Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thuram angers far-right

French international defender Lilian Thuram angered the French right today, offering tickets to 80 immigrant squatters during a fierce political debate over immigration.

France’s support of the national football team represents the paradoxical nature of the immigration issue of the country. After recent riots in the immigrant ghettoes surrounding Paris, immigrants remain frustrated over support for an ethnically diverse squad, yet a renewed vigor in taking the hard-line with the immigrant population in France.

France’s National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, criticized the national team this year, claiming it contained too many African players, and was not an accurate reflection of France itself.

In a country of 63 million people, it is estimated in a 2004 study that roughly 14 million are of foreign ancestry. France also stands in contrast to other European countries, with higher birth rates and low immigration. Newly-arrived immigrants account for less than 40% of new inhabitants in France; in England this group accounts for more than 60% of population growth.

We all know that most of what comes out of Le Pen’s mouth is nothing more than bitter rhetoric in his attempt to preserve the “true Frenchness” of his country, but the vehemence with which other politicians protested Thuram’s gesture reflects the acceptance of Le Pen’s views.

“Footballers are made to play football”, said Phillipe de Villiers, from the far-right MPF, adding that it was shocking that so many French were waiting for subsidized housing and the roughly 200 squatters were offered accommodation.

"Why don't they go even further and invite these illegal immigrants to stay in their homes?'' the conservative presidential-hopeful added on French radio RTL. "It's always interesting to see billionaires give lessons to society.''

Besides overusing literal sentiment, de Villiers echoes the sentiments of Le Pen, and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has pushed tougher immigration laws, in distinguishing between “French” and “non-French”. Interestingly, roughly 40% of the French populations are descendents of foreign nationalities.

Considering so much of France’s success on the pitch has come from non-native French players or the descendents of immigrants, this hypocrisy is hard to take for Lilian Thuram.

The much loved (and forgiven) Zinedine Zidane is of Algerian origin, Thierry Henry is of West Indian roots, as is Lilian Thuram, and both Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele are from African families.

"The French soccer team reflects France. We're all the same, no matter what skin colour we have," said Fidele Nitiema, one of some 200 immigrants placed in an overcrowded gym since being flushed out of squat outside of Paris three weeks ago.

It should be interesting to see what the French government does with these squatter houses now that the homeless have been expelled. Will we see these buildings converted to low-cost subsidized housing?

With Chirac essentially out the door, will Sarkozy ride a campaign of xenophobia and intolerance to win the Presidency? You can be sure he’ll try; whether or not he wins will have much to do with not only the future make-up of the French population, but perhaps the football team as well.


Sports Illustrated Thuram, Vieira criticized for inviting squatters to Italy Game

Wikipedia Demographics of France

Independent After the head-butt: French seek revenge for Berlin misery

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