Day By Day

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Tonight Iraq Knows Only Joy"

Good news from Iraq:

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Iraq completed one of sport's great fairytales by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the Asian Cup final on Sunday to provide a rare moment for celebration in their war-torn homeland.

The Saudis had been bidding to become the first four-times winners of the tournament but Iraq, riding a wave of global sentiment, upset the hot-favourites for a rare slice of sporting glory.

"This is not just about football... this is more important than that," Iraq's Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira told a news conference.

"This has brought great happiness to a whole country. This is not about a team, this is about human beings."

Read it here.

Serious historians of sport [not those glorified fanboys who write bestselling sports books] have long noted the integrative function played by national sports leagues. In the United States, for instance, it was the period between the Civil War and WWI, when the nation was trying to forge a common identity, that saw the rise of national sports leagues. These allowed for expressions of local and regional pride under the auspices of a national governing body and got people into the habit of thinking of themselves as participants in an "imagined" national community.

In recent decades there has been a determined effort to use soccer in a similar manner to support the concept of a trans-national global community. National soccer teams can forge a sense of national unity while at the same time locating that national sentiment firmly within the context of a consensual transnational framework. Thus the Iraqi victory over the Saudis can serve both to promote Iraqi solidarity across ethnic and religious barriers, and at the same time promote a consciousness that is focused, as the Iraqi coach said, on "human beings" as a general cosmopolitan category, not on Iraqis or Saudis, or Sunni or Shiite, or any other parochial identity.

Omar, at Iraq the Model, writes:

Today is definitely the happiest day for Iraqis in years. Tears of joy mixed with prayers for hope on the faces of millions of Iraqis…Words truly fail me and I can't describe the feeling so please pardon me if the post doesn't sound coherent; I hear the cheering and music outside although the bullets of celebration keep falling on the ground and roofs here and there. But no one seems to worry about that, the moment is so great that fear has no place in the hearts of the millions of fans, neither from bullets nor from crazy suicide bombers who tried to kill our joy last week.

Our players, tonight our heroes, learned that only with team work they had a chance to win.
May our politicians learn from the players and from the fans who are painting a glorious image of unity and national pride, and let the terrorists know that nothing can kill the spirit of the sons of the immortal Tigris and Euphrates.

The fear is gone, the curfew is ignored, tonight Iraq knows only joy...

Read it here.

Given the current situation in the Middle East, this can only be seen as a wholly positive development. We should cheer the Iraqi victory and the cosmopolitan sentiment it engenders, but there is a downside to the general application of these principles.

As Omar notes, Americans don't care all that much about soccer. And that, too, is appropriate. Participation in the "community of man" erodes nationalistic loyalties and there is a large amount of evidence to suggest that, should the United States allow itself to be drawn into the cosmopolitan community envisioned by liberal transnationalists, the world as a whole and Americans in particular would be far poorer for it.