It is not so surprising if the jihadists in Paris were targeting an international football match. There has for years been a strange relationship between football, Islam and violence in France.
The French football team, les bleus, have long been held up as an emblem of harmony and hope in an otherwise bleak multicultural landscape. The world cup winning team of 1998 consisted largely of the children of Muslim immigrants and was celebrated as a great symbol of how the modern multicultural fifth republic could work. Zinedine Zidane, a Muslim boy from Marseilles, was the star of that tournament. Eight years later, when he was sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the final of the 2006 world cup, French Muslims inferred (wrongly, it seems) that he had acted nobly because Materazzi had offended the Prophet.
For agitated young Muslims in the banlieues, however, rejecting les bleus has become an act of defiance. Many youths in Paris show their loathing of their host nation by passionately supporting Algeria or Morocco instead — even if they are not descended from Algerian or Moroccan immigrants. They can be violent about it, too. In 2014, celebrations of Algeria’s world cup win against Russia turned into riots across France — which led Marine Le Pen to appeal for an end to dual nationality in France. French authorities were mightily relieved when Germany beat Algeria in extra time later on the tournament. If the Germans had not won, the Algerians would have played France.
Oddly enough, France were playing Germany last night at the Stade de France as the explosions went off outside, and they won 2-0. So vive La France!
PS: Some people on Twitter seem to be angry and/or confused about this post. I’m sorry if I was not entirely clear; it was a blogpost not an article, written in haste. The point I was making is that by attacking the French football team — if they indeed were — the Islamists may well have been deliberately targeting what was once considered a symbol of successful Muslim integration into France. Today, for extremists who live in France and hate France, reviling les blues has become a badge of pride. That is sad and true, and I make no apology for saying it.