Brian Wilson

World Cup points to positive face of immigration Trump cannot  comprehend

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By Brian Wilson

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 the point, 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.

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 coloured migration – for that is what he is talking about – was never about “allowing people into Europe”. Desperate for labour in the post-war 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 forget 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 banlieux 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.


Kylian Mbappe and Luka Modric, both from families of refugees.

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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