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Siding with the Communists

Siding with the Communists
by Dylan Kissane

The news broke for us on Wednesday morning. Switching on i<Tele, our preferred cable news channel, there seemed to be only one story in France. No, it wasn’t the financial crisis that has wiped billions off the bourse here nor was it the latest tidbit of news from the US Presidential campaign trail. The story that had the talking heads talking excitedly was a football match or, more specifically, what happened before a soccer game in Paris the night before.

The previous night the French national team had taken on the Tunisian national squad in a friendly match. Everyone expected the French – ranked 11th in the world – to win and everyone also expected the Tunisians – ranked 47th – to put up a good fight. Down here in the Rhone valley people expected our former local hero, the OL striker turned OM striker Ben Arfa, to put in a ripper of a game and elsewhere people were expecting Ribéry and Henry to lend a hand in the scoring department.

What no one expected was the reaction by the crowd to the French national anthem before the game.

As Agence France Presse explains:

Many of the 60,000 crowd on Tuesday were Tunisian – friendlies against North African sides traditionally attract widespread support from sizeable immigrant communities in and around the French capital.

Some booed when the names of the French players were read out over the PA system before kickoff, reaching a crescendo for Hatem Ben Arfa, born in France to Tunisian parents and who opted to play for the country of his birth despite overtures from the Tunisian Federation.

But to say that the many of the crowd were “Tunisian” is a little imprecise. As Time put it:

Most of the booing came not from visiting Tunisians, but from fans born and raised in France. Such booing has come to be used by ethnic-Arab French soccer fans to protest the racial, social and economic discrimination suffered by those not fortunate enough to be among the stars of les Bleus. It's hardly coincidental that previous outbreaks of anthem booing (and resulting expressions of indignation by politicians) occurred before a France-Algeria match in 2001, a France-Morocco game in 2007, and a 2002 French Cup final orchestrated by fans of pro club Bastia, who defiantly played up Corsica's reputation as being France's non-Arab "enemy within".

The booing fans might have had North African roots but they were most likely born and raised in France, carry a French national ID card and have probably never even visited North Africa. They are French but don’t feel French; they are recognized as French on paper, yet that’s about as far as the local population extend the notion of ‘French-ness’ to them.

A poll on i<Tele this morning reported that 80% of French people were shocked at the booing of the anthem. One has to wonder, though, why this is the case. It’s not the first time that ethnic-North-African fans have booed their own country before a soccer match. It’s also not close to being the most violent manifestation of immigrant revolt in recent years. We’ve had widespread riots, busses and cars alight, shopping centres burned to the ground, teenagers murdered, a woman on crutches covered in petrol and set alight, police beaten and, just a few weeks ago in a town not too far to the south of us, a police officer was shot by what the media here reported as a jeune Maghrebian, a young North African male. Booing the national anthem seems tame in comparison and yet the response from the government has been swift and severe, at least in its rhetoric.

The Prime Minister has declared the acts of the jeering fans “insulting” and disrespectful towards the entire nation. The President has announced that any future incidences of jeering the national anthem will result in the game being immediately cancelled. Bernard Laporte, the former French rugby coach turned government minister, suggested that all future games against North African teams be played away from Paris, saying “the 30,000 Tunisians who are from the Paris suburbs, if the match is held in Carcassonne or Biarritz, they won't go to see the match”, Biarritz being a long and expensive train ride away from the poor Parisian suburbs.

And yet for perhaps the first time I can remember I found myself agreeing with Marie-George Buffet, the leader of the French Communist Party who said:

So we stop the match, then what? Is it going to solve the problem of these men and women who in a way are expressing that they don't feel right in our country?

She’s right: it’s not going to solve anything. If anything, as the President of the French Football Association noted, all it will do is put “thousands of disgruntled fans on to the streets”.

Stopping the match, moving the match or ejecting the jeering fans all solve the problem of the national anthem being booed. None of these options goes close to addressing the real problems with immigrant integration in France and one imagines that – should the problems remain unaddressed – a jeering crowd will soon be the least of the country’s worries.

