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Why French Algerians' football celebrations turned into a battle

Supporters of the Algerian football team celebrate

Supporters of the Algerian football team celebrate on the Champs Elysées after the side qualified for the World Cup finals by beating Egypt 1-0 in a play-off. Photograph by Thomas Coex/AFP Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

As the French nation prepared for the crucial World Cup qualifying match against Ireland on Wednesday evening, the streets of Paris were already in carnival mood long before the kick-off in the Stade de France. From 8.30pm onwards, throughout the city football fans waved flags, blocked traffic, hooted horns and sang songs of celebration. The party atmosphere clearly bemused newly arrived tourists and Irish fans on their way to the match. Most confusingly, with their green, white and red flags and football songs in Arabic, these supporters were obviously not French. They were in fact Algerians – several thousand of them – who were celebrating a 1-0 victory nearly 3,000 miles away in Khartoum.

More specifically, the Algerians were celebrating that they had, for the first time since 1986, qualified for the World Cup. As the final whistle blew in the match against Egypt, there was near-delirium across Paris. As the evening went on, more than 12,000 Algerians poured on to the Champs Elysées, which was closed to traffic as youngsters danced on the roofs of cars, chanting "One, two, three, Vive l'Algérie", and throwing fireworks into the dank November night. "I can't believe it," I was told by Samia, a 20-year-old student. "I've never seen anything like it. It's not just about football. It has to be about something else."

About midnight it became clearer what that something else might be. Armed police had by now gathered around the Arc de Triomphe, trying to break up the crowds. They were met with taunts, stones and fireworks. The party soon degenerated into a riot and the cries of "Vive l'Algérie" were replaced by the familiar battle cry of "Nique la police" (Fuck the police). The police responded with teargas and baton charges.

There were 60 arrests, and similar scenes in Lyon and Marseille. The violence carried on and by Friday morning the police reported that more than 200 cars had been burnt in the suburbs of Paris. On Thursday night, I watched standoffs between youths armed with sticks and Robocop-style police in Place de Catalogne and Rue de L'Ouest. Suddenly it looked for a brief moment as if France might be facing a re-run of the riots that ripped through the country in the autumn of 2005.

The sourness surrounding the Algerian victory seemed such a long way away from the famous "rainbow" French team of 1998 that beat Brazil in a glorious World Cup final at the Stade de France. That team brought together a generation of players who all had their origins outside France – including Youri Djorkaeff (whose family came from Armenia), Lilian Thuram (French Caribbean), Bixente Lizarazu (Basque) and Patrick Vieira (Senegal). The key image, which went across the world, was of the face of Zinédine Zidane – an Algerian born in Marseille – being lit up in red, white and blue across the Champs Élysées under the rubric Zidane Président. The new tolerance and comradeship was known as L'Effet Zidane. This moment was hailed as the beginning of a new era in French cultural life.

Eleven years later, that moment seems to belong to a very distant past. Indeed, the divisions in French society seemed to have hardened since then. In 2005, at the height of the riots, Nicolas Sarkozy, then minister of the interior, famously added fuel to the fire by describing the rioters as racaille (scum). Meanwhile, films such as Michael Haneke's Hidden – which dealt with the repressed memory of a notorious night of violence against Algerians in Paris – have revealed the deepening inner tensions at the heart of 21st-century society. None of this has been forgotten by the youths who were out in force on Wednesday night.

But the anger on show was not just about football and racism. It also stems from the fact that many Algerians, living in France or Algeria, have never really freed themselves from their longstanding love-hate relationship with France. More precisely, during the years of the French occupation, which began in 1830, Algeria was no ordinary colony, but an integral part of France with the same status as Alsace or Brittany. To be an Algerian was therefore – at least in theory – to be in effect a Frenchman. All too often in practice, as generations of Algerians have discovered, it is to be treated as a second-class citizen. Worse still, to be an Algerian is to be a bicot or mélon – racist terms for Muslims (and all of which I overheard in the mouths of white Parisians on the Métro on Wednesday night).

The history of French Algeria is further complicated by the fact that the country was also home to several million European settlers known as pieds noirs. The pieds noirs felt that Algeria belonged to them as much it did to the Arab and Berber population. When France granted independence to Algeria in 1962, however, this community was forced to leave Algeria for France – the mother country that they felt had betrayed them. It is the bitterness of the pieds noirs that has filtered down to the vicious anti-Algerian racism of contemporary France.

