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French Lessons

The French government has approved a budget of some half a billion dollars to finance new initiatives against terrorism. Among the early fruits of this campaign is an “infographic,” or poster in plain English, headlined “Radicalisation Djihadiste, les premiers signes qui peuvent alerter” (“Jihadist Radicalization: First Warning Signs”).

A top telltale sign of a person’s inclining to terrorism – toying, as it were, with the idea of blowing up a school or poisoning a water reservoir – is, apparently, a sudden change in his eating and drinking habits. “Ils changent brutalement leurs habitudes alimentaires,” says the poster, which has been rashly interpreted as no longer eating baguettes, though I choose to read it as swapping 1959 Dom Pérignon Rosé for a more plebeian vintage.

Close on the heels of gastronomic and oenophile disloyalty is family feeling, said to ebb considerably in those contemplating mass murder. Again, I find this conclusion hasty. I was once married to an American of gentle disposition who would not hurt the proverbial fly, much less eliminate a busful of schoolchildren, yet of family feeling that girl had none. Welcome at the time in that it spared me the traditional ordeal by mother-in-law, in today’s sociopolitical climate her indifference, verging as it did on loathing, would obviously be objectionable enough to bring on the gendarmes in full riot gear.

Next on the danger list are television and the cinema: “Ils ne regardent plus la télévision et ne vont plus au cinéma.” These pastimes, we are told, the terror arriviste now eschews, favoring instead, presumably, such rarified and hence suspect alternatives as libraries, the concert hall, or the theater. Small wonder, because the screens, both big and small, have little to offer the viewer apart from armed violence, and naturally the maniac manqué yearns for some respite from all the blood and guts. Who wants to watch Criminal Minds while oiling a Kalashnikov?

Consequently, if a French housewife – or, better still, an elderly concierge of the type described by Dickens (“with a pair of flashing black eyes – proof that the world hadn’t conjured down the devil within her, though it had had between sixty and seventy years to do it in”) – should spot a dark-skinned lad in the Jardin du Luxembourg poring over the “Treatise on the Passions” in a library copy of the Summa Theologica, police must be summoned at once. Unless, of course, the lad’s chewing on a baguette as he reads.

Finally there’s sport, and this is really where the pacific and serene worldview that is second nature to me begins to show signs of strain. Allegedly the man possessed by visions of bathing Paris in the blood of the uncircumcised “arrêtent les activités sportives.” By that yardstick I shouldn’t just end up in jail, I should’ve been born locked up.

Begin avoiding sport? It’s like saying I might begin avoiding homosexual congress, stop shooting up heroin, or disappoint my dinner guests by no longer swallowing live goldfish for their postprandial amusement. As far as I’m concerned, that “premier signe” alone is impertinent enough to justify as much bloody terror as the French government hasn’t enjoyed since the days of Robespierre.

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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