Argument

Le Scandal

The French soccer team's disaster in South Africa has exposed the superficiality of European racial integration -- and now only Germany can save France from tearing itself apart.

In August 1936, shortly after African-American track star Jesse Owens won a sensational four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games, the editor of France's leading sports magazine L'Auto called upon French colonial authorities to find and recruit athletically talented black Africans who would be able to "represent the French race in a dignified manner" at international competitions. French runners and throwers had cut a poor figure in Berlin, and their failures before the eyes of the world were regarded as a national humiliation for France.

Accordingly, on Dec. 3, 1937, a search party sponsored by the magazine sailed from Bordeaux on a mission to study the athletic potential of the inhabitants of French West Africa. These sports missionaries eventually arrived in Senegal and were received by the highest colonial officials.

The result of this talent search was the sobering discovery that the explorers had completely misunderstood the relationship between sport and their colonial subjects. The Africans, unlike their African-American counterparts, showed little aptitude for sport. On the contrary, these impoverished and undernourished people needed sport as a therapy to restore their health. The search for children who might be future athletes was abandoned.

Half a century later, racial sensibilities have evolved, but European agents and coaches are still on the lookout for black talent to make them rich. And as the majority-African roster that France fielded at this year's World Cup attests, many have succeeded. But after a lackluster performance that saw the French squad sent home after the first round amid a swirl of scandals and accusations, the complicated relationship between race and sports has re-emerged in the public discourse in a very ugly way.

The recent uproar began after the entire French team refused to attend a training session following the expulsion of a teammate. The player in question, Nicolas Anelka, had shouted obscenities at the coach, Raymond Domenech, during the halftime of France's 0-2 pasting by Mexico on June 17. When the French media began calling this action a "strike" and a "mutiny," the escalation of the incident into a crisis took on a political dimension that is best explained as post-colonial drama, as indispensable black talent confronted the white authority figure whose job it was to keep them under control.

The denigration of France's North and sub-Saharan African athletes has been a favorite theme of the French extreme right for years. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic founder of the racist Front National, declared in 1996 that the French national soccer team was unacceptable on patriotic grounds because of the number of "foreigners" -- i.e., nonwhite citizens -- who had been selected to represent France. Some players' refusal to sing the national anthem became a sore point that persists to this day.

But after the mostly black French soccer team's defiance of its white leaders in South Africa, Le Pen's racist critique of multiracial sport has entered the French political mainstream with a vengeance. It was the French minister of health and sports, Roselyne Bachelot -- hardly a fringe figure -- who recently called the older players "gang leaders" who were tyrannizing "frightened boys" on the national squad. During the 1990s, it was only the French extreme right that ridiculed the idea that multiracial sport could facilitate racial integration in France. Now the derision directed against the indiscipline of a "black" team and the implicit failure of sport's integrative role in French society rains down from across the political spectrum.

Never mind that Domenech is universally thought of as an incompetent clown. The scandal's psychopolitical shock produced an extraordinary and almost unanimous chorus of criticism and abuse from the entire French political class. "Is this going to tarnish the image of France?" asked Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. "How are young people going to respect their professors when they see Anelka insulting his trainer?" asked Minister for Higher Education Valérie Pécresse.

The reactions in the French media have been even worse, combining colonial paternalism and angry condemnation. The players have been vilified as "gangsters," "scum," "hooligans," and "little shitheads from the projects." President Nicolas Sarkozy has framed the breakdown of team discipline as a national crisis and called for a board of inquiry. When star player Thierry Henry returned to France following the team's meltdown in South Africa, Sarkozy postponed a preparatory meeting for the G-20 summit in Toronto to grant Henry an hour of his time at the Élysée.

Sarkozy's opponents have turned the scandal back on him, blaming the team's performance on his alleged Americanization of French society. "The French team," left-wing National Assembly Minister Jérôme Cahuzac, declared, "has been taken over by an ethos Sarkozy has promoted: individualism, egotism, everyone for himself, and the only way to measure people's success is the check that comes at the end of the month." It was a short step from capitalist egocentricity to the vulgar "bling-bling" of the immigrant ghettos that had now contaminated the French national team. Former prime minister and Sarkozy rival Dominique de Villepin put it most clearly, saying: "I do not want France to resemble our football team."

