Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Zidane and the Muslim Ummah

I am not a soccer fan, but I was drawn to watch the last half of the World Cup match between Italy and France on Sunday, July 9. Part of the magnetic pull was Zidane, a player whom I had read about briefly and whose profile seemd so unique that I sat down to watch him play his last game, a great soccer player who exemplified the best in sportsmanship, civility and citizenship. What I ended up doing was making an analogy between him and billion or so Muslims who subscribe to the same faith that he does.

Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants to France, rose to prominence in the soccer world despite the many obstacles in his way. He came to be loved by the French, in fact, to be considered quintessentially French. He proudly bore the hopes and dreams of his nation on his shoulders, delivered well when he won the World Cup for France in 1998. He is often spoken of in terms of endearment, lovingly called Zissou by his French coutrymen, respected by colleagues and opponents alike for his civility and restraint.

In this World Cup he carried France from a lacklustre performance to the finals against Italy. This was to be his last match before retirement, and France was proudly holding its breath for a sendoff that would have honoured his distingushed career as a soccer great. Instead, the world was shocked when towards the end of the game, Zidane, apparently after trading some words with another Italian player, turned, took two steps forward and head-butted him in the chest, sending him falling backwards to the ground.

I was shocked and alarmed. Shocked at his conduct in such a public space and alarmed at what the implications would be. I felt betrayed by this great man, who I never knew, yet whom I felt drawn to after reading about him. I immediately thought that he must have been provoked, something disgusting must have been said to him to react in such a manner. At the same time, I felt that in respect to his own self and his legacy, and to the millions of people who regard him in high esteem, he should have shown restraint, no matter how ugly the remarks were.

It was then that it occured to me that what I had just witnessed was a microcosm of the Muslim Ummah, played out in a soccer field before the eyes of the whole world. For me Zidane was the Muslim Ummah, with past glory and achievement crowning his forehead, leading his people to victory, achievement and a respectable place among nations. His opponents were bent on striking him down, and one in particular, the monster Materrazi was an embodiment of the monstrous powers who are bent on occupying, provoking and stereotyping the Muslim Ummah.

And like the Ummah today, the provocation was too much for him. He snapped and did something uncharacteristic because he felt victimized. Perhaps he was called a "dirty terrorist" as some report, or his sister was called by some degrading name as others report. Whatever it was, he lost all sense of where he was, his legacy, his future and the difference he could have made to the game, and fell victim to the deliberate provocative assaults on his person.

I see his reaction as anologous to the protests, flag burnings and other emotional outbursts committed by Muslims against others who may have deliberately provoked them.

Like Zidane, we shock the world when we do things uncharacteristic of our faith and legacy, and we betray those who see in us a ray of hope for civilization.

Like Zidane, the Muslim Ummah has suffered provocations and deliberate attempts to tarnish its image, despite the crowning achievements and inherent goodness of teh Ummah. And like Zidane, we snap when we cannot take it any more.

Like Zidane's suffering of an alleged abuse, we also suffer the abuse of the desecration of our holy symbols, occupation of our lands, colonization, genocide and murder of innocent civilians. And like him, the temptation is to turn our back on history, our legacy of patience and restraint and to lash out without considering whether our actions are ethical or strategic.

Like him, will the Ummah get red-carded into oblivion, leaving behind a great legacy and squandering our opportunities to make a difference for humanity's future?


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