbonnier had finished a book in which he replied to his detractors, the organisations that dragged Charlie Hebdo before the courts, the rappers who called for the magazine's staff to be burned like dogs, the politicians who said Charb was irresponsible, all those "terrorised intellectuals" or "moralising old clowns" who warned that publishing caricatures of the prophet Mohammed "in the current climate" was probably not a good idea.

L'Obs publishes several extracts from Charb's book, describing his position as sincere but open to debate. In that, at least, the book resembles its author.

Charb blames former president Nicolas Sarkozy for the way in which racist proposals made their way into the public domain. How, he wonders, could you expect people to hear the president of the republic repeatedly stigmatise a religious community and not have the same negative language ooze from the privacy of people's living rooms into the streets, the media, our social networks?

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

For Stéphane Charbonnier, "racism" in contemporary France simply means "anti-Muslim".

And this leads to the danger of highly specialised anti-racial strategies, a confusion which fails to see that racism is always the same, a hatred of the foreigner for his otherness, for his part in creating all our current problems. Racists don't care about religion.

Crucially for the man who was the editorial director of Charlie Hebdo, Charb accuses the media of a huge responsibility in the Mohammed caricatures controversy. He says the magazine frequently published drawings of the prophet before a Danish weekly sparked a global reaction by encouraging other media to announce that publishing such drawings could only unleash a dark wave of Muslim anger. Once that step had been taken, the terms of the debate were changed forever.

Charb says his own drawing of the prophet wearing a bomb instead of a turban was understood as an insult to all Muslims because it associated Mohammed with the promotion of terrorism. But a different reading was possible. Charb says that alternative, suggesting that the terrorists were using Islam like parasites to promote their own violent aims, appealed less to editors always looking for the most dramatic angle. And so it was rejected. Violent confrontation became inevitable.

Very few institutions escape Charb's sharp tongue: he condemns the sickening paternalism of the middle classes with their leftist pretensions, the smart-ass intellectuals who are incapable of understanding visual messages without mutilating them to suit their own understanding of freedom of expression.

Dossier: May 68

You don't have to agree with everything he says but Charb does provide material for debate. And he's frequently funny. In death as in life.

Le Point looks at some of the leading contenders to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for leadership of the mainstream right UMP, comparing the policy proposals of Sarko, Juppé and Fillon and asking who comes up to scratch.

The article ends by saying "the economic programmes of the three UMP candidates suggest that French conservatives do not deserve the global prize for right-wing stupidity. But, in a country hardened by three decades of political lies, does any one of the three have the courage to tell the truth?"

And, one could add, the courage to enact the necessary reforms.