“Liberté, egalité, Mbappé!” After France’s World Cup victory, the French slogan was rewritten to celebrate a winning goal by a 19-year-old player from the Paris suburbs who is donating his World Cup fee to charity because, he says, it is such an honor to play for his national team. As Myriam Francois wrote, “Sunday was an important symbolic victory, and the message was clear: this is us, black, Muslim, French, African, ‘banlieusard,’ and we are the best of France.”
Others celebrated the diversity of France’s team: “There’s no French greatness without those who have chosen to make France their home. Without diversity and immigration, it’s safe to assume France would have failed to make it out of the group stage – assuming they’d have even qualified for the World Cup in the first place,” wrote CJ Werleman.
However, there have been mixed reactions to its players’ ethnic origins. France’s national team has many Muslim players, including Adil Rami, Benjamin Mendy, N’Golo Kanté, Nabil Fekir, Ousmane Dembélé, Djibril Sidibé, Kylian Mbappé, and Paul Pogba.
Author Khaled Beydoun wrote on Twitter: “Islamophobia is rampant in France…Muslims will be cheered on and championed if they are exceptional, entertain and advance national interests.”
Comedian Trevor Noah claimed that “Africa won the world cup,” in a segment following France’s win. French Ambassador Gerard Araud replied with a strongly worded letter accusing Noah of “legitimizing” racist ideologies and denying the players’ “Frenchness” with his comments about their race and backgrounds.
“I heard your words about ‘an African victory,’ nothing could be less true. … By calling them an African team, it seems you are denying their Frenchness,” Araud said in his letter. “This, even in jest, legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French.”
Twitter users also took the opportunity to comment: “I hope France never says an unkind word about immigrants ever again,” one wrote. Others quoted Karim Benzema, who several years ago famously said: “If I score, I’m French…If I don’t, I’m Arab.”
“With France passing all these laws against Islamic practices, let’s not forget it’s these same Muslims players who helped win #WorldCup2018,” one Twitter user wrote.
Other Twitter users called France’s hypocritical policies against migrants and Muslims “shameful” in the light of their celebrated win. Some called on France to recognize the victory as a much-needed wake-up call for the country to adopt policies upholding the rights and dignity of migrants and Muslims.
Louis Sarkozy, son of former President Sarkozy, declared that “If The Blues are not French, neither am I.”
For immigration specialist Pascal Blanchard, “We are in the third or fourth generation of immigration that explicitly claims its religious or cultural particularities, such as its Frenchness. It’s this generation that takes to the streets and says “Look, this works: we can be black, Muslim and French and win for France.”