Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fanatic forces fatuous football fatwa

Muqtada Al-Sadr

This is Muqtada Al-Sadr. Don't ask him about David Beckham.

Iraq sounds like it's going to be one of the nastiest messes in the 21st century... and we're only 6 years in. 3 or more factions from the Shi'ites, tens of guerilla groups from the Sunnis, and there's the everpresent threat of the Kurds seceding. Which would even make more of a mess of the country, as Turkey would now intervene to prevent an independent Kurdish state. I have no idea of the death toll: probably 100,000 dead by violence, plus another 100,000 or so deceased from preventable illnesses - preventable pre-2003 - due to the collapse of the health system. It's screwed. 

So by now, I thought I'd be inured to shock. When I heard about Haditha, well... I think it's a bad thing, but I wasn't really surprised. Soldiers lose their heads in the field and start shooting at civilians; it's not like I haven't heard of that before. But that damned conflict still has the capacity to shock. Muqdada Al-Sadr - the man with the bad teeth above, and one of the big powers in Iraq - has decided to issue a fatwa - a religious proclamation - on football. He thinks it is blasphemous and his fatwa prohibits the game. Let River of Baghdad Burning tell the tale:

...It was up for nearly two whole days before the problems began. The first hint of a problem came through G.’s neighbor. He stopped by the shop and told G. that a black-turbaned young cleric had been walking past the shop window, when the flag attracted his attention. According to the neighbor Abu Rossul, the young cleric stopped, gazed at the flag, took note of the shops name and location and went on his way. G. shrugged it off with the words, “Well maybe he’s a fan of Brazil too…” Abu Rossul wasn’t so sure, “He looked more like the ‘Viva Sadr!’ type to me…”.

A day later, G. had a visit at noon. A young black-clad cleric walked into the shop, and had a brief look around. G. tried to interest him in some lovely headscarves and abbayas, but he was not to be deterred from his apparent mission. He claimed to be a ‘representative’ from the Sadr press bureau which was a few streets away and he had a message for G.: the people at the abovementioned bureau were not happy with G.’s display. Where was his sense of national pride? Where was his sense of religion? Instead of the face of a heathen player, there were pictures of the first Sadr, or better yet, Muqtada! Why did he have a foreign flag plastered obscenely on his display window? Should he feel the need for a flag, there was the Iraqi flag to put up. Should he feel the necessity for a green flag, like the one in the display, there was the green flag of “Al il Bayt”… Democracy, after all, is all about having options...

As it turns out, Muqtada [Al-Sadr] has a fatwa against football (soccer). I downloaded it and this is a translation of what he says when someone asks him for a fatwa on football and the World Cup:

“In reality, my father's position on this topic isn't deficient... Not only my father but Sharia also prohibits such activities which keep the followers too occupied for worshiping, keep people from remembering [to worship]. Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God. That is one thing. The second thing, which is more important, we find that the West and especially Israel, habeebi the Jews, did you see them playing soccer? Did you see them playing games like Arabs play? They let us keep busy with soccer and other things and they've left it. Have you heard that the Israeli team, curse them, got the World Cup? Or even America? Only other games... They've kept us occuppied with them- singing, and soccer, and smoking, stuff like that, satellites used for things which are blasphemous while they occuppy themselves with science etc. Why habeebi? Are they better than us- no we're better than them.”

Important note: Islamic Sharia does not prohibit soccer/football or sports- it’s only prohibited by the version of Sharia in Muqtada’s dark little head. I wonder what he thinks of tennis, swimming and yoga…

I listened to the fatwa, with him getting emotional about playing football, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Foreign occupation and being a part of a puppet government- those things are ok. Football, however, will be the end of civilization as we know it, according to Muqtada. It’s amusing- they look nothing alike- yet he reminds me so much of Bush. He can barely string two sentences together properly and yet, millions of people consider his word law. So when Bush raves about the new ‘fledgling Iraqi government’ ‘freely elected’ into power, you can take a look at Muqtada and see one of the fledglings. He is currently one of the most powerful men in the country for his followers...

... It’s darkly funny to see what we’ve turned into, and it is also anguishing. Muqtada Al-Sadr is a measure of how much we’ve regressed these last three years. Even during the Iran-Iraq war and the sanctions, people turned to sports to keep their mind off of day-to-day living. After the occupation, we won a football match against someone or another and we’d console ourselves with “Well we lose wars- but we win football!” From a country that once celebrated sports- football (soccer) especially- to a country that worries if the male football players are wearing long enough shorts or whether all sports fans will face eternal damnation… That’s what we’ve become.

Well, I may be a layman on Islam, but I know one thing: saying Sharia (or Islamic law) prohibits football is a heap of utter bollocks. If you don't believe me - look at the teams in the World Cup - both Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran are in the line up. I don't think Sadr will get many adherents from his fellow Shi'ites. I doubt Sadr even has the religious weight to issue fatwas, unlike (say) Ayatollah Al-Sistani - a man yet to release a fatwa on the subject. I wonder also what would happen if the Muqtadaists tried that shit with the SCIRI rank-and-file. There would be a lot of Iran fans in that mob, and I suspect they would have little patience with Sadr's "protective" antics.  

Even the most restrictive powers know not to mess around with sport. If religion is the opium of the masses, then sport is the speed - a big buzz in the bloodstream that will distract you from your cares for a while. Take away the porn, take away the drugs, take away the nasty music... but don't you dare take away the footie. It's good, clean, fun that develops healthy cannon-fodder for the state, and it's a great way to get nationalistic fevour on the cheap. This fatwa by Sadr is as sure a sign as any that he has "lost it", and I think this will cost him in the long run. 

Or in the short run if the U.S and Iran end up in another match for the Cup. It is an extreme long-shot, I know, but possible; it happened eight years ago. (It would probably also be the most politically charged sport meet-up since the USSR-Hungary water polo match at the 1956 Olympic Games, where I hear the water was thick with blood.) Guess who the Iraqis are going to going to barrack for? Your guess is as good as mine, but the point is that the Iraqis would want to barrack. Hopefully, a quiet counter-fatwa by Sistani (why has a lot more scriptural weight) would neutralize the threat of bloodshed. And Iraqi can move the tellie back into the living room, like real men everywhere. Better that than soccer balls containing IEDs. Even if they are kicked in Al-Sadr's direction.  

(Picture taken from Komiteen for et Frit Irak - The Committee for a Free Iraq, Denmark.)