LE MONDE

One Drink Too Many Can Kill. France’s Strong New Anti-Alcohol Campaign

French authorities try to step up their campaign against alcohol. The result may create more confusion than concern.

An image from the new spot warning against drinking too much. (French Health Ministry)
An image from the new spot warning against drinking too much. (French Health Ministry)
Sandrine Blanchard

PARIS - "Drinking a little bit too much every day puts your life in danger." It must not have been easy for the French Health Ministry to come up with this message for its new national campaign against alcohol. Just imagine all the endless brainstorming it took for officials to find the perfect words to use. I mean, one does not just stumble on phrases such as "un peu trop"! Between drinking "moderately" and drinking "to excess', there is now this new level of drinking a "bit too much". It is not the same as "drinking a lot" or "drinking regularly," but rather drinking... too often ... but without really being aware of it... and without being an alcoholic either. Make sense?

In the health ministry's TV ad, this new category of "moderate excess' is illustrated by a jovial 40-something who indulges himself with a glass of wine over lunch, with a beer right after work in the company of his colleagues, and capped off with a small whiskey at home in the evening, just to unwind. That makes a total of three glasses. But how many glasses of alcohol are too many? One? Two? None maybe, provided that the scenario does not repeat itself "every day"?

The right answer to this question is probably anyone's guess. There is no indication, in the man's behavior, that the three glasses he has allowed himself make him unhappy. And yet, an increasingly loud tick-tock soundtrack indicates that in his case, time is slipping away: he is putting his life in danger. This is a rather strong choice of words, stronger than, say, "he is taking risks with his health."

The bottom line is that hundreds of thousands of men and women, the TV ad suggests, could be potential alcoholics, without them even knowing it. Alcohol could have become just a little too important in these people's lives, without creating a real addiction. The so-called "regular drinkers' who look at a glass of something alcoholic and see a moment of relaxation are apparently not aware of the harm they are doing to themselves. Yes, I know, this is all pretty depressing.

It may well be they are all convinced that they are "drinking moderately," as purposely ambiguous health messages have long recommend. But they may also be a little bit confused about the alleged benefits and dangers of alcohol. There has been no shortage, these last years, of scientific studies trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some have told us that a moderate consumption of alcohol could reduce the risk of death from heart disease: one or two drinks per day for a man should suffice to fulfill that purpose. Two or three drinks a day, some might say, where's the difference? But we are also told that even one glass of alcohol per day could be a glass too many, raising cancer risks.

Young people drink too much, the middle-aged drink too much too…and what about retired people? When will a national campaign warn them about the risks of drinking? After all, 30.8 percent of them are said to drink too much alcohol, as compared to only1.5 percent of high school and college students and 11 percent of working people. Are retired people giving a bad example? Not everyone will be toasting my words...

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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