On Wednesday, the most sensational story to emerge from France was that of police questioning an 8-year-old boy in the southern city of Nice for allegedly making statements sympathetic to extremist militancy. The child is said to have declared, "I am with the terrorists" at school after not taking a part in a moment of silence to mark the Jan. 7 terror attack on the Paris offices of satirical news magazine Charlie Hebdo. He reportedly told police when questioned that he didn't know what terrorism was.
The incident, says a French anti-Islamophobia watchdog, "reflects the collective hysteria that has engulfed France" since the attacks in early January.
The French government, meanwhile, has launched a $480 million initiative to combat Islamist extremism at home. The new counter-terror efforts include a $60 million online presence, anchored at a new government Web site dubbed "Stop Djihadisme." It has videos aimed at countering the propaganda of the Islamic State, which has lured hundreds of French nationals to join its ranks in Syria and Iraq. And it offers this chart below, a guide to the "first signs" of someone potentially going down the path of radicalization.
The chart presents a series of behavioral changes that supposedly ought to lead to concern. They range, it has to be said, from the obvious (frequently visiting extremist Web sites) to the rather vague (not listening to music, for example). Other warning signs include a significant shift in one's diet, the abandoning of sporting activities, a change in wardrobe toward more traditional garments, falling out with old friends and quitting school or one's place of employ.
This all makes sense, though it hardly presents a foolproof guide to spot the radicalization of a would-be jihadist. As your humble scribe noted yesterday, I've recently succumbed to a number of these behaviors myself -- but I don't think you need to report me to the French government. And terrorists are often far more clever about concealing their agenda.
The chart above risks the sort of criticism and mockery we've already seen leveled at the U.S. State Department "Think Again, Turn Away" campaign, which actively trolls jihadists and jihadist sympathizers online. Some analysts have called the effort "embarrassing" and "ineffective."
The State Department, so far, seems undeterred. On Wednesday, it welcomed France's campaign into the fold.