The story of Algerian independence is not a happy one. Throughout the 1990s a civil war raged between the government and Islamic terrorist groups. Conservative estimates reckon that 200, 000 Algerians were killed. In 2002 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered an amnesty to the fighters. Since then, Algeria has been trying desperately to reassure the outside world that normality is being established.

But the traces of the civil war are clearly visible these days in the streets of the capital, where security and tension are still high. In the former pied noir district of Belcourt, the house of the writer Albert Camus is now a mobile phone shop. Camus himself is despised by locals – when I was there a few weeks ago he was variously described to me as a filthy colonialist, a racist and a Frenchman.

The targets of the Islamists were journalists, writers, artists, musicians, all those who were perceived to belong to the French-speaking elite of the country. Downtown Algiers is French-designed, truly beautiful and deserves every bit of its title as "Paris in Africa". But it is an illusion.

"On the one hand, France means for us Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," I was told by Fatiha, a university teacher, "but somehow that model never came to Algeria. So this place might look like France, but in reality it is the opposite. We cannot leave here. We have no money or visas. So really Algiers is a prison."

It is this mixture of desire and frustration that best defines the bond between France and Algeria. It also explains why all attempts at reconciliation are so fraught. In 2001 a France-Algeria football match, a friendly meant to establish brotherhood between the two nations, broke down into pitch invasions and riots. When I interviewed Zidane about this for Observer Sport Monthly in 2004, he described it as the worst moment of his football career. Most damaging of all to him were the chants "Zidane – Harki". This is indeed a deadly insult: the Harkis were the Algerians who had fought for the French against their side and who are nowadays considered as traitors in their own communities.

"The problem is that Algerians cannot forget their past," I was told by one of them in a bar on Wednesday night, "but they must also learn that their fury is dangerous. No one knows where it will lead."

But what is certain, however, is that, as France and Algeria prepare for South Africa 2010, there will be two very different versions of the World Cup to be played out in the streets of France.

Andrew Hussey is the Dean of the University of London Institute in Paris. He is writing The French Intifada for Granta


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Why French Algerians' football celebrations turned into a battle

This article appeared on p29 of the Focus section of the Observer on Sunday 22 November 2009. It was published on guardian.co.uk at 00.06 GMT on Sunday 22 November 2009.

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  • Aksil Aksil

    22 Nov 2009, 1:23AM

    I believe this prejudice to human liberties is occurring while the whole planet is entering a new phase known as globalization (mondialisation) which entails to merging of societies across their official country borders. It's harder to not consider the human flow of migration, and even harder when local institutions deny to immigrants their natural right to express their joy. Algerians went on a celebration mode all across the planet (not just France) and french authorities should have know they are not any differnet from their belgian neighbors, canadians or americans who enjoyed great across-cultural fiestas!
    Should the french authorities have embraced those great moments on the Champs Elysees (Arc de triomphe: symbol of the great french revolution and democraty). as well? Instead, they choose to send policemen to STOP them! That is called intolerance which may be hides more more than just a matter of "disciplining" the algerian. Times of "colons" is over obviously, now it's time to celebrate diversity exactly the same way the FRENCH NATIONAL football team says it outloud such as in 1998 when ZIDANE - the berber from Algeria - brought the world cup to the same CHAMPS -ELYSEE. Then the french authorities did NOT silence any algerian holding an algerian flag just too proud of ZIDANE's origines...No kidding!

  • makz makz

    22 Nov 2009, 6:23AM

    What is this about Algerians in France? Surely the vast majority of these people are in fact French of Algerian family origin. Certainly Zidane is, so why describe him as "an Algerian born in Marseille"? If he is Algerian, how did he qualify to play for France? I suppose to this writer, Nasser Hussain is an Indian?

