What future for French Muslims after France’s victory?

African or French that is the question! Zainab Bukhari looks at the hidden message behind France’s victory in World Cup 2018

As a Muslim French woman, my feelings in regards to France’s victory at the World Cup 2018 are quite divided. They are not divided about the game in itself – for the players undoubtedly demonstrated their brilliance on the field – and I do not see how I could be unhappy about winning the title again after 20 long years. Rather, I am sceptical about the changes that this win will bring to the everyday lives of individuals belonging to certain ethnic groups in this country, and to the Muslim faith in particular.

As a lot of people have pointed out, 15 players in the French national squad have roots in Africa, while seven are Muslims. Yet this fact is never highlighted in the mainstream media, and while the common French man might easily recognise someone having African ancestry due to his skin complexion, he is still often a ‘stranger’ due to the fact that he is a Muslim. Not that the personal beliefs of footballers should become a subject of scrutiny (ideally they shouldn’t), but in the context of France and ever-rising Islamophobia, one would expect the media to be somewhat more eager to highlight these facts.

But why would it do that? After all, it is that same media which has been continuously feeding Islamophobia, never failing to qualify a terrorist as ‘Muslim’, and then conveniently forgetting to add this adjective to our national players. This reality was effectively summarised by Karim Benzema a few years ago when he famously said:
“If I score I’m French… if I don’t, I’m an Arab.”
Eventually, this victory seems to be nothing more than a temporary distraction. It makes for a good excuse to not speak about real topics and real issues plaguing French society. Today, if two individuals with the same credentials apply to get a job or a house, the one who is not ‘French-looking enough’(whatever that means) or who has a more ‘exotic’ name than a ‘Jean’ or a ‘Dupont’ will still be much less likely to be successful in his endeavour.
Countless surveys and social research have proven this sad state of affairs. Let’s not even talk about the plight of Muslim women, who probably face even more challenges on a daily basis. For all these reasons, it is important to not only bring awareness about the Muslim faith of certain players but also make the common man understand that Islam is by no means an obstacle to French identity.

I am divided as well in regards to the politicisation of the game. It would be foolish to assume that all the players of the French team voted for Macron in 2017, let alone endorsed his subsequent actions and notably his recent bombings of Syria. Like many fellow Muslims, I see these footballers more as a team from France rather than a team of the French government. The fact that the national team shines today on the world stage is exclusively due to its members’ own efforts and endurance. Macron has had no hand in this victory. Does his presence during the match lend a political dimension to this win? I would not like to think so, as a football match is not meant to be an endorsement of a certain political agenda. However, the French media has already started its clever manipulation by giving absolutely undue credit to our president, and this is plain ridiculous.

While all the memes claiming that it is not France but Africa that won the Cup may be funny at first, they highlight a sad truth: immigrants have still not been fully integrated into French society, and many of them are more inclined to refer to the nations of their ancestors as their real ‘home’, instead of France. In an inclusive society free of discrimination based on race and Islamophobia, it would not be the case.

More generally, I feel despondent about the French people too, who do not hesitate to take to the streets when it comes to a football game but fail to do the same when it comes to protecting peace, their social rights, public services, independence, and freedom. The huge crowds gathered on the Champs-Elysees to celebrate France’s triumph demonstrates the abiding power of the people, and how they could potentially bring a government to its knees. More than ever, today’s generations should take inspiration from the 1789 revolution and decide to fight [not literally, of course] for their ideas, instead of constantly submitting themselves to the will of the powerful.

All said and done, history was indeed witnessed. We can just hope that tomorrow will be better and that a fitting outcome will arise out of this victory.

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