The empire strikes back: Notes on the French Intifada (part 3)
They are here because we were there
‘If France doesn’t want “immigrants,” it shouldn’t have colonized Algeria for 132 years.’ So observed one academic after recent events, and while the argument that ‘they are here because we were there’ appears strange to a public often told that immigration is beneficial, in a literal, procedural sense it is certainly true. Migration follows empire, the earliest form of globalisation, and as Andrew Hussey recalled in The French Intifada, France’s difficulties with its North African minority are deeply rooted in its history. It is a violent and still painful legacy that less resembles Britain’s imperial rule in India or the Caribbean and more its colonisation of Ireland.
The best comparison might be if the Irish in England were, for reasons of culture and appearance, far less assimilated, often confined to social housing estates on the outskirts of cities, all the while that the Troubles raged back home. Perhaps imagine Harry Kane or Jack Grealish being booed by London-born crowds supporting the Irish Republic at Wembley, and compared to Quislings for wearing an England shirt.
France’s famous 1998 World Cup win was hailed by a thousand newspaper columns as representing a new society comfortable with its diversity. Yet when World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane turned out to play for his country against Algeria in a notorious match in October 2001, the game began with Algerian fans booing La Marseillaise and ended in riots, leaving the nation’s great footballing hero in tears as he walked off the pitch. The two countries have not played since.