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Gay Paree

I do enjoy your reports from France, Dylan, but what I really want to know is do you go to the South of France for holidays? And if so, I hate you.

I guess we could set the example, plus ca change

Thanks Dylan for this piece and that powerful article linked. Where are you in France, Dylan? Doing a Sorbonne stinque?

Some bits from that article:

“In November 2005 the tensions and violence in the banlieue threatened for one spectacular moment to bring down the French government when, provoked by a series of confrontations between immigrant youth and the police in the Parisian banlieue of Clichysous-Bois, riots broke out in major cities across France. They were fuelled at least in part by the belligerence of Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, who said that he would clean the streets of racaille (‘scum’)....”

“........two teenagers of Arab origin had been killed at La Tolinette, one of the toughest parts of this tough neighbourhood, after their moped crashed into a police checkpoint. They had been on their way to do some rough motocross riding in an outlying field. No one in the area believed that this was an accident but rather a bavure – the kind of police cock-up that regularly ended with an innocent person dying or being injured....”

Then came violence in response - reminded me a little of the Cronulla etc overflow and that western Sydney rioting, on a very different scale luckily.

“‘Only if you are black or Arab in France can you understand the contempt people feel for you, and the hate and desire for revenge that this inspires in you. .. they are fighting to let us know that they exist and that they hate society as it is. They feel that the Jews rule the world, and from one point of view it can look that way. They see Iraq and Gaza and Rwanda and Kenya and the Jews of Paris or New York who have profited from their pain. To them, it all makes sense.’”

“France is far from coming to terms with the repressed memories of its colonial past. Like the dead Algerians who were thrown into the Seine in 1961, and whose bloated corpses shocked ordinary Parisians when they were found in the days after the massacre on the Pont de Neuilly, these memories are once more resurfacing to provoke new and fresh anxieties.

Back in the banlieue the rioters, wreckers, even the killers of Ilan Halimi, are not looking for reform or revolution. They are looking for revenge. Their rage is often expressed symbolically: the appropriation of the language of the Intifada, which, at its origin, was a spontaneous and legitimate uprising against oppression, the speaking of Arabic slang, the waving of the Algerian flag and the provocative wearing of the veil. These are all acts directed at subverting the French Republic.”

Violence spawning violence. Memories indeed..

It seems there are other governments who are not facing real truths in their histories.

And such are the gardens of profit for politicians, so easy to manipulate, an abundant harvest of hate there, and fan the flames of bigotry and racism within the slum and from those watching from without.

Each time in history, it is yet another dispossessed ignorant and angry ethnic group. The easy of patsies of politicians. Whether it’s Hitler’s Brown shirts vilifying communists and the poor Jews as terrorists or later Franco’s groups against Basques and communists, or Italy’s Operation Gladio framing communists for government agent terrorism in their name, always there are the patsies, so easy to manipulate with their desperation, anger and limited alternatives.

All the same I didn’t see much description of anti-American actions in the article, in fact are using rap images ironically, seems more anti-Jewish and identifying with those whom they see as victims elsewhere and violently responding, a kind of horrible transference and collective punishment.

Maybe if we can stop governments from doing such we can hope ignorant angry ghettos will also improve.


Scott: (Sigh)


I described the article as long and comprehensive, Angela, and you've picked up on some of the other themes that run through the suburbs with your response. The situation is complex - thus my original conclusion as to why stopping or shifting a soccer match is likely to prove useless - as a closer look at the mentions of American and English-language cultures provides.

The section I cited on the Ilan Halimi incident and the link made to Abu Ghraib and Iraq in justification seems to me to be a clear case of reaction against American foreign policy, especially in light of the fact that France was neither involved nor sanctioned either the Iraq War nor the events at that prison.

