You might think that the world’s most watched sporting event would help France forget about the “war on terror” as well as the racial and religious tensions that have plagued the country over the past few years, but the ousting of French soccer hero Zinedine Zidane from the World Cup final over a head-butting of Italy’s Marco Materazzi has brought it back to the fore. With details only now leaking out (thanks to lip readers), the speculation is that Materazzi dumped insults upon Zidane ranging from calling his father a “harki” (Arab supporter of the French occupation of Algeria) and his mother a “terrorist whore” (Zidane’s mother replied that Materazzi should be castrated, while Materazzi denied the “terrorist” remark but admitted insulting Zidane). However, one cannot look at what happened in the final game of the World Cup without putting it in context with the overall relationship between Europe and its Muslim population. Muslims in Europe are often told by their detractors to “fit in” to European society, and the French have been particularly harsh in their assessment of Muslim efforts to integrate (political and cultural obstacles notwithstanding). Much like Muhammad Ali in the US, Zidane has overcome his Arab/Muslim background and a childhood of poverty to become a true French hero. This, despite the fact that the French rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen has attacked the team for being “insufficiently French” (the team has its fair share of Muslims: Thierry Henry, whose parents came from the French West Indies, Senegalese-born Patrick Vieira, and Franck Rib�ry, a convert to Islam who prays conspicuously before each game.) The question now is: Will France stand by Zidane, who has given so much through his (previous) sportsmanship and talent, or will he be blamed for putting his dignity ahead of France’s desire to win the World Cup? (Early reports are that France has forgiven Zidane for his actions, and his sponsors are starting a “thank you” campaign to help send him into retirement.) Some are praising the fact that Zidane stood up for himself, while others fault him for not showing restraint in the face of insults (he may, as a result, lose his “Golden Ball” award). “My family are very proud of me,” said Zidane earlier this year, “but I am very proud of them and where they come from.”
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.