Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Siding with the Communists

By Dylan Kissane
Created 17/10/2008 - 14:56

Siding with the Communists
by Dylan Kissane [0]

The news broke for us on Wednesday morning. Switching on i<Tele [1], 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 [2] here nor was it the latest tidbit [3] 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 [4] – ranked 11th in the world – to win and everyone also expected the Tunisians [5] – ranked 47th – to put up a good fight. Down here in the Rhone valley people expected our former local hero, the OL [6] striker turned OM [7] striker Ben Arfa [8], 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 [9] 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 [10] 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 [11], 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 [12] 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 [13] has declared the acts of the jeering fans “insulting” and disrespectful towards the entire nation. The President [14] has announced that any future incidences of jeering the national anthem will result in the game being immediately cancelled. Bernard Laporte [15], 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 [16], 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 [17] 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.

Source URL: