Having recently seen the film “The Battle of Algiers” it reminded me of two things, national liberation in relation to the Arab question as well as Zinedine Zidane, the French-Algerian footballer whose legendary exploits hail him as one of the best to walk the Earth. The connection might seem unorthodox but being in the frame of globalizing revolt as well as football as a milestone for cultural/ sporting expression it puts Zidane at ends with ideas of another French-Algerian, Frantz Fanon and internationalism, not despite his French heritage but because of it. Though by no means is Zidane a revolutionary nor a liberator as we must put this distinction in the Algerian/African struggle yet as Fanon put it, “culture is the first expression of a nation.[i]” In 1954 Algeria spoke sending shockwaves to the United Nations and to the knees of imperialism, in 2010 Zidane helped the Arab world speak for international football, and today Algeria among others like Egypt and Tunisia are still speaking militant verses.
Rock the Casbah!
What struck me the most about the film was how the Arab culture coalesced with guerilla tactics, women using their veils for hiding weapons, and how simply dressing like an Arab would put you directly in the order of battle; an extremely racist and risky assumption for the French colonizers of Algeria. On the whole it tackles national liberation and the domestic means to express this. A revolution is culture necessitated through struggle. Though as we examine Algeria, Albeit the region today, can we say that they are independent? No, we cannot. The post-colonial situation is not far from that of the French occupation despite the 1960 UN resolution calling for the independence of all colonies. Algeria cannot be free when its hand feeds the machine of global exploitation. The Marcosian leader of Algeria at present is Abdelaziz Bouteflika since 1999. Between June and December 2010 food prices had increased by 32%, Since 2001 Bouteflika has been involved in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) a project undertaken in relation to free trade and other parasitic western oriented economic policies. [ii] Massive protests as is the trend in region broke out and are still ongoing although in a less consistent fashion. Hence the political habits and concentration of nominal cultural or the Arabic heritage has become mired up in the automation of western dominion, Fanon in Serequeberhan’s article on African politics[iii] calls this inert and empty. In addition, for Fanon, without the long-term destruction of colonial residue it is bound to readapt. [iv]
The Battle of Algiers was dispersed by French military yet the nation awoke to a period of emerging national consciousness, and even in post-colonial society that stage in its history will always be vital as a launching point for successive anti-colonial and national liberation movements. Yet today even with the sudden surge in the protest movement Algeria is still faced with the post-colonial structure of foreign plunder and a confused expression of how to view the western world and even themselves, in short, what is imperialism to them, and is it still here? Of course more importantly, how do we destroy it?
Fanon noted, in 1958: “The XXth century, on the scale of the world, will not only be the era of atomic discoveries and interplanetary explorations. The second upheaval of this epoch and incontestably, is the conquest by the peoples of lands that belong to them.” [v]
Is this that period? It’s hard to say but with regard to Fanon’s point given the current suppression of the Arab-Algerian identity it’s bound to happen. Historically we can say that the Algerian people know it to be possible and as a form of expression, protest seems to be the current language that is beginning to take shape in revolutionary mold. National liberation will always reference itself to its history and is interconnected with many international trends such as the fight against global austerity as the rampage of the imperialist fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. Similarly it is related to the politics surrounding the 2022 World Cup and Zidane underneath it.
Zidane: Citizen of the World
He is an artist, I remember watching Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a documentary with no words and hardly any sound, just movements juxtaposed against world events and facial expressions. Zidane tore through the field and commanded the pitch. Having led the mediocre French National team to win the 98 World Cup and the subsequent Euro 2000, he had already retired when he was called up again to be in the 2006 squad which he captained to the final. It’s true that most of France’s recent success in football had to with Zidane. Born an Algerian who was naturalized in France he retained dual citizenship and when the bids for the 2022 WC were announced he was the ambassador for Qatar. Zidane keeps quiet about his exact religion but his parents were Muslim.
However his role in affirming FIFA’s choice for Qatar was met with massive criticism from the western world mainly attacking Qatar’s football pedigree. The point is football must be taken places, new places, it’s a sport that exists on internationalism redefining itself on new soils, sounds like revolutionary philosophy. Football is not European, given that it originated in England, it is a national culture internationalized with its own set of political issues. Anyway his efforts helped to reject the ethnocentrism football experiences and once again made football relevant for a significant part of the world. In truth what would football have done in a place like England besides jack up its market value, Qatar makes the WC historic as the first Arab nation to host it.
“It is time,” he said, “to bring the World Cup to the Middle East. Football belongs to everyone. It is time to give it to Qatar.”
John Fiske, in Understanding Popular Culture, believes that the body is key to representing socio-political contexts prevalent at a given time. He deliberates the point superbly, when he notes that ‘the struggle for control over meanings and pleasures (and therefore the behaviours) of the body is crucial because the body is where the social is most convincingly represented as the individual and where politics can best disguise itself as human nature’. Zidane’s ability and heritage contributed to the Qatar decision. [vi]
He who is reluctant to recognize me opposes me – Fanon
National liberation according to Fanon is an international phenomenon undertaken by man. Zidane is no revolutionary yet what he does in accordance with today’s post-colonial Algeria and Arab world is try to redefine what they mean to the others, something positive amidst the imperialist ideological offensive. He is part of laying the groundwork for Arab cultural internationalism. His French background does not serve to be a colonial undertaking as he still sees what is best for Arab culture in his own way. He is in the words of another French-Algerian Fanon he is in “…contact with the people of the new movement gives rise to a new rhythm of life and to forgotten muscular tensions, and develops the imagination. He makes innovations, he makes works of art.” [vii] The duality of Zidane’s heritage does not necessarily make him a more objective man but puts him in a position of dual relevance in search of cultural identity apart from his skills.
Zidane makes Arab culture relevant in the biggest sporting event on the planet and because he is also French it adds to the internationalism of it all. This development of identity corresponds to the more massive progressive political development in certain regions of the world. Does Zidane effectively create this new type of progressive culture? No, ultimately it’s up to the people of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia etc, whose voices are now interconnected with the fight for freedom and genuine democracy against imperialism alongside a glaring example of a cultural rejection of western supremacy. The Battle of Algiers and the 2022 World Cup will only be two of the many events that will shape the history of a universal struggle whose spotlight is currently occupied by Arab nations. Fanon says that the building of a nation is akin to universalizing values, that this two-fold experience is ultimately the source of culture, Zidane and today’s Arab activists have shown that struggle and identity are one and the same.
[i] Fanon, Frantz (1959) Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the fight for Freedom, Marxists.org
[ii] Alami, Aida (2011) A Region in Upheaval – Algeria, Global Post, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/africa/110126/protests-riots-tunisia-egypt-lebanon-middle-east-north-africa?page=0,6
[iii] Serequeberhan, Tsenay (2010) Africa in a Changing World: An Inventory, Monthly Review
[v] Fanon, Frantz (1959) Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the fight for Freedom, Marxists.org
[vi] Fiske, John (1991) Understanding Popular Culture, Routeledge Inc. London, England
[vii] Fanon, Frantz (1959) Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the fight for Freedom, Marxists.org