Earlier in the piece, though, the author explains that embracing US culture and first names is part of what provides an identity for young people in the suburbs:

...so many kids in the banlieue are called Steeve, Marky, Jenyfer, Britney or even Kevin. They don‘t always get the spelling right, but the sentiment is straightforward: we are not like other French people; we refuse to be like them.

On the one hand America is rejected, used as an excuse for torture. On the other it is something embraced in rebellion of a country that doesn't feel like home.

The author also describes a situation where a radical suburban youth leader refuses to speak to him. He writes of the incident:

For several weeks I tried to arrange a meeting with him. I was told by an intermediary that ‘Kémi will speak soon. But he doesn’t want to speak to the white press you represent. His time will come later. This will be when the white press is no more.’

I was then told that they knew who I was and it might be wise to leave them alone. Or stay out of Bagneux.

Yet earlier in the piece - and in a different suburban area - the journalist is welcomed by the locals:

They were pleased to hear that I was English. ‘We hate the French press,’ said Charles, who is thin and tall and of Congolese origin. ‘They just think we're animals.’

One suburb welcomes the foreign press, one rejects it.

This complexity, mixed with the anti-Semitism and Palestinian solidarity (the two are not necessarily related, I think), anti-Sarkozy sentiment and ghetto-like living arrangements - among many other things - mean that easy solutions will not be found. As well, while we speak of "the suburbs" it seems clear that not all suburbs are alike. Some are just angry; some are militant; some are Islamist and want nothing to do with a secular France; and some seem ready to change entirely if we could get the young people within a job.

I would think there would be a place for your suggestion of stopping other governments from abusing their people in the best of solutions but there is so much to be addressed and will require so much work at home that this might not be the best place to start - though there seems no reason the foreign and domestic streams cannot be worked concurrently.

Also, in relation to your question:

Where are you in France, Dylan? Doing a Sorbonne stinque?

We live in Villeurbanne, a city on the edge of Lyon in the east of France. It's about an hour from the Swiss border, two hours by train to Paris and a little bit less to Marseille and the sea (where we do visit family from time-to-time, Michael de Angelos). We've lived in Villeurbanne for a bit more than a year now; we previously spent a couple of years living in Lyon after spending a few before that flying backwards and forwards between Adelaide and France (and the Basque country, too) each summer. I don't feel French yet, but neither will we be heading back to Australia any time soon.

clever Times writers

"Most of the booing came not from visiting Tunisians, but from fans born and raised in France."

Aren't Times writers clever to know such things, they just DO you know.


It should be legal for the rich to sleep under bridges

Methinks same. Let it be and let them boo. Bread and circuses.

I read some years ago that in the years ahead, when things got tough economically, like they are getting now, then conflict between races may well be replaced by conflict between the rich and the poor.

We have nothing to lose except our mobile phones and TV's or something like that.  Think I'll go and find a bridge to sleep under.

French Algerians

Dylan, thanks, that is interesting news.  My understanding is that about a fifth of the French population is Muslim and a large part of that one fifth are either directly from or descendants of the Algerian rump who supported French rule but had to flee after defeat.  They were promised a soft landing in France but received anything but, so there is an immense resentment.  The rest, criminalisation of ethnicity, the police murders and thuggery, continuous policing on the grounds of appearance, merely flowed from that.  Apparently the presence of such a large and disaffected potential fifth column has had a significant impact on French foreign policy towards Arabic states and spurs French critique of the USA.

As for Eliot - mate, come in from the cold.  Berlin station is closed.

One of the problems with Laïcité

Anthony: "My understanding is that about a fifth of the French population is Muslim and a large part of that one fifth are either directly from or descendants of the Algerian rump who supported French rule but had to flee after defeat."

One of the problems with France's laïcité laws is that the government is prevented from asking the citizens what religion they are or their ethnicity. As a result, estimates vary significantly and statistical methodologies employed range from rough guesses to telephone polling to the assessment of surnames to 'guess' a person's religion.

