June 8, 2021


Marine Le Pen's war with a French rapper (Arabella Byrne, 6/08/21, Spectator)

Marine Le Pen's war on the anthem is part of a long history of cultural battles over the French soccer team. Les Blues have always been central to political fights over the nature of the Republic. Composed largely of players from immigrant backgrounds, in the past the team has been held up as the literal manifestation of the vivre ensemble ethic. Take France's World Cup-winning 1998 team, nicknamed the Rainbow Squad. With players from North Africa, West Africa, the French Caribbean, the Pacific islands and the Basque country, the 1998 team became a cohesive force for French race relations.

Not everyone thought so at the time, mind. In 1998 Jean-Marie Le Pen, then leader of the Front National, commented that the 'Black, Blanc, Beur' (Black, White, Arab) team didn't look sufficiently French. In 2006 he criticized then manager Raymond Domenech for choosing too many black players. And in 2007 a top socialist aide said that he was 'ashamed for his country' that nine out of 11 players on the side were black.

It's now been 23 years since France first won the World Cup and yet again a Le Pen -- this time, Marine -- is commentating from the side of the pitch. When the FFF released its promotional video for the French squad -- a montage of council estates and soccer pitches interspersed with shots of the Eiffel Tower set to Youssoupha's music -- Le Pen hit out at the rapper's 'insulting' and 'outrageous' lyrics and speaking on her behalf, the deputy leader of the Rassemblement National denounced the choice of Youssoupha as choquant, considering his obscene lyrics about Le Pen and equally disturbing lyrics about √Čric Zemmour -- whom he described as an immigrant hating member of the elite or 'con'. (Zemmour lost a court battle with the rapper in 2012 after a judge ruled that rap was allowed a certain amount of exaggeration.) The FFF responded by scrambling to distance themselves from the controversy, blaming a 'junior' member of the team for choosing the song in the first place, before pulling it altogether.

The row has put Macron in an uncomfortable position. The French soccer team perfectly represents the Republican ideal of multiculturalism the president is keen to espouse. Yet Macron also fears being outflanked on the right on cultural issues.

Posted by at June 8, 2021 9:05 PM