Third World in the First

In 1998 and 2000, when Les Bleues, France’s national soccer team, won the World Cup and the European Championship, not a few French intellectuals claimed that those wins both acknowledged the multicultural character of their country and would further strengthen it. Many believed that the leading role of Zinedine Zidane, Christian Karembeu, Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, Bixente Lizarazu, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and many others – the presence of soccer players with roots in former colonies – would expedite the integration of second- and third-generation migrants into the fabric of French society. Those hopes were not realized. The appeal of the multicolored team was not enough to halt the wave of xenophobia and racism that was repeatedly expressed by those who voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s ultra-right National Front. It is not by chance that the leader of the movement against the racism that plagues soccer fields in his country is Henry, one of Les Bleues. Zidane and Henry are French, accepted as regular Frenchmen because they are winners and because their victories are victories for France, for a France that is white in the end. If they were not great soccer players, not sports stars, they probably would not be in the symbolic center but on the sidelines. They would not be able to find jobs; they would not receive honor and glory but suspicion. They would live like hundreds of thousands in run-down suburbs and other cities, not only in France. And they would be called «scum,» as the French interior minister, himself the son of immigrants, described the rebels on the streets of Paris. Second-generation migrants of African origin are both French and not French. A Third World in the heart of the First, it will never be integrated if politicians, unable to face the situation, keep finding «mafia conspiracies» and «the Islamic factor.»

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