That the French national team has become a symbol of society's divisions is particularly unfortunate, given that in 1998, France's World Cup winning side was eulogized as the fulfillment of the official French policy of racial and ethnic integration. Zinedine Zidane, its outstanding player and the son of Algerian parents, played star roles both as an athlete and as a model citizen who seemed to incarnate the success of the French model of ethnic integration. This doctrine discourages multiculturalism in favor of the doctrine that skin color and ethnicity have nothing to do with being a French citizen. Paradoxical as it may seem, the triumph of these "black-blanc-beur" -- black, white, and North African athletes -- was hailed as a sign that French society was immune to multicultural divisions. The resulting national euphoria was embraced as a welcome respite from the country's persisting anxieties about the social and cultural consequences of large-scale immigration and the spread of Muslim populations throughout Western Europe.

The current World Cup debacle has undone the utopian fantasies of 1998 in a spectacular fashion. For Sarkozy, the unseemly behavior of these racially marginal Frenchmen must have brought back traumatic memories of the tremendously destructive and protracted rioting by North African immigrant youths in the desolate housing projects north of Paris in the fall of 2005. As interior minister at that time, Sarkozy attempted to enforce a zero-tolerance policy against the bands of adolescent vandals he famously denounced as "scum." But law and order was not the only casualty of this ethnic violence. Along with the thousands of cars that were put to the torch, the image of France itself was under assault. "The republican integration model, on which France has for decades based its self-perception, is in flames," the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared at the time.

 

France's current soccer scandal has also prompted demoralizing comparisons to other institutional failures that one professor, François Galichet, has described as forms of "social illiteracy." Any administrative shabbiness that reeked of flagrant oversights -- the Sarkozy government's lax attitude toward conflicts of interest, the Société Générale banking scandal, and the railroading of a controversial pensions policy -- has be equated with the accumulated failures that ended in disgrace at the World Cup. Not surprisingly, retrospective analyses of the World Cup preparations found egregious oversights and shortcuts to complain about. Many citizens were ambivalent about the team being in the World Cup at all because everyone knew it had advanced to South Africa on a clear violation of the rules -- a last-gasp handball by Henry that led to the winning goal in a qualifying game against Ireland. That the guardians of French soccer allowed this unfair advantage to advance their cause reminded some French of what Galichet called "the extraordinary and abysmal failure of the French elites to administer any sort of collective enterprise." Consequently, the failure of France's "black" team has made the success of multiracial integration seem superficial.

The huge media resonance of this French scandal also points to its symbolic significance for Western Europe as a whole. Indeed, the ubiquity and severity of ethnic and religious tensions in the European Union's prosperous welfare states have become an integral part of the European condition. Ironically, while it was the performance of an African-American sprinter at 1936's Nazi games that inspired France's first push for athletic multiculturalism, the country that best exemplifies it today may that year's Olympic host: Germany. Never before have so many members of the German national soccer team been of foreign derivation -- from immigrant families, from families with one German parent, or sons of once-exiled Germans from Eastern Europe. Like its European neighbors, Germany is under intense pressure to integrate its immigrants, and its Turkish and Muslim immigrants in particular, into the social fabric. Although the skinhead killings of dark-skinned foreigners are now past, controversies over unemployment, multilingual schools, the construction of mosques, and low social mobility still simmer.

Germans have shown a lot of public interest in the ethnicity of their World Cup representatives, but this curiosity is still under control. Germany's postwar inhibitions about racial chauvinism rule out official abuse, à la française. But the head of the German soccer federation has pleaded with German politicians to somehow transform the multiethnic harmony of the German national team into the social peace Germany needs as much as the rest of Europe does.

Of course, one reason why Germany's team seems to be taking the edge off xenophobia while France's squad is reinforcing it is that the Germans are winning. But as France has learned over the last decade, the national euphoria of a World Cup victory is only short-term relief. Bringing home the golden trophy is hardly easy, but compared with reconciling Europe's racial tensions, it's child's play.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Whatever It Takes

Why I won't back down on climate change.

America's oil addiction is nothing new. Ever since President Richard Nixon first talked about "energy independence," presidents and politicians have called on Washington to help break our dependence on oil from foreign countries. But again and again, in all the decades since, Washington has failed to do what everyone agrees must be done. It is a sad exclamation point on our failure to act -- to really begin moving away from fossil fuels and toward alternative and sustainable energy sources -- that today the United States actually imports more oil than it did on September 11, 2001. It's long overdue to get real, get serious, and get to work on real answers to a serious challenge that is only underscored by the fact that carbon pollution dramatically intensifies the threat of global climate change. This is no longer some far-off problem that can be dealt with in the abstract. It's here and now.