  • markymark001 markymark001

    22 Nov 2009, 7:45AM

    True, makz. The French in theory have a socially integrating model, you become French, period. Especially when you win them the World Cup. Tongues, however slip, as do minds.
    Andrew Hussey, being English, doesn't have the same references at all but he is being lazy in describing Zidane and other 'Algerians' as such, rather than of Algerian origin, possibly inadvertently, using the same divisive language as some French racists so casually do.
    I would invite Mr Hussey to come along to a meeting of SIETAR France or have a look at our website. We are dedicated to promoting good Intercultural relations, one of the obstacles to which is simply not knowing the impact one may have with one's attitudes and language.
    http://www.sietar-france.org/
    ta

  • DaveyCooper DaveyCooper

    22 Nov 2009, 8:20AM

    It was chaos in Grenoble, cars driving at full speed down the boulevards with people sitting on the roof, burnt out cars, giant fireworks being fired in the street, car crashing, burning buildings, looting. The atmosphere in Grenoble was frightening. Although the presence of the police would inevitably lead to rioting and no doubt they will be blamed, what are they supposed to do? Sit back and hope nothing too bad happens. I'll be wearing my tin hat in June.

  • samtheman samtheman

    22 Nov 2009, 8:30AM

    So Lizarazu, being Basque, has its "origins outside France"? How comes? That would mean a person from Brittanny, Alsace or Provence has its origins outside France as well?

  • Talonade Talonade

    22 Nov 2009, 9:05AM

    What an excellent article.

    I believe that it is the French model based oncomplete intolerance that creates this tension, immigrants are supposed to become French in every way, with Spanish and Italian immigrants that is a more feasable model, but with a different religion, from a different continent, having suffered a century of oppression, it is not going to happen. North Africans are suppossed to be loyal to France etc., beFrench, yet they are treated like merde. They are supposed to adopt France, yet have none of the benefits.

    I have very bright Algerian friends born and raised here in france (never would they support France!) who could never get a proper job, or be accepted in society in a meaningfuul way. When I go out, I never see N Africans with whites, it is a very real racial divide - on a par with the blacks of USA.

    The fact that the French respponse is to send in the riot squad when Algerian fans celebrate says it all. The French integration model is a brutally colonial one, of total annihilation of the other culture (compare with largely successful integration in UK broadly definable by tolerance - yes, its all relative, given our history I think it is a success). Is it any wonder - that a people brutally colonised, encouraged to emmigrate to France, then abandoned and discriminated against when they were not needed, and now totally marginalised (with 20% of electorate voting for a party that wants to repatriate them), yet expected to be French, but without job opportunities or social status - should have so much frustration and resentment against a country so blind to its own faults, so confident that it is the Algerians who are racaille. Imagine Brown calling asians in Bradford scum and expecting problem to go away, it is unimaginable behaviour.

    The point raised above about being called algerian, french, british, indian, is an intersting one, Algerians in France feel Algerian, the French would agree - that is all that matters, although it actually shouldnt matter at all, these names are a manifestation of intoerance and fear, if they were mere geographical, cultural references they wouldnt be so taboo.

    Algeria also managed to qualify without outrageous cheating.

  • lansing lansing

    22 Nov 2009, 9:18AM

    It seems that many Algerian-origin people living in France would rather not be there. This latest trouble is another example of the embryonic balkanisation of Europe that eventually will lead to far more unpleasant consequences than a few tear gas rounds fired by Police.

  • Shutta Shutta

    22 Nov 2009, 9:18AM

    To Mazk and Markymark001,
    Whether you want to accept this or not, a vast number (might one hazard the word 'majority') of first-generation or second-generation French people with North African parents will self-identify as Algerian or Moroccan or Tunisian, etc.
    I am a white European man living in a good part of Paris so life is a bed of roses for me. But I have a number of Arab and Kabyle friends who have explained the importance of holding on to an identity in a country that generally relegates them to populous, gritty suburbs and low-paying jobs. Even an ex-boyfriend of mine who has a very good and important job with with an international company with a position of power and spends the majority of his time traveling internationally, still considers himself Moroccan even though he has a French passport and was born and grew up here. He conforms to the classic definition of a beur, not a Frenchman, and beur or rebeu is as much a term of self-identification as it is a social group identification employed by the populace at large, be it moniker or slur.

    One should not be all that shocked. After all, look to the example of the US where the great-great grandchildren of 19th century immigrants continue to identify themselves as Irish or Italian, often frequently to the chagrin of genuine Irish and Italians.

