This Sunday, France and Italy will play in the finals of the World Cup. It has been a wild ride this month, one that I enjoyed thoroughly. I am not a big football fan and do not watch or follow any particular team or league during the year. The only time I watch is every four years during the World Cup. I like the event, because I have seen firsthand the power of football to unite people and countries. This World Cup has become a defining moment for Germany since unification. Even the Turks in Germany are supporting the national team. I was in France in 1998 when “Les Bleus” lifted the trophy and France rejoiced. National confidence was lifted for a moment and France’s immigrant sons where heros.
“‘Zizou president’ – on the night of 12 July 1998, those two words filled the night air like fireworks. And in a funny way, Zizou’s disciples really believed what they were singing. Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, the child of the Marseille banlieue come good, the man whose humility made him the most introverted kind of hero imaginable, he didn’t just unite football fans. He united France.” [Amy Lawrance, Guardian World Cup Blog] I like Zidane because he is humble, insightful, charismatic, and leads by example. That he is Muslim, does not make him better, it just makes football that much more important to many people in the suburbs of Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, who are marginalised.
Cut to 2006, Paris is burning. Young Muslims and Arabs are the target of suspicion, police brutality, and racism. Once again, the French team led by the greatest player of the past 40 years, Zinadine Zidane, are about to unify a country. The timing could not be more perfect. Zidane, the son of Algerian, Berber, Muslim parents, comes out of retirement to send France past Spain and the heavily favoured Brazilians for one final game against Italy. On Sunday, I hope that the streets of Paris burn only with the desire of all French citizens to see France win. I hope to hear millions chant “Zizou for president”. I hope to hear the Marseille being sung by hijab covered women and half-naked drunken louts. Imagine, the French nation actually chanting for a Muslim immigrant to become president. This is why I love the World Cup. Muslims need more heros and role models that are not sitting in a cave somewhere thinking how best to kill lots of people. “Allez Les Bleus” not just for the French, but for all of us Muslims looking for something positive in the news about one of our own that does not include the word extremist or militant.