Mandela, Obama And French Lessons On World Cup Racism

France's soccer team with President Macron on July 16
France's soccer team with President Macron on July 16

"Sport ... is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all kinds of discrimination." Ever relevant words for 2018 from one of the great figures of the past century.

Nelson Mandela, the man who spent 27 years in prison for his fight against South Africa's Apartheid system and went on to become his country's first black president, would have turned 100 years old today. Movie buffs may remember the most memorable sporting chapter in Mandela's story was the 1995 victory of the South Africa in the rugby World Cup.

And now, nearly five years after his passing, his words continue to resonate — on and off the field.

On the eve of Wednesday's centennial celebration, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a Nelson Mandela lecture in Johannesburg, speaking about how striving towards equality ensures "a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people." For those with doubts, he added, "just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they're French. They're French."

Indeed, since France's victory over Croatia on Sunday, the presence and the proportion of French players with African roots has become a worldwide trending topic.

Some people, like U.S.-based, South African comedian Trevor Noah, chose humor to point out the fact that 15 out of the team's 23 players are indeed of African descent. Sunday Oliseh, a former player and national manager for Nigeria, also tweeted after the game: "Finally Africa wins it's 1st world Cup but in french colours lol."

The accusation hasn't gone down well.

But such comments weren't always made with either humor or good intentions. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, for instance, insisted that "the French team seems like the African team, in reality Africa won," before accusing France of having "despised Africa" and of racism against Africans and migrants. The accusation, and Maduro's singling out players based on the color of their skin, hasn't gone down well in France, where Parliament member Jean-Christophe Lagarde said he would sue the Venezuelan president. "It's a negation of France. What France is about isn't looking at your origins," Lagarde retorted.

Paris-based daily Le Monde reports that one of the French players, Benjamin Mendy, had a similar reaction on Twitter. Responding to a tweet from a sports website that included the names of all French players with foreign roots accompanied by a flag of said country of origin and the following sentence "All Together As One For France," Mendy changed all the flags next to the names to French flags and said he had "fixed" the message.

But neither a tweet, nor the wisdom of Obama or Mandela, is enough to keep the racism from rising to the surface. Bulgarian daily newspaper Standart, for instance, featured, on its Monday frontpage, a picture of the French team celebrating with the trophy under the headline "Africa Celebrates' and pointing out that most players had their roots in the "black continent." French magazine Courrier International adds that on social media in Bulgaria, photo montages were posted showing monkeys instead of the French players holding the World Cup. In Italy, La Repubblica reports on the numerous racist comments posted on social media after the game. The messages are all the same in substance: "Africa won, not France."

Witnessing this, what would a 100-year-old Mandela say? He might simply repeat another of his memorable quotes: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world."

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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