    (Also, Samtheman, on the subject of Lizarazu, 'Basque' is cited more often to describe someone from the Basque region than the word 'French'. Why? The Basque region has always maintained a separatist identity as neither France nor Spain, an identity the ethnically Basque people are very proud of. Lizarazu was born right near the Spanish border. He even had ETA try to extort money from him which required him being placed under police protection. So when you take this into context, yes, he is a Frenchman, but identifying primarily as such over his Basque background is a bold step. This is why this has nothing to do with Brittany or Provence or Périgord or anywhere else.)

    The encouraging thing, for now at least, is that in France this is all about recognition of the individual and the individual's rights and freedoms as united under the umbrella of a mother nation or an ethnicity. Outside of the debate of the wearing of the hijab, it has pretty much nothing to do with religion whatsoever, which has meant a much more secular and majority forward-looking slice of the population where religious extremism, by and large, hasn't found a foothold.

  • Shutta Shutta

    22 Nov 2009, 9:24AM

    While not a big Sarkozy fan I do find the media storm over his use of the word 'racaille' rather unfortunate, since it's a quite regularly-used word and usually without pejorative intent. I personally find myself using racaille or caillera quite regularly. Though as with me using the word Jewish in a conversation and Hitler screaming the word Jewish at a political rally, I guess the intonation does tend to play a part !

  • handee handee

    22 Nov 2009, 9:37AM

    Great article, thanks. Like @daveycooper, I'm in Grenoble and the scenes here were something else. That night we avoided the area where most of the Algerian cafes are (more through accident than design - I hadn't even realised the match was on until we were in town). Throughout the city centre the calls of "1, 2, 3! Vive l'Algerie!" and the hooting of cars made it seem rather like a carnival atmosphere - I got shoulder barged by a couple of girls, and my companion got an algerian flag wrapped round his head, but other than that it was high spirited but fun stuff. I thought at the time that other people might have kicked off given a bit of provocation (flag round head, shoulder barge). It wasn't till the next day that I saw the burned out cars and the smashed windows on the other side of town, and read about tear gas in the local press. Whoa.

  • NotSingingAnymore NotSingingAnymore

    22 Nov 2009, 9:45AM

    Excellent article.

    As a side note, you mention the Alsace as an example of an integral part of France. Many Alsatians consider themselves to be Alsatians only, not French. They were particularly eager to point this out on Thursday morning!

  • juliuzbeezer juliuzbeezer

    22 Nov 2009, 10:10AM

    Good article, though Zidane would be better labelled French than Algerian: he was born in France and is a French citizen. There's a lot of bitter history surrounding the Algerians in Paris, not least the massacre of around 100 Algerian demonstrators in 1961 by the police. The numbers are uncertain because the bodies were subsequently tossed in the Seine.

    France is very complicated; although unified by the Bourbons at the end of the sixteenth century, its continental size harbours inter-regional rivalries and tensions. The attitudes that maintain this do not make for harmony when applied in a racist manner in the post-colonial era, but it's not just the Algerians; try being a Vendéen in the Auvergne. Crowning all that is a metropolitan snobbery towards the provinces, enforced by a ruthless central bureaucracy capable of considerable stupidity from any perspective, and an authoritarian politics with a tendency to favour the caprices of the strong personality over the wisdom of the assembly.

    That said, there is a refreshing sense of individual responsibility for the health of democracy, deriving from the rule of law in a republic, a day to day solidarity among ordinary people, and a sense of responsibility for the collective well-being which other countries would do well to study and emulate.

  • manzikert manzikert

    22 Nov 2009, 10:14AM

    Isn't this proof of the superiority of the British model of cultural integration and tolerance and our post-colonial generostiy to citizens of former colonies? With the exception of a few extreme examples in the Pakistani muslim community, most of our second/third generation immigrants are completely integratead and see themselves as British and are proud of it, and have at most only an emotional link to their parents' country of origin. It's hard to imagine the scenes in Champs Elysses happening in Traflagar Sqaure.

  • vadid vadid

    22 Nov 2009, 10:26AM

    It was chaos in Grenoble

    Yes it was and in some other French towns. The problem, I believe, is not too many or too few police but poor tactics more suitable for the battle of Algiers than the battle of Place Victor Hugo. Too much reaction, too little proaction.

