Posted by Curt on 27 June, 2016 at 12:26 pm. 1 comment.


Lee Smith:

“Thank God, they’re out!” say the French. It seems everywhere you turn in Paris, you hear the same joyous refrain: “They’re out!” Now, the French believe, the rest of Europe can move forward together with clarity and grace.

Oh, no—I wasn’t referring to the Brits and Brexit, but the Russians and the UEFA European Championship, which involves the top 24 national soccer teams in Europe playing for the title of the continent’s best every four years.

The tournament’s group stage ended last week, and the Russians were vanquished, which seems to have made everyone here happy since their fans were eager to prove they’re the toughest, nastiest hooligans in the world. Maybe it should come as no surprise that they’re often deployed by the Putin government. “Sometimes fans call us the Kremlin’s billy club,” said one thug following mass soccer riots in Moscow in 2010.

The European Championship, nicknamed Euro 2016 for short, is now down to the round of 16. France beat Ireland Sunday afternoon to get into the quarterfinals, and the city partied like Cleveland, with cars honking horns, and large bands of drunken, albeit friendly, guys with their faces painted red, white, and blue singing and chanting. Ireland will be missed, however, since they seem to have charmed the French. Late Saturday night I watched a group of Irishmen team up with French fans to sing a rousing 3 a.m. rendition of La Marseillaise—a beautiful friendship, it seems.

One of the surprise teams is Wales, which features the super speedy and powerful Gareth Bale. I watched them defeat Northern Ireland Saturday afternoon with a Lebanese friend, Van, and a couple of Welshmen, Gus and Owen, in what’s become Paris’s trendy eleventh arrondissement. We sat outside on the sidewalk watching the game on a big-screen TV with a few dozen people. I wondered why soldiers were coming and going in the apartment building next door, and a friend explained it was a Jewish school. Every Jewish site, whether it’s a synagogue, community center, or school, is heavily guarded.

“One of the misimpressions of last November’s attacks is that the Bataclan was not a Jewish target,” the novelist Marc Weitzmann told me. Weitzmann’s book on the situation of French Jews, Hate, will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2017. “But the Bataclan was very high on the list of Jewish targets—in fact a militant of Jaysh al-Islam had named the Bataclan as ‘Jewish owned’ to a French police officer during an interview as far back as 2009. Among other things, the venue had hosted a benefit for the IDF. So this fact was lost. When the Islamists were hitting obviously Jewish targets, the implicit rationale in France was, first, you Jews cry too much when you’re hurt. Besides, there is Israel, so it makes some kind of sense; you had it coming. Now that ‘non-Jewish’ targets have been hit, people are saying, ‘It’s all of us, why are you Jews being so particularist?'”

The Wales game was a scoreless tie until late in the second half, when Bale launched a cross from the left side that a Northern Ireland defender unwittingly kicked into his own net for an own goal.

“Own goal” is how my Welsh companions described the Brexit vote. They’re both worried about what it means for the Labour party, which has failed what they see as its core working-class constituency that voted to leave Europe. They insisted that the entirely wrong approach would be for those who voted Remain to contemn the Leave voters, which would further divide an already fractured polity. Owen was also concerned that the U.K.’s exit from Europe would leave the rest of the continent vulnerable to Vladimir Putin.

The same might be said of the U.K., where the former mayor of London Boris Johnson is a leading candidate to replace David Cameron as head of the Conservative party and therefore prime minister. Johnson was one of the chief advocates for leaving Europe, and if his rhetoric was in the vein of Churchill and Thatcher, it’s hard not to conclude his mind lacks their humane clarity. Johnson thinks (mistakenly, I believe) the U.K. needs to deal with Putin to stop ISIS, but that’s no reason to heappraise on Bashar al-Assad for liberating the classical ruins of Palmyra. When a leading U.K. political figure lauds Assad for saving ancient statuary from ISIS, an Oriental despot who has killed hundreds of thousands of human beings, it is a pretty good indication that something is off in London.

It’s not entirely clear the French have made up their minds on the Brexit vote yet, though we might get a better sense of that according to how fans will respond to the England team when it takes the field Monday against Iceland. An English friend flying in from New York overheard an Air France flight attendant nonchalantly explaining that now France will just allow all the refugees it’s warehoused in Calais to cross the channel. Classic French sangfroid is certainly one way to express displeasure.

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