Joe Slater, Going Postal
Les Banlieues

If you want to understand modern France, I know no better introduction than Le Suicide Français by Éric Zemmour. Following Zidane’s intervention in the French presidential finals, so to speak, I was reminded of Zemmour’s excellent chapter on multiracialism and French football, and inspired to submit a brief synopsis before the esteemed readers of this venerable organ. The selected translated lines that follow are all basically Zemmour’s, but I have rearranged and cut corners. The chapter in question is titled Black-blanc-beur. Black is hip anglo-French for negro, blanc is proper French for white and beur is a slang term for French of north African descent.

“1998. Our three colours were no longer blue, white and red but black-blanc-beur. The World Cup, won by France, was not the victory of the best team in the world, but a triumph of race-mixing [métissage] and integration à la française. Zidane was a Kabyle (Berber), Desailly an African, Karembeu a kanak (from New Caledonia in the South Pacific), Thuram a Guadeloupian. It was a festival of return to origins, for people from all over the world except the soil of France. A militant antiracist exultantly said that the team would have been even better if it had had an Asian player. Even the German papers concluded from the elimination of the German team, at an early stage for once, that droit du sang (jus sanguinis, citizenship by blood) should be abolished in Germany. Hauts-de-Seine politician Patrick Devedjian summed it up: “This evening, there is one person who really does have the air of a con (the c-word, but a bit milder). And that is Le Pen.”

The use of football for ideological, nationalist and political propaganda had up to then been the prerogative of authoritarian and fascist regimes, the dictatorships of the Brazilian or Argentine generals. This time, the same methods were borrowed by the antiracist and multiculturalist movement in France. In fact, that 1998 squad was no more mixed than its glorious predecessor in 1982 or even that of 1958. French football always drew on the immigrant population of the time, be it Belgian, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Kabyle or African, just as the factories did. Kopa and Platini (or Tigana, Amoros, Piantoni, Genghini, Janvion, Trésor) had come to be seen as French, not descendants of Poles, Italians, Spaniards, Antillians or Africans. What changed was our perspective.

The 1998 team was managed with an iron fist by two men, coach Aimé Jacquet and captain Didier Deschamps, two Français de souche (pure French), products of the rural working-class. They taught (players of overseas origin) how to be French. Zidane manically kissed his French team shirt after the final whistle.

History could have stopped there. The glorious conquerors enjoyed their warrior’s repose with parties and pretty women. The French footballer replaced the racing driver and the tennis player in the hearts of fashionable girls. Football recruiters and trainers were convinced that it would be enough to have a “little Arab” in the midfield who would reproduce the talent of Zidane, and some “big blacks” at the back to make the defence impregnable …

But the postman always rings twice.

Both coach and captain quit, Jacquet soon after 1998 and Deschamps two years later. Since then, French football has not won a single international competition. In 2001, the French football authorities (FFF) had the idea of organising a friendly between France and Algeria. The result was unimportant, since the superiority of the world champions was plain for all to see; it was the fraternity between the two nations which the naive football nabobs wanted to promote, through Zidane, the human hyphen linking the two countries and two cultures.

They got their wish. On October 6, the Stade de France was filled with young spectators from the (unruly immigrant) Seine-Saint-Denis area of Paris. They were mostly French nationals, but supported the Algerian team. They whistled at the opposition, booed the “traitor” Zidane each time he touched the ball. The true supporters of the Algerian team were flabbergasted by the outrageous behaviour of these young “French.” The players in blue, bewildered, had the disagreeable impression of playing away. The Marseillaise was booed and heckled with insults and sarcasm. In the stands, Jospin (Prime Minister 1997-2002) and the Minister of Sport Marie-George Buffet (head of the French Communist Party from 2001 to 2010]) did not know what attitude to take. Hesitating to leave, they remained, and regretted it. During the second half, Algeria conceded many goals. The victory of the French team was too crushing for the young admirers of Algeria, who suddenly invaded the pitch. On the pitch as in the official stands, confusion reigned. The referee suspended the match; a furious Thuram caught the arm of a young “supporter” and hurled insults at him. Buffet grabbed the microphone and told people to “respect the joy” (of the occasion). But the black-blanc-beur illusion was destroyed, and the ideological swindle of the antiracist movement stood exposed. Similar matches between France and Tunisia and France and Morocco would take place in following years, with similar results. The pitch was not invaded, but the Marseillaise was whistled down and Arab-background players in blue were insulted.

Meanwhile, the young of the inner cities became the majority in the football training centres of Paris and Navarre and brought their violent morals with them. “The training centre, it’s the jungle. I have lived like that,” said a young player who probably for fear of reprisals remained anonymous. “It is the law of the strongest. The guys who come from the quartiers (hard neighbourhoods) impose this mentality. They are full of rage, a determination to pull through, to forget the misadventures that they have known. Many live with the knowledge of rejection. But in football, they are suddenly a dominant majority and it is their codes which carry weight. In this world, you have to be tough to get by if you are different.”

The pitch invasion in the French Algeria match was a warning. In less than a decade, French football became football of the French banlieues. A training centre boss noted with bitterness: “When one of these kids goes back to his own people, he never says he is French, as it is a source of shame.” The wild young men do not respect a trainer or coach, they will not submit to authority except overseas, in English, Italian or German clubs.”

And Islam spread in the changing room. Players took their showers in their shorts for modesty, and halal meals were demanded, to the surprise of foreign players. The locker room mood became bolshie. In the World Cup in 2010, in South Africa, rebelling players refused to train, and locked themselves up in their bus in front of the cameras of the world. Then France discovered what exactly had happened to French football and the national team. Vikash Dhorasoo, a talented (Indian-background) player, better educated than average, said: “This team represents the France of the banlieues, France of the ghettos, working-class quartiers that have become very tough. I come from a working-class background, my father worked like those of Deschamps. But today in the working-class quartiers the power has been abandoned to the caïds (gang bosses), and this is reflected in the French team.”

It came out that the meals served to the players of the team of France were halal and that the players were all under the thumb of those who were called caïds – Ribéry, Evra, Anelka – all three of them converts to Islam. Anelka called his coach an enculé (feckwit); Gourcuff, too well brought up, too “French,” was the victim of intense ostracism. This team of 2010 showed itself to be the exact opposite of that of 1998.

In the official pronouncements of politicians, journalists and intellectuals, football again became a game and no longer a moral (beacon), and players were again just “dirty kids corrupted by money and modern individualism.” They were no longer examples of “integration à la française.”

Once more, the French white middle classes saw in football, once a source of amusement, a reflection of their worries about security and identity. They no longer sent their kids to the clubs, preferring them to do basketball or tennis. They no longer watched the matches on television and returned the contempt and hate which had been showered on them by the players in blue.”

–from Le Suicide Français, 2014, Éric Zemmour

Translated and adapted by Joe Slater. All copying of the above English text is at the user’s risk; see original French for authorised version.
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