A French soldier serving in Afghanistan has just had the pleasure of being told that he is, in fact, French. Having always thought he was, it should have come as no surprise to him, but I imagine he greeted the news with relief all the same, since he had been obliged to defend his right to French nationality in court not once but twice.
All depended on whether his father, a Senegalese, had in fact aquired French nationality when Senegal achieved independence and some bright prosecutor, instructed by the Chancellory, had decided that the father had not demonstrated that he had French nationality and thus that the son had not aquired French nationality by descent from his father. While all this was going on, the soldier was refused leave to bring his fiancee and their children to live with him in France, as he was not regarded as being French, despite no legal judgement having been made against him. Luckily, the court of appeal of Rouen dismissed the affair once and for all, stating that had there been any question to raise, it should have been raised in the thirty years following the nationalisation in question and not dragged up now, over forty years later.
What could possess any prosecutor to bring such a case as this to court? I am fascinated by the indelicacy of attacking a man who is demonstrating his patriotism by his very action, fighting in what he regards as his country's army. Is there some sort of low level ethnic cleansing of the French army going on here?
I think it is rather more likely to be a decision born of the hysteria of the current debate on French nationality and a lick spittle subordinate trying to curry favour with the politicians who, through the Ministry of Justice, control his career prospects. Politicians like Eric Besson and Brice Hortefeux, who are busy trying to push the question of the nature of the French identity in the direction of a debate about immigration, conveniently close to the regional elections and mid term in a Sarkozy presidency which is rapidly losing its' allure.
It is a debate turning sour, but not without its' funny side. Martine Aubry, currently heading the Socialist Party, has condemned the Sarkozy camp for mixing immigration with the question of national identity, but has declared herself to be not only French but also Basque and proud to be both. First most people knew of her dual identity....she is known as the daughter of Jaques Delors, Eurofuhrer extraordinaire, and as a Parisian, so this sudden rise to prominence of her mother's side of the family seems just a little contrived. Might she not have pointed out the contrast betwen the treatment accorded a French soldier and that accorded a young footballer whose application for citizenship was, as he himself sunnily proclaims, assisted by the fact that he was wanted for the French national team despite having been born at sea of an Angolan mother and having no French affiliation whatsoever.
Perhaps I should change course at this point before I stand accused of mingling the question of national identity with that of national football. However, unable as always to read a compass, I shall maintain my speed and bearing and carry on regardless. Just how far does the French football team reflect the nature and aspirations of the French people? Surprisingly well, in my view.
When there is any physical work to be done, the French rely on the underclass to do it, preferably a foreign underclass, so the players qualify on this ground alone. They are reputed to be unable to make any independent decisions on the field of play - like whether to move from the left to the right leg - without the direction of the manager, so there again they reflect the state of affairs of the world of work in France where incompetent ill adapted managers attempt to control even the respiration rate of their staff.
The players, despite their lacklustre performance on the field, perform well with the mouth, thus displaying their inalienable French character, and, if any further proof were required, as we all now know, on the evidence of our own eyes if not those of the referee, they cheat. This has been confirmed by the great headbutter himself, Zidane, whose idea of support to Thierry Henri - the cheat in question - has been to proclaim that deliberately handling the ball goes on all the time, and it was just a shame that Henri had been caught doing it on film.
Since no one else has used the French national football team as an example of just how successful integration can prove to be, I will advance it as my contribution to the debate.
Just don't send them to fight in Afghanistan.