Thursday, 23 May 2013

Football: Kicking the habit of prejudice

I suppose what shocked me most about yesterday's horrific events in Woolwich was not the dire press coverage that near enough incited Twitter and Facebook riots (for cockney accented non Middle-Eastern man spouting Islamic hatred, read: 'Muslim looking'); but the backlash against Muslims living in the United Kingdom that this sad case seemed to invoke. My social network feeds were clogged with people having their say on the matter: from individuals appealing for calm, to others claiming we should take back the country we live in and deport all Islamic persons, or in more extreme cases, kill them.

It is very true that the thoughts should be with the soldier who was brutally murdered yesterday, and his family for having to deal with such a tragedy. So it is a shame that this event has been misconstrued as a chance to deal out ultimatums to the government about how we should cloister ourselves in our own little island bubble and not let any foreigners in.

I created this blog to talk about football, and in particular I feel the incident yesterday and the feelings that have stemmed from it can be linked with a film I watched the other day.

This film was a documentary that aired at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, and its rights were subsequently bought by ESPN for distribution. The film, Kicking It, is a feature that follows the events of the 2006 Homeless World Cup. The Homeless World Cup was the brainchild of Mel Young, a social entrepreneur who takes a special interest in helping the homeless people of the world.  The Homeless World Cup is open to all countries in the world, and the criteria for playing in the tournament are players must:

  • Be male or female and at least 16 years old at the time of the tournament
  • Have not taken part in previous Homeless World Cup tournaments
  • Have been homeless at some point after the previous year's tournament in accordance with the national definition of homelessness
  • Make their main living income as a streetpaper vendor
  • Be asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status a year before the event
  • Currently be in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and also have been homeless at some point in the past two years

Many of you will be asking what this has to do with yesterday's events. Kicking It  follows seven different players who are to take part in the tournament and charts their progress throughout the film. Of most note to myself was the story of Najib, from Afghanistan. Throughout the film, Najib tells us how he fears the Taliban will come back and assert their rule over Afghanistan once more. On the streets of South Africa, he wishes that he lived in a country that had more freedom: not just for him, but women as well.

One of the film's more moving subplots involves him striking up a romance with a Paraguayan girl, something he remarks would never be possible in Afghanistan. They do not speak each other's language, and communicate through interpreters. You can sense that this is one of the happiest moments of Najib's life.

Najib is Muslim. Yet he has the same hopes and dreams of many young men in this world: to live in a land free from oppression and fear, to meet a girl and fall in love, and to play football. How does that differ from any number of teenage boys in the UK? But looking at comments across Facebook and Twitter yesterday, it was clear that this was not a view shared by some. On one particularly heated debate, someone remarked:

'lets have it straight there a bunch of corrupt, greedy, dirty fuckin scum bags, look Iraw and Afghanistan, Muslim countries, your tellin me the country's is in that much of fuckin state be because of a minority!! It's in there nature, fuckin cunts!!! [sic]'

I have come to believe that sport, in particular football, can be a powerful agent in social change and social thinking. After watching Kicking It, I think it is inconceivable that anyone could watch this film and not see themselves in Najib. He wishes for a normal life. He just happens to be Muslim and Middle-Eastern, and not Christian and White like many people in Britain.

Anyone who seems to harbour such views, that Islam and Muslims are alien and violence is 'in their nature', I implore you to watch Kicking It. I only hope that more films like this can be released, on a wider scale, to show up the idiots and teach them that 'different' does not mean 'danger'.

Hopefully, the penny will begin to drop. People like Najib show us that in most cases, race and religion should not mark you out for hatred and prejudice. In fact, aside from those two differences, we're not that different at all.