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Euro 2016: A battlefield for hooligans, not immigrants

Just imagine the media coverage if Muslims or immigrants had caused even a proportion of the public disorder witnessed in France

From the dozens of videos that have emerged this week of football hooligans wreaking havoc in France during Euro 2016, how many "immigrants" did you notice? From my limited observations of these videos, I did not identify a single one.

The hooligans currently causing chaos happen to be white Europeans – arguably the indigenous "born" sons of this continent. Now of course, it would be grossly incorrect to generalise an entire nation or race for the actions of a minority, especially as a Muslim who experiences this "guilt by association" on a regular basis.

However, we currently have a situation where hundreds if not thousands of white European men, who probably have a lot more in common with each other in terms of religion and political ideology, have been engaged in brutal street brawls involving glass bottles, chairs, and in some cases knives. Businesses have been wrecked, members of the public have been hurt in the crossfire, and dozens of arrests have been made.

Whilst English hooligans have faced the brunt of the negative media coverage, and rightfully so, Russian, Welsh, Slovakian, Polish, French, Belgian and Italian football “firms” have also been involved in violent skirmishes since the start of Euro 2016.

English football hooliganism

English football hooligans are perhaps the most notorious in the world of sporting violence – well this was certainly the case throughout the “naughty 90s”. Dressed in Stone Island jackets, Burberry caps and Hackett shirts, English hooligans set the standard in appearance and violence in the murky world of football hooliganism.

Besides their unusually expensive but “chavvy” dress code, English hooligans are also known for their connections with far-right groups such as Combat 18 and the National Front, and the same could be said about many factions within the continent.

It is well known that the rank and file of numerous far-right groups which exist in Britain today, like the English Defence League (EDL), the British Nationalist Party (BNP) and Britain First, consist of former football hooligans. Again, the same applies to the Russian neo-Nazi “Ultras” who clashed with English hooligans last weekend, and majority of the European firms with far-right leanings.

Anti-immigration     

The current refugee quagmire has been dubbed as the biggest crisis Europe has faced since the Second World War. Thousands of refugees are fleeing war-torn countries with hopes of seeking asylum in Europe.

Socially, the predominantly Muslim majority refugees are perceived as a “cultural threat” to Europe’s Christian identity. This bigoted perception has already been voiced by religious and political figures in Slovakia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Cyprus, as well as right-wing groups in Germany, France and Britain.

Economically, there is the popular misconception that “migrants will take all the jobs” – even the jobs that do not exist, or that people simply refuse to do. In Britain, there is a growing fear, which is manipulated and capitalised by the right-wing press and some politicians that these “foreign parasites” will also scrounge off the welfare system.  

With this knee-jerk propaganda being peddled by European governments, including the Tories, is it any surprise that English football fans mocked refugee children by throwing coins at them, and made a seven-year-old boy "down" a pint of beer in exchange for money? Surely this is an undeniable manifestation of the irrational anti-immigrant sentiment that has infested Europe over the last year. Would the same hooligans throw coins at white European children of their own ethnic origin? I believe not, because no such incidents have been documented.

In addition to the anti-immigrant climate that has befogged the rationality of millions of Europeans; the EU referendum in the UK has also brought out the most inherent ignorance of many Britons, which has been manipulated by the Brexit camp for political mileage. Keep in mind that Europe’s refugee crisis has become synonymous with the rise of Islamophobia and the sensationalised terror threat supposedly posed by those fleeing warzones and famine-struck nations due to their religious origin.

Extreme minority born out of a majority mindset  

Many British commentators and media outlets have argued that the violent hooliganism carried out by their countrymen is in no way indicative of the majority of Britons – this may well be true. But it is difficult not to identify a glaringly obvious correlation between the significant number of Britons that have stated clear distrust of both Muslims and immigrants in a number of opinion polls, and the racist and Islamophobic behaviour of English hooligans.

When the political establishment and the mainstream media consistently spews anti-Muslim propaganda dressed up as “combating extremism,” is it any surprise that an extreme manifestation of this “fear of the other” transpires into some of the despicable acts of depravity we have witnessed during Euro 2016? 

One must also question why there has not been any attention given to the race, religion or political ideology of these hooligans. Just imagine for a moment what the media coverage would have been if Muslims or immigrants had caused a proportion of the public disorder witnessed in France over the past week.

In reality, just like 98 percent of all terrorist attacks in Europe have been carried out by white non-religious groups and individuals according to Europol, the ongoing violence in the streets of France isn't being caused by immigrants or Muslims – it is being committed by white Europeans.

Reasoned Britons and their European counterparts cannot allow their rationale of distinguishing right from wrong to be influenced by right-wing political parties and far-right movements with their divisive agendas – whether it is pertaining to the ongoing refugees crisis, coexisting with Muslim minorities, or the mindless violence that has tarnished the Euro 2016.  

I sincerely hope that genuine football fans who have been anticipating Euro 2016, saved up money to buy tickets for the matches, and travelled abroad with family and friends to support their national teams are not injured in the midst of the chaos that has descended upon French towns and cities.

- Dilly Hussain is the deputy editor of British Muslim news site 5Pillars. He also writes for the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, and contributes to the Foreign Policy Journal and Ceasefire Magazine. He regularly appears on Islam Channel, Russia Today, and BBC TV and radio discussing Middle East and North African politics, British foreign policy, Islamophobia and the war on terror. Follow him on Twitter @dillyhussain88

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: An English supporter injured after a street brawl is helped by a rescue squad ahead of the Euro 2016 football match England vs Russia, southern France, on 11 June, 2016 (AFP).

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.