  • Suggest Suggest

    22 Nov 2009, 10:29AM

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  • daviestheshirt daviestheshirt

    22 Nov 2009, 10:36AM

    I'm surprised you missed the opportunity to mention that Albert Camus play in goal for Racing Universitaire Algerois junior team in the late 1920s (not for the Algerian national team as is often reported). He said of the experience, "After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA."

  • Williach Williach

    22 Nov 2009, 11:23AM

    99.9% of these kids that were celebrating are french indeed, most of them have never been to algeria nor do speak arabic, they are treated as algerians in france and as french in algeria.

  • CuthbertB CuthbertB

    22 Nov 2009, 11:25AM

    "players who all had their origins outside France ? including ....Bixente Lizarazu (Basque)".

    Other comments have indeed pointed out that being Basque isn't the same as having your origins outside France unless the person is from the part of the Basque country that is part of Spain. We can argue as to whether or not the Basque Country should be independent but at the moment it's not. So being a French Basque isn't the same as being a French Algerian, etc. The difference is the "outside France" bit.

  • mac64 mac64

    22 Nov 2009, 11:32AM

    The bitterness many Algerians, & French Algerians feel towards the French state and 'society' is based on their experience of social exclusion, discrimination and police harassment. Of course it has roots in French colonial rule over Algeria and the subsequent war of liberation. But also because of subsequent French governments', both left and right, mistreatment of ethnic minorities and anti-immigrant policies.

    The 'integration' of these social layers is a sham; if a French Algerian says they're French they're made to feel like they're not by the racists; when they say they're Algerian they're told to be 'French'. So they can't win. Ditto for all Muslims.

    These explosions will keep recurring because Sarkozy & co will continue to look for racial scapegoats in this time of crisis- but its high time the left stood up and fought unequivocally to defend Muslims, Algerians, blacks and other ethnic groups against this nasty racism.

  • yotomuni yotomuni

    22 Nov 2009, 11:36AM

    Zidane is pied noir. European origin with French ancestors who lived in Algeria. hardly makes him Algerian, yet everyone goes around saying he is Algerian, most notably the Algerians. bizarre

  • mac64 mac64

    22 Nov 2009, 11:44AM

    As for the superiority of the British model, while its true that integration is higher, there is stil pervasive racism towards ethnic groups, Pakistani or otherwise, manzikert.
    In fact, these communities do still have a social identity that harks back to the 1st generation country of origin, often because of the feeling of social isolation. But the difference with France lies in the left's response in Britain, in particular challenging the far right ; in the 70s when racism threatened to become respectable and the NF were on the march it was large left-organised demonstrations of black and white youth that put paid to it.
    Whereas in France the Front National got a much easier ride in the 80s and have become a permanent fixture on the poltiical spectrum, poisoning the whole body politic. So yes, white French are more 'overtly' racist.
    We're facing a similar problem again in Britian as the BNP have gained momentum as the rest of the political class try to outdo each other over immigration, appealing to the crudest nationalist and racist sentiments.
    Still not impossible to defeat this racism but it will require a clear, well-organised campaign to confront it, in both countries.

  • yotomuni yotomuni

    22 Nov 2009, 11:45AM

    "The fact that the French respponse is to send in the riot squad when Algerian fans celebrate says it all. "

    comment from someone above.

    they were jumping on car roofs you noob. my brother lives in Lyon, you stood a good chance of getting attacked by Algerians as a white person. this is why riot squads went in. I personally had an experience in Paris 98 when me and my mate had to end up defending ourselves in a fist fight with two Algerians who demanded money then attacked us unprovoked. luckily we came out of it ok and gave them a taste of something. this myth that 98 was this great rainbow coming together under a French win is a load of rubbish; a good many north africans, particularly Algerians who seem to be a lot more angry and militant than Moroccans, were not too pleased at all about a French win. I remember hearing comments after the quarters when apart from Brazil it was only European teams left, along the lines of how the world cup was rigged to be a 'coupe d'Europe'. A lot off hate there, but its hard to be sympathetic.

