No “vive la France” from me, sorry

Didier Deschamps, a clean-shaven white man wearing a navy blue suit with a white shirt underneath, is raised into the air by a group of football players of mostly African and Arab appearance. The names Areola and Dembele are visible on the backs of two of the players in the foreground. Blurred, the crowd can be seen in the background.Yesterday, France won the World Cup and the day before, England lost the third-place play-off match to Belgium after losing a semi-final to Croatia last Wednesday. I had not been following the matches all that closely — I’m not that interested in football, and haven’t been since I was a child — although I listened to the last half-hour or so of the semi-final, but it was the first time England had reached the semi-final since 1990 (when we also lost the third-place match to Italy) and the improved quality of England’s game has been widely noted. I noticed a lot of Muslims, including many in Britain, cheering on any team but England and, once we had been knocked out, cheering on France, pointing out that the majority of its players are either immigrants or descended from immigrants, usually from Africa. I am not sure there was much to choose between them and Croatia in this regard (the latter being the country which, at times during the Bosnian war, helped to suppress the Muslims who were fighting the genocidal Serb army) but why on earth would Muslims support a country where people of immigrant descent are ghettoised in the suburbs and Muslim women are being harassed as a matter of state policy?

France is Europe, not America; like many places in Europe, it is considered a good place for African-American ex-pats to live and work, where they are less likely to get profiled and summarily shot dead in the street. This does not mean racism does not exist; ethnic minorities in France are mostly ghettoised in out-of-town slum suburbs whose occupants are an easy hate target for right-wing politicians and police harassment has been enough to provoke riots on more than one occasion, but middle-class Black people living in the inner cities (which are not ghettoes, unlike in the USA) are less likely to experience it than they are in a place like the USA or even the UK. This is where a lot of Black American jazz and blues musicians found an appreciative audience once American musical tastes changed in the 1950s, after all. However, even in the United States, sport (along with music) is a traditional escape route from poverty for Black people; it’s an area where sheer ability is what counts, and workplace politics, and the prejudices they allow room for, are less likely to impede the progress of an obvious performer.

Europe is a continent with a history of marginalising minorities who are different and who insist on remaining different. This is why Jews were persecuted in many places and treated with suspicion in many others until the early 20th century; it is a large part of why Gypsies and other travelling peoples remain the focus of open hostility to this day. Skin colour is of lesser importance than cultural and religious differences. France openly discriminates against Muslim women by attacking their dress: girls are not allowed to wear the mandatory headscarf to school and have also been expelled for wearing skirts deemed too long (others for challenging teachers’ claims about French civilisations during lessons); mothers are not allowed to accompany their children on school trips wearing the clothes they wear, face coverings have been banned in public places and more recently, women wearing modest bathing suits have been ejected from swimming pools with local politicians encouraging this sort of behaviour. Women have also been refused entry to some commercial buildings, such as banks, while wearing the hijab.

So, pardon me for not being very impressed that France allows a squad of immigrant men to represent them in an international sports tournament; they can be praised for showing their ‘diversity’ when the major focus of their hatred is women and girls (and let’s not forget that a football kit includes shorts which leave the thigh, which Muslim men are supposed to cover, exposed). I suspect some of the people cheering on France only care that a number of the players are Black, while many (actually not all) of the women being discriminated against while trying to get an education so they can have a proper career that they will not have to retire from in their 30s are white or nearly-white North Africans. Seriously, brothers and sisters, where’s your solidarity? Let’s not cheer on a country that harasses and abuses its Muslim minority because you see men of colour, some of them Muslim, representing them at football! And while they may have an ethnically diverse team of players, both its head coach (Didier Deschamps) and its captain (Hugo Lloris) are white, so the orders are still coming from the white men (although Zineddine Zidane has previously held the role). It’s one thing to gloat that France won the World Cup with the help of a lot of muscle from its former colonies (with talent honed at other European football clubs, including some in the UK), but let’s not ‘celebrate’ a victory for diversity or a breakthrough for ethnic minorities in France when this plainly is neither.

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