Two World Cup fi­nal­ists demon­strate how wrong US Pres­i­dent is about im­mi­gra­tion and iden­tity, writes

The Scotsman - - News Digest - Brian Wil­son

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With per­fect sym­me­try, this week­end of­fers two con­trast­ing views of hu­man mi­gra­tion and the emo­tions that can be gen­er­ated around it.

We have Don­ald Trump hit­ting London and in­sid­i­ously play­ing the race card. Im­mi­gra­tion has “changed the fab­ric” of Europe. “I think you are los­ing your cul­ture. You go through cer­tain ar­eas that didn’t ex­ist ten or 15 years ago.”

Codes do not come much thin­ner than that. In case any­one missed it, he con­tin­ued: “Al­low­ing the im­mi­gra­tion to take place in Europe is a shame... al­low­ing mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple to come into Europe is very, very sad.”

This dystopian view of im­mi­gra­tion as an un­mit­i­gated curse has worked well for Trump. Here, we tend to meet nice, lib­eral Amer­i­cans while Trump’s au­di­ence stays at home where sup­port abounds for even the most ob­nox­ious man­i­fes­ta­tions of his creed.

But, then, look at Europe as it ac­tu­ally is as we cel­e­brate the cli­max of a mag­nif­i­cent World Cup. Con­sider the suc­cess of the French and English and Bel­gian teams and you find re­flec­tions of mi­gra­tion that are light years re­moved from Trump’s poi­son.

For starters, mass non-white mi­gra­tion – for that is what he is talk­ing about – was never about “al­low­ing peo­ple into Europe”. Des­per­ate for labour in the post­war decades, the im­pe­rial pow­ers turned to their colonies for “mil­lions and mil­lions” of im­mi­grants.

Racism abounded but could not halt the slow march of progress. Grad­u­ally, as­pi­ra­tion and in­te­gra­tion re­placed fear and prej­u­dice. That is the Europe which Trump now seeks to un­ravel – a for­lorn task for which loud-mouthed pot-stir­ring is the cheap­est avail­able substitute.

Foot­ball has be­come an un­likely talisman of as­pi­ra­tion, in­te­gra­tion and the best of the hu­man spirit. It did not hap­pen quickly. The early black play­ers in English foot­ball were sub­jected to vile abuse. They came even later to Scot­land and had bananas thrown at them for their trou­ble.

Out of view, some­thing dif­fer­ent was hap­pen­ing. En­light­ened coaches were more in­ter­ested in po­ten­tial than in colour. In the bleak sub­urbs of Paris, London and Brus­sels, poor black kids looked to foot­ball as their so­cial pass­ports.

That jour­ney has taken sev­eral decades but the des­ti­na­tion is won­der­ful to be­hold. Half the English team came from re­cent im­mi­grant back­grounds (and let’s not for- get that the Ir­ish who gave them Harry Kane and Harry Maguire were eco­nomic mi­grants too).

In France, faced with re­peated fail­ures in the 1970s, the foot­ball au­thor­i­ties cre­ated a na­tional academies struc­ture which fo­cused on the im­mi­grant ban­lieues of Paris and other ma­jor cities. By the 1990s, this de­liv­ered spec­tac­u­lar re­sults – while the racist Right in­veighed against the di­ver­sity of the French team.

Twenty years on, there is less of that. Kylian Mbappe, son of an Al­ge­rian fa­ther and Cameroo­nian mother, is as much a na­tional hero as Olivier Giroud. Foot­ball, for heaven’s sake, can­not cure so­ci­ety’s ills but by sym­bol­is­ing in­te­gra­tion so pow­er­fully, it makes a mock­ery of racism and at­ti­tudes slowly change. France’s fi­nal op­po­nents have re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of the “old Europe” to which Trump harks back. Luka Mo­dric, the grand­fa­ther af­ter whom Croa­tia’s cap­tain was named, was mur­dered along with six other old men in 1991 by Ser­bian na­tion­al­ists, sim­ply for be­ing Croa­t­ian. His fam­ily fled and the child found refuge in foot­ball.

Im­mi­gra­tion is a com­plex busi­ness but there have al­ways been other rea­sons to hate. Un­til quite re­cently, Trump claimed to be of Swedish rather than Ger­man ori­gin, a guise adopted by his fa­ther as pro­tec­tion from the wrath of Jewish tenants while he kicked out the black ones.

An­other ten­ant hap­pened to be the great Amer­i­can bal­ladeer Woodie Guthrie, who im­mor­talised Fred Trump in the lines: “I sup­pose Old Man Trump knows/ Just how much racial hate/he stirred up in the blood­pot of hu­man hearts/when he drawed that color line.”

It is “very, very sad” that when Trump opines on the “fab­ric of Europe”, he ap­pears to speak as his fa­ther’s son.

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