  • 1Rene 1Rene

    22 Nov 2009, 12:10PM

    It turned into a battle because of the French offcourse. In France, men of North-African descent have the opportunity to get a proper education. Enjoy excellent health-care and of course not to be forgotten, claim unemployment benefits.
    France might not be completely egalite, or fraternity. It is most definetly liberte compared to the hypocrite and highly corrupt (NO opportunity unless you are from the elite) moslim countries, i.e. from Morocco all the way to Indonesia.

  • quelter quelter

    22 Nov 2009, 12:34PM

    author:

    bicot or mélon ? racist terms for Muslims (and all of which I overheard in the mouths of white Parisians on the Métro on Wednesday night).

    Interesting. While there may well be people in Britain who think in these sort of terms, nobody uses them any more.

    It sounds as if bigotry is much more mainstream still in France.

  • mickyfong mickyfong

    22 Nov 2009, 12:35PM

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  • Desert1 Desert1

    22 Nov 2009, 12:42PM

    Excellent article. Its not black and white and is more of a catch 22 situation. The French have always been heavy handed whether it was during their colonization of Algeria or while handling the so called celebration mentioned above. On the other hand, it is difficult to sympathise with the French of Algerian descent simply because a large majority of them are very aggressive by nature (men and women). This is also true with regards to their integration in French society. Other north africans including Tunisians and Morrocans have integrated far more successfully into the fabric of French society even though alot of problems still exist.

    Like i said, its not that simple

  • drek drek

    22 Nov 2009, 1:04PM

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  • WJohnC WJohnC

    22 Nov 2009, 1:06PM

    I am amazed at some on this forum castigating the police for intervening - what were they to do, just let the hooligans blaze a trail of destruction with impunity? We could do with a few tough CRS here, they are the principal reason why the French streets feel much safer than the British. As for Sarkozy's bon mot, well how else to describe people who set cars alight and loot shops? Public benefactors?

    If the French Muslims don't like it in France, they should leave for a country where their faith is the state religion. I fear that they will experience even less gentle treatment from the forces of law 'n order there.

  • drek drek

    22 Nov 2009, 1:33PM

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  • Musa1 Musa1

    22 Nov 2009, 1:36PM

    An insightful and thoughtprovoking commentary. I wonder, do French leaders have rapport with French Algerian citizenry and residence, or are they too aloof and disconnected to actually nurture human relations? Do French mayors and commissioners (or their equivalent) actually visit Algerian neighborhoods, eat at Algerian restaurants, visit schools? Or does Sarkozy's slur truly reflect the divide between a large community and the French ruling elite?

    As for Algerian motivations, for many in France, it is Algerian nationalism. For many Algerians in Algeria, they long for a greater life with dignity, opportunity, consistent with their beliefs and legacy. The hopes of 1991 are still alive in Algeria, only subdued and not driven into manic violence and extremism.

  • Williach Williach

    22 Nov 2009, 2:09PM

    WjohnC, you completely missed the point here, they are as muslim as you :)
    Id even go as far that a bit of religious value wouldnt do them any bad.
    In my time these kids would be frightened at the prospect of some long "algerian holidays" by daddy, i guess that things havent changed that much.

  • mjback mjback

    22 Nov 2009, 2:27PM

    Worse still, to be an Algerian is to be a bicot or mélon ? racist terms for Muslims (and all of which I overheard in the mouths of white Parisians on the Métro on Wednesday night)"

    I find it extremely hard to believe Andrew Hussey heard the terms "bicot" and "melon" (written and pronounced without an accent) bandied about on the metro. They are very old-fashioned and I have never once heard them used in my 26 years spent living here. I doubt if many young French people would even know what they mean - they're very much associated with the period of the Franco-Algerian war. Hussey should know better than to imply that their use is representative of people's present attitudes - this is absolutely not the case.

    I was on the metro too that day. Some Algerian supporters - complete with flag - got onto the same carriage as some Irish supporters and started shouting "allez les bleus" and "vive la France".

    As for Algerians not being integrated: one in four Algerian-parentage girls enters a mixed marriage in France...this is far higher than among British Pakistanis for example...

  • vakibs vakibs

    22 Nov 2009, 2:30PM

    There are a lot of immigrants from various other nationalities living in France, and the riots in the aftermath of the Algeria-Egypt match didn't go well with any of them. It is frustrating to see a group of punks highjacking their will into the lives of the rest of the people. There was a motorbike burning right in front of where I live. Everybody I know was seriously pissed with the rioters, and I, for one, wouldn't be rooting for Algeria anytime in the world cup.

