When Patrice Evra and the French national football team lined up at Wembley tonight (Tues 17 Nov), it was a moment of poignant defiance which earned an instant place in sporting iconography.
As their world famous national anthem struck up, all brass and bravado, I shed a tear but I didn’t sing La Marseillaise. I’m not a massive fan of national anthems but it’s hard not to be a bit roused by La Marseillaise. With its ‘Allons Enfanting’ and ‘Marchons Marchoning’, the French national anthem is definitely one of the greatest. It’s the definitive anthem, there’s little wonder it gets picked to start Beatles songs and rightly has been called the greatest anthem ever.
Coverage and the relateability lie
Patrice’s reaction to one of the suicide bombs going off outside Stade de France, last Friday, was one of the images that told the world something really untoward was happening. Much has been said about how much more coverage the mainstream media serves up when these sort of attacks happen in places like Boston or Paris compared to Beirut or Garissa University in Kenya. Trying to explain the lean, it’s often argued that most people in Europe and the US have no point of reference for life in Lebanon or Kenya. Because of the lack of coverage, the argument goes, they have no idea what life might look like in these countries and so it’s hard to imagine what it means for that life to be devastated. Almost everyone can imagine what it’s like to go to gig, have a meal or watch a football match and doing these things in Paris or watching a Marathon in Boston, are things we might do at home, the story continues. Of course the real answer is that we can all imagine what it’s like to go to university (Kenya) and we can all imagine what it’s like to shop in rush hour (Beirut).
Revenge, Boys Own style
When horrendous things like the attacks on Paris happen, our first instincts are to provide succour to the suffering, condolences to the mourning and retribution to the culprits. The night after the attack, France launched 20 separate air strikes on what it said were ISIS strong holds in Syria. She promises these will continue. At home, France has carried out hundreds of raids with dozens of arrests by an extra 115,000 gendarmes deployed across France. There have also been raids in Germany and Belgium. History tells us that the vast majority of raids will prove fruitless and most of those arrested are completely innocent. This will mean nothing though because the searches found a rocket launcher. Most people will say that justifies any inconvenience felt but those innocent people who are having their lives turned upside down.
The days after attacks on the West, there’s often a security snatch and grab – this time was no different. The British government announced 1,900 extra secret service personnel and extra funding. Cameron, doing his sternest voice, said the attacks ‘strengthen the case for military action in Syria’ and said we needed increased surveillance. I imagine a young David Cameron read spy novels or comics. He spoke today about ‘cutting off the head of the snake’, about ‘COBRA meetings’ and about launching ‘a full spectrum response to ISIS’. It seems obvious that Dave thinks he’s in S.H.I.E.L.D.
He claimed that British secret services had foiled seven plots this year alone and the panic levels in the living rooms ramped up another notch.
The singing of national anthems is just part of the jingoism wave that washes over nations after traumatic events like those of last week. I fear that police forces, which are already often predisposed to treating black and brown people much more harshly, are going to be encouraged to crack more skulls and scrap more rights.
While these raids are going on, Mosques are being vandalised and anyone who even looks like they might be a Muslim, is at increased physical risk.
If you need an example of what I’m talking about just remember the how the heightened sensibilities and more active armed policing that followed the 7/7 London bombings lead to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Fear is a strong motivator and blind eyes will be turned as Muslims ,or people who look like them, are profiled on both sides of the Channel. Being black in the USA can often be a fatal condition. The same discrepancies existing when it comes to police stopping certain groups in the EU but the numbers are smaller and the officers are much less likely to be carrying firearms. So calls for more armed police on the streets of our big cities, chill me. Jeremy Corbyn was asked what he thought about police with shoot to kill instructions, roaming the streets of Britain. He said he wouldn’t be happy about that and this somehow morphed into him saying he wouldn’t let police kill terrorists if they were rampaging down Oxford Street.
Even tonight’s match at Wembley was be patrolled by very visibly armed police officers. The aim was to put minds at rest and, as a one off, I think we can all live with it. Long-term, more armed police will mean more dead Muslim, black and brown people on Europe’s streets. It would be hard for anyone to argue that black people living in the EU would somehow be immune to the fates that so often blight he lives of our American cousins. You don’t need to be a genius sociologist to see the boosted levels of alienation would be a recruiting dream for extremists.
Tonight as La Marseillaise boomed out at Wembley, the words were put up on a large screen to encourage Brits to sing along. But I couldn’t bring myself to sing those words. Not at the moment. My boeuf with this popular song is that it’s part of the ramping up of machismo. In a nutshell, the whole thing (the first verse anyway) is just aggressive sabre rattling which builds towards a climax of:
Qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!
Let impure blood water our furrows
I can hear you screaming ‘it’s just a song!’ but these are real words which have real history. They were written to inspire post-Revolutionary France to rise up and repel the Austrians and Prussians forces who were at large ‘dans les campagnes’ in 1792. But, like all the good colonisers, France has spent the following two hundred years watering all sorts of furrows with all sorts of impure blood.
If you are descended from migrants it’s hard to hear this and still feel that you are part of the ‘enfants de la Patries’ rather than those invading ‘féroces soldats’. Throughout France’s history impure blood, whether in the MENA nations or sub-Saharan Africa, has flowed pretty freely. The revenge bombing raids, now entering their third night, suggest this will be the case in the future.
When dispossessed nations ask for reparations or suggest that historical wrongs be acknowledged and righted, they are shooed away and told that it’s time to let history be history and stop fixating. But enriched nations can virtually demand you sing about what was done to your ancestors and then they stick the stuff they are telling you to forget about them stealing in the hats of their monarchs.
Tonight, I didn’t sing. I stand with France and with my neighbours of all faiths and none. We need peace and unity not aggression and division. For tonight only, La Marseillaise was left on the bench.