Climate instability and our oil addiction present immediate, direct threats to America's national security. In 2007, 11 retired American admirals and generals warned, "Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States."  In fact, Pentagon, CIA and even analysts from George W. Bush's administration have all affirmed that the instability resulting from our changing climate poses a clear threat to our security. They see a shifting strategic landscape of unrest and extremism -- both between countries and within them -- as competition for dwindling resources spreads. In just one sobering example, scientists have warned that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply fresh water to a billion people in India and Pakistan, will face severe impacts from climate change. If rivers dry up and famine spreads in this strategically vital region, it's not hard to see how climate change could have a direct and destabilizing effect on U.S. national security. It is only prudent for those responsible for our security strategy to imagine and assess the strategic consequences of such looming climate change threats as scarcities of clean water, fresh food, and fertile farmland.

On top of that, it costs our government somewhere between $50 billion and $132.7 billion each year to maintain and protect the global infrastructure that delivers foreign oil to our shores. This doesn't even take into account the potentially devastating costs of sending more than $500 billion a year from the U.S. economy to often unfriendly nations overseas. And don't forget that every time oil prices go up $1, another $1.5 billion goes straight to Iran.

We have to solve this problem now. President Obama has put greater emphasis on a comprehensive solution than any American president before him. He's pounded the bully pulpit for action -- and been crystal clear about the actions needed when he said that "the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.

"Now, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future. And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust. But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don't factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future." The president has convened bipartisan White House meetings to find a way forward on comprehensive energy and climate legislation. He has made it clear that he's committed to finding the votes we need to pass a real answer this year. We know what it means when this president makes a full-throated commitment to overcome partisan bickering and achieve a pragmatic, historic accomplishment. And just as this was the year that we finally passed real health-care reform, this can be the year we transform our energy future in a real, lasting way.

We don't know the exact shape that the final bill will take, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he intends to get a comprehensive climate and energy bill on the floor this summer -- and if there is any spirit of genuine bipartisanship, we can find the 60 votes we need to pass it. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us just how much is at stake, and America can't afford to have the Senate put off the tough decisions for another year or another Congress. We have to make hard choices -- and hard compromises -- right now, because the challenge only grows every day that we wait.

Over the last year Senators Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and I met with stakeholders on all sides of the climate and energy debate. Generals, admirals, CEOs, venture capitalists, environmentalists -- I've heard every viewpoint on this issue, and I've always kept an open mind. Many of their proposals are incorporated in the American Power Act Lieberman and I submitted to our colleagues, and I'll continue to pull together the best ideas from all corners, no matter who proposed them first.

But there is one area where I know we have to stand firm: Whatever we pass has to include a price on carbon pollution. This will determine whether we're going to get serious about our oil addiction this year, or whether we're only willing to pass a stopgap "energy-only" measure that will at best kick this problem down the road for another few years.

We've passed "energy-only" measures before -- most recently in 2005 and 2007 -- and they've failed to deliver the transformative shift our energy policy needs. China and Germany have surged ahead and built thriving markets around green technologies that our country invented. And we haven't pushed back against the daunting threat that climate instability poses for our planet.

A comprehensive bill with a price signal on carbon is the only way to really address the environmental, economic, and national-security challenges we face. It will send a clear signal to the market that it's time to develop alternative fuel sources so we can finally sever our dependence on distant nations and regimes that don't share our values.

The nonpartisan, independent research is clear. In May Third Way, a leading moderate think tank, released a study showing that a carbon pricing plan would cut U.S. foreign oil consumption in half by 2020. The report also showed that a carbon price would promote job growth in all 50 states, creating about 1.9 million jobs in the next decade. And the nonpartisan Peterson Institute for International Economics affirmed those findings. Its analysis of the American Power Act concluded that this legislation will reduce foreign oil imports by 40 percent, create 200,000 new jobs each year, and lower household energy costs by $35 a year through 2020.

So there are the facts. A carbon-pricing plan will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, create American jobs, lower energy bills, and protect our environment. This will be the measure of a real bill, and I'm prepared to fight to get this done, following the strategy Winston Churchill laid out at the outbreak of World War II: "Never give in, never give in -- never, never, never, never."

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