  • garbanzos garbanzos

    22 Nov 2009, 2:31PM

    The French, like the British, have done extremely well at integrating their "embarrassing" past into their homeland, as it were. It is never going to be easy and the question of identity will probably never disappear. Look at Americans who say they are Norwegian, Irish, German or Italian, when, indeed they were born in the States along with their parents, grandparents and beyond in some cases.
    When Spain won the Euro Cup in 2008, Pakistanis, who are now one of the largest immigrant communities in Spain, went out to celebrate the Spanish victory in the streets by sewing together the two flags as a sign of solidarity. Disgracefully, they were severely beaten up in the streets. This was not reported in Spain, and when photographers tried to record the violence, they too were attacked by Spanish. Immigration in Spain is relatively new and they are not coping with it at all, unlike the French, who are doing very well with immigration and integration. Whereas the article is excellent and informative, it shouldn't discredit the French and their policy. I still feel that French society is a good example of a rainbow democracy.

  • vakibs vakibs

    22 Nov 2009, 2:37PM

    It sounds as if bigotry is much more mainstream still in France.

    I never heard bicot or melon even though I've been living in France for 3 years. On the other hand, I did hear an Arab say négro (very offensive in French) to a black man who was complaining about the riots. That incident didn't prompt me to generalize that all Arabs share the same sentiment.

    France has its fair share of racist people, but I don't think it is the most troublesome country for immigrants. It is probably one of the most welcoming in the whole of Europe.

  • thevulture thevulture

    22 Nov 2009, 2:53PM

    Good article, but, as some of the comments above have demonstrated, it could have been more nuanced regarding identity of French Algerians. What struck me is the fact that this article discusses the incidents in Paris and elsewhere in France as an isolated incident of Algerians taking to the streets. Marseille, home to one of France's largest "Algerian" communities (if not the largest), has seen its Vieux Port as the site of riots several times in the past few months. Algerians rioted there after Algeria's win against Zambia, and again after the recent loss (and violence) in Cairo. I see no problem with sending out police to protect public and private property from rioting individuals, no matter what their origin is.

    There is racism in France, and I am appalled by it, though I am not dignifying Drek with a nuanced response on this one due to his/her own bigotry. However, today France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, and this is necessarily a result of relatively open immigration policies and willingness of people from the Maghreb to emigrate. At the same time, the mid-70s marked the end of rapid economic growth during les Trentes Glorieuses, and at this point racism was much more prevalent than it is today. With rather slow growth since that period, immigrants to France have arrived as a result of rather open policies, and, although racism has surely played a part, there simply were not enough jobs for them to be integrated successfully, at least in an economic sense. Ironically, leftist policies that made social housing (HLM) available to poorer people ended up concentrating Algerians and other immigrants into banlieues and neighborhoods that have become ghettos. Meanwhile, all French citizens, including these immigrant communities (even non-citizens with children born in France) could rely on the relatively generous social benefits of the French welfare state. Although the colonization of Algeria was morally wrong and many French are racists, this does not changed the fact that many Algerians have left the political turmoil of their own country for a life in France, where, even if they might not find a job or be fully integrated into society, at least they could have access to social housing and benefits.

    To compare integration in France and Britain is to compare apples and oranges. Britain's economy surpassed that of France in the 80s, and there have therefore been more economic opportunities for immigrants in the past 25 years. And although it is illegal in France to compile official statistics on the population's ethnic composition (which itself says something about the liberal official values of the French republic), by all accounts France has a much higher population of immigrants and their descendants than Britain does. In an economy where job growth is slower and where benefits are an easier option than in Britain, it should be no surprise that this has generated tension in France, although this in no way excuses racism. So I would agree that Britain has been more successful in integrating its immigrant population, but it has done so because its economy has provided more jobs while fewer immigrants were let in in comparison to France.

    Unfortunately the French model of integration has broken down. French Algerians often see themselves as Algerian, not French, even if they may consider themselves as Marseillais or other. It's the same from the perspective of white French: they are Arabs first, and then it's often hard to tell which ones are French citizens whose families have been in France for three generations and those who are not citizens and arrived recently, or those who don't even have papers. It wouldn't matter as much if there was a mechanism -such as job growth - to integrate them into French society, but in its stead there are only social benefits and cash-in-hand labor for those without papers.

