France beating Croatia 4-2 to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup is a much needed victory for European society in our age.
Many far-right politicians and parties attempt to rise and catch Europeans off guard, as many of us take the lives we live for granted without understanding the struggles that came before us, exemplified best by #Brexit in the UK which leveraged fear of immigrants to break our relationship with the European Union.
France, is no different. As its far-right National Front party, having lost to Emmanuel Macron, regroups, rebranding itself with a different name, “National Rally”, the country owes part of its victory in the World Cup to Muslim players, two of whom, Dijbril Sidibe and Paul Pogba both fell in prostration – thanking God – upon winning the game.
Indeed others took to directly criticizing the far right. Hasan Patel asked, “Has anyone told Marie Le Pen and her friends that #Fra￼ who are #worldcup￼ winners have seven players who are from the Muslim background?”
While all of the players identify themselves as French, many are not ethnically white French, instead, trace their origin to Africa. These include: Sidibe (Senegal), Pogba (Guinea), Fekir (Algeria), Rami (Morocco), Matuidi (Angola), Dembele (Senegal), Mbappe (Algeria and Cameroon) and others.
France, a deeply secular country won the 2018 World Cup due in part to team members who are deeply religious and unashamed to display their faith.
Sharing his excitement, happiness and joy, in a post on Instagram, just after winning, Paul Pogba said, “Thank you sir. Yes. Dieu est grand. God is Great. God is Great. God is Great. Always first. Always.”
Beyond faith, ethnicity and race too are issues. There are over 500 slums in France, with over 100 of them in the Greater Paris area. For years residents of these areas have complained about being left behind, not having sufficient investment, support or opportunity.
An exception to this is Kylian Mbappe who grew up in a district named Bondy, known for having some of the highest unemployment and crime in France.
He went on to become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final in 60 years. The son of a father from Cameroon and a mother from Algeria, his faith isn’t public knowledge but, as some opine, his ‘religion’ from a very young age has been football; he is actually one of the few exceptions.
France and French culture is a wonderful thing, but like many nations France has some way to go to accept that religion is very much a part of the life of many people.
In a strong criticism, the conservative Muslim scholar Yasir Qadhi said,
If France was as racist towards its immigrant football players as it towards most of its other population, they would never have won the World Cup. The majority of goals were scored by ‘immigrants’ (one of them a Muslim). Hopefully that will change the attitude of some of them.
— Dr. Yasir Qadhi (@YasirQadhi) July 15, 2018
Others took a less strong position but expressed their views, such as Av Gutman who said, “Paul Pogba is the son of Muslim Guinean immigrants. Kylian Mbappé’s mom is from Algeria & dad is from Cameroon.
Antoine Griezmann’s dad is of German descent & mom is of Portuguese descent. These are the goal scorers for France at the #WorldCupFinal￼. Immigrants get the job done.”
A sentiment shared across social media, Nick Flint said, “Just a little reminder that this world cup was won by a team of immigrants and muslims. Time to embrace our diversity. #WorldCupFinal￼ #Immigration #Muslims”
Others included history such as Mian Faisal Naseer, “Zidane and Pogba – two Muslims that led France to their two #WorldCup￼ titles. In 1998 and 2018.
Their faces illuminated on the Arc de Triomphe, a symbol of the nation. Islam can coexist with French identity. Don’t just celebrate Muslims when they deliver #WorldCupFinal￼ glory.”
Earlier this year at the Gout de France, an annual event dedicated to showcasing French gastronomy to the world, a member of the French Embassy in London spoke about the importance of food, “…the role of a good meal, in order to conclude a good agreement…”
We now haven’t just good food, but football, to reflect the diversity of French culture and custom. And if armed with these two tools, perhaps there is hope for the French, as well as the rest of us, to come closer together and realise that our differences don’t divide us but simply reflect the richness and diversity of the world’s faith/custom/culture; and that is certainly something to be celebrated.
Well done France for winning the FIFA World Cup 2018.