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Analysis, Current Affairs

After France’s Victory, What Is Next for French Muslims?

As a Muslim French woman, my feelings in regards to France’s victory of 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 skeptical about what changes this win would practically bring to individuals belonging to certain ethnic groups in this country, and to the Muslim faith in particular. Nothing much, I fear.

As a lot of people on social media have been pointing it out, 15 players of the French national team come from Africa, while 7 are Muslims. Yet this fact is never highlighted in the mainstream media, and while the common French man might easily recognise someone having African roots due to his skin complexion, he is often a stranger to the fact that the person is Muslim. Not that the personal beliefs of footballers should become a subject of scrutiny (ideally it shouldn’t), but in the context of France and ever-rising Islamophobia, the media should probably take its responsibilities and bring more peace and tolerance to people’s minds.

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 the 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 – and this is not fiction. Countless surveys and social experiments 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, pictures such as the ones below need to go viral – not only to bring awareness about the Muslim faith of certain players but also to 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 politicization 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. 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 a 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.

“What if Emmanuel Macron was the real star of the World Cup’s final?”

While all the memes claiming that it is not France, but Africa which won the cup may be funny at first, they reiterate this 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 racism, discriminations, and Islamophobia, it would not be the case.

More generally, I feel sad about the French people too, who do not hesitate to take to the streets when it comes to a football game but don’t do the same when it comes to protecting peace, their social rights, public services, independence, and freedom – which are way more important issues. The sheer crowd present on the Champs-Élysées in the past two days proves the power of the people, and how it 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.

“The French have all taken to the streets for this cup, we are waiting for them now to defend our social rights.”

All said and done, history was indeed witnessed. We can just hope that tomorrow will be better, and that apt conclusions will be derived from this victory.

Forever curious half French-half Pakistani student of Islamic studies, with keen interests in foreign civilisations, geopolitics, social affairs...and the world in general.

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