  • tchai tchai

    22 Nov 2009, 3:08PM

    "Worse still, to be an Algerian is to be a bicot or mélon ? racist terms for Muslims "
    Muslims are members of a religion (Islam) and do not form a separate "race". Anyone using derogatory language about a religious community is guilty of bigotry, rather than racism. The French word "Melon" does not have an accent by the way.

  • Aksil Aksil

    22 Nov 2009, 5:15PM

    Northern africans are NOT going to take over "La bastille", they were just fans expressing their joy worldwide, not just in Algeria of France, or the north pole ....
    France was still blind and narrow minded seeing that so poorly.....hard for they to accept Algeria's pride.
    France has also forgotten that when France won the worldcup in 98', we algerians have shared their joy (vive Zidane! Vive la France!)
    Hopefuly, someday, they will evolve and learn from their neighbors the Belgians, the Brits, the algerians too!
    Au revoir la France!

  • pastis pastis

    22 Nov 2009, 5:40PM

    I've never heard the words "melon" ou "bicot" in France. Perhaps Mr Hussey was sitting next to some dinosaurs. I have heard an Algerian being extremely insulting about Moroccans.

    I was in France during the urban riots four years ago when kids burnt down primary schools and bus stops. In Algeria or Morocco I'm sure people would be delighted to have such services. Of course, people should be allowed to celebrate their homeland but why does it have to end in violence?

  • vadid vadid

    22 Nov 2009, 5:41PM

    I find it extremely hard to believe Andrew Hussey heard the terms "bicot" and "melon" (written and pronounced without an accent) bandied about on the metro.

    Yes I find that hard to believe too. To give English readers an idea bicot would be a bit like hearing the term "fuzzy wuzzy" being used in London. Not impossible but not terms in common usage.

  • frenchletter frenchletter

    22 Nov 2009, 8:04PM

    I've read the following comment:

    I find it extremely hard to believe Andrew Hussey heard the terms "bicot" and "melon" (written and pronounced without an accent) bandied about on the metro.

    Yes I find that hard to believe too. To give English readers an idea bicot would be a bit like hearing the term "fuzzy wuzzy" being used in London. Not impossible but not terms in common usage.

    Well I've spent a good quarter of a century living in France and I don't find it hard to believe that he heard such comments on the metro. People don't make as many disparaging remarks as they did, say, 20 years ago, but you still heard a lot of idiot racist remarks and jokes. My 14 year old son and all his "lower-middle -class" friends think nothing of telling stupid, racist jokes. I'm considered to be a boring old fart when I try to explain that they shouldn't talk like that .

    I think we should concentrate on the economic problems. France has had around 8% unemployment since the beginning of the eighties. I've often thought that if there were enough decently paid jobs then most of the "cultural problems" would fade away

  • luay luay

    22 Nov 2009, 8:22PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.
  • maiki maiki

    22 Nov 2009, 8:26PM

    There was also some celebration/police intervention in Barcelona.

    But then, unemployment is htting 20% in Spain.

    PS And aren't Zidane's parents Kabyle??

  • djerash djerash

    22 Nov 2009, 8:27PM

    I am French and always feel puzzled by articles in The guardian regarding France. They never match the mainstream French media articles as if they had been picked and chose in order to go along with the newspaper spirit: maintening a tense link between the two countries.
    I truly think that the mentionned event of algerian demonstration has been enlarged.
    As for words as bicot and melon, they made me laught because these are forgotten ephitets nobody remembers anymore. The nowdays word would rather be bronzé. (tanned)
    Yes we have racists -but racism can be found anywhere, yes it can be more difficult for immigration people to get a job, yes we misbehaved with our former colonies but we regard the legal immigration people as French and if you walk the cities streets in France you will not find any "bronzés" homeless.
    When président Chirac visited Algérie in the 20th thousands he had been asked to ease the algerian immigration.
    So what was the purpose of this article?
    I married an english man and we happily live in France, surrounded by some other Brittons who also look very happy to live in a racist country.

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