In 2000 the US State Department estimated that the Islamic population was about 10% of the total French population, putting the total Islamic population at somewhere around 6.5 million. L'Express reported in 2003 that the 6 million figure was a huge overestimation and pegged the real number at about 3.7 million persons.

Polling in 2007 put it at only 3% and up to 6% in the suburbs but this strikes me as very low. Consider, for example, that in our city there are 8 Catholic churches and 14 moques or Muslim prayer centres even though this poll suggests that there are 21 times more Catholics than Muslims in the average French city.

Mark Steyn's book America Alone reported that France had the biggest proportion of Muslims in Europe - perhaps he was excluding Albania - but noted also that 1 in 3 babies born in France today are to Muslim parents suggesting that whatever the ratio is it is growing. In short, we don't know how many ethnic-Algerians, ethnic-North African or Muslim (or Catholic or Jewish) people live in France.

That said, I'm inclined to believe that what you describe as a "disaffected potential fifth column" does exist and does draw strength from immigrant youth. This article is very long but is comprehensive and explains well what the situation in the suburbs is like, including this:

In January 2006 a twenty-three-year-old mobile phone salesman named Ilan Halimi was kidnapped in central Paris and driven out to Darfour City in Bagneux. Halimi, who was Jewish, had been invited out for a drink by a young Iranian woman named Yalda,whom he had met while selling phones. It turned out that it was her mission to trap him and lure him away from safety...

Three weeks later, Ilan was found naked and tied to a tree near the RER station of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. He died on the way to hospital. His body had been mutilated and burned. Since being kidnapped, he had been imprisoned in a flat in Bagneux, starved and tortured. Residents of the block had heard his screams and the laughter of those torturing him, but had done nothing...

At the same time, out in the banlieue itself, the murder took on a skewed new meaning: the word was that what had begun as a heist and kidnap to extort a ransom from ‘rich Jews’ had become a form of revenge for crimes in Iraq and, in particular, the scenes from Abu Ghraib. Bizarrely, in the view of some, this made the torturers martyrs, soldiers in what is being called the Long War against the white Western powers. An ever-present slogan in the banlieue is ‘Nique la France!’ (Fuck France!). The kids of Bagneux accordingly gloried in their own ‘intifada’. They openly identified with the Palestinians, whom they saw as prisoners in their own land, like the dispossessed of the banlieue.

I don't know if we can conclude that French anti-Americanism, where it exists, flows from the migrant and Muslim community. However, the references to Abu Ghraib, Iraq and allusions to a 'Long War' suggest that reactions to American foreign policy shape, in part, the sometimes violent reactions by angry, young, male migrants towards their nominal countrymen.


To clarify, my sympathies for the French Communist Party (PCF) only go about as agreeing that Mme. Buffet's quote on this issue 'hits the spot'. Any solutions she and her colleagues on the far-left have to the problem of integration in France are likely to fall outside of what I would consider reasonable. These guys are much more my style and were the ones to win my vote last time round.

Eliot, the extract you provide is interesting but there is probably a mistake in attribution. The date attributed to the article doesn't seem to fit with the theme of the piece, particularly the quoted extract from Le Matin. My guess is that the correct date for the extract should be 23 August 1939 and not 23 July 1939 as the translation is marked.

Interestingly, this would have been one of the last things published by the newspaper Ce Soir as, on 25 August 1939, it was closed by the government (French Wikipedia link) as a direct result of its editorial support of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

They don't feel right in their country

"Is it going to solve the problem of these men and women who in a way are expressing that they don't feel right in our country?"

-  Marie-George Buffet, leader of the French Communist Party

Say, is that the same French Communist party which said this:

The USSR, the country whose diplomacy has never ceased calling for disarmament as long as this has been possible, that gave the world the policy of collective security, shows yet again, and strikingly so, its desire for peace with all. The non-aggression pact with Germany, imposed on M. Hitler, who had no other possibility than either thus capitulating or making war, is a triumph for this Soviet desire for peace.

Why, yes. I think it is. 

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