Saturday, January 2, 2010

Terrorism, Football, DPRK v. Iran, and Middlesborough

I've been following the air terror storyline over the holidays, mostly via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, and am interested in the growing link between obscene, aberrant wealth of a select few in countries in Africa and the Middle East and the seduction of some of those few by religious radicalism.

The idea that obscenely wealthy young Muslim men would be a prime target for radicalization makes sense; self-loathing combined with an inflated sense of self-importance and access to the financial resources to carry out the sort of devastating attacks associated with Al Qaida all make them ripe for the picking for thuggish religious ideologues.

This vision of religious terrorism stands opposed to the traditional, right-wing narrative pitting a growing, increasingly homogeneous Muslim immigrant population in Western Europe against post-Enlightenment, universal-rights supporting, white majority, a narrative that has no basis in reality as Malise Ruthven's recent piece in the New York Review of Books deftly argues.

I feel there is some rich irony in this considering the cozy and welcome relationship between an elite group of Middle Eastern superrich oil barons and the Premier League, but I'm too tired eyed from holiday fun to piece it together just yet. Perhaps making my way through Simon Kuper's classic Football Against the Enemy will provide some inspiration.

Meanwhile, I parked myself 10 AM this morning for some illegal FA Cup football feed fun, and noticed Iran playing the DPRK. One always wishes for certain internationals to somehow carry the weight of meaning put on them by global political factors—unrest in Iran, the nature of two US unfriendlies facing off in a friendly tie—but the games never turn out that way. I lost interest after about ten minutes. The anthems proved the best part; the Iranian players looked on the verge of tears throughout, and gave some tepid applause for the anthem. Meanwhile the North Korean "fans" looked scared shitless, holding their flags still on their arms, wary of the watching camera.

Switched to Boro v. Man City, which provided all you need to know about what sort of "magic" there is left in the FA Cup. Boro played really well, unexpectedly, only to cough up a Benjani goal on the half. As of writing it's still 0-1. Apparently Ancelotti had to have it explained to him by Abramovich why the Cup even matters. Not sure what he told him, but maybe he should tell the rest of us, too. As for Villa, they're beating 10 man Blackburn 2-1, so good for us then.


scornflakes said...

Similar thoughts come to my mind this mid-day while I'm sitting here watching some illegal soccer feed fun, as my favorite European club Inter Milan makes a friendly visit to Al-Hilal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for Nawaf Al-Temyat’s farewell match. The scene, a bright and shiny modern stadium, is as loud and lively as any Serie A match-day when the champions visit a mid-table or lesser rival in one of the larger Italian cities. At first glance, it's really not that much different than watching Inter play, say, Lazio in Rome—with one rather important and telling distinction that is apparent after only a few camera shots of the men in the stadium seats. That distinction is that there are ONLY men in the stadium seats. If there are women in attendance, then they are not being shown on camera, and they are most certainly segregated. In the West, we would save such segregation—born out of instances of disproportionate, sometimes violent, supporter passion—for the supporters of our rival clubs. In Riyadh, such treatment—born out of irrational fear and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam—is for wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters.

Soccer is, among other things, both a potent and subtle medium for cultural exchange, and that was demonstrated through two scenes from today’s match. First, the constant sound over the stadium’s public address speakers of what sounded somewhat like a muezzin’s call to prayer, punctuated now and again by singing of the internationally recognizable soccer anthem "Ole ole ole ole!"; and second, the show of respect Jose Mourinho and the Inter players paid to Al-Temyat when he was subbed-out early in the second half. It’s moments like those that make me hopeful that soccer—through small events like today’s match and global events like the World Cup—is incorruptibly progressive and capable of advancing intercultural exchange in unique ways. But, when the rigidity that lies at the root of religion is made manifest through repression (as in the apparent exclusion of women from the stadium), I find myself being challenged to thread a difficult needle as I watch the club I support play in a place like Saudi Arabia. My predilections for left-leaning politics lead me to ask: is there not a point where the hard wall of religious fundamentalism must buckle slightly when it encounters the elements of progressive, liberal humanism that must surely be inherent in such an event? But they also lead me to ask: is the relationship that you make mention of in your blog—between religious fundamentalism and a class of obscenely wealthy oil oligarchs who are buying into the large soccer clubs and leagues—capable of undermining any impact the sport can have to introduce socially progressive principles into a fundamentalist kingdom like Saudi Arabia?

My hope is that maybe the next time Inter plays Al-Hilal, Daniela Materazzi will be allowed to sit in the front row and show her shoulder tattoos to the camera while she watches her husband play.

Richard Whittall said...

Really interesting contrast in your first paragraph! Great comments too, and I think I will quoting them in a future post, so you've been warned.