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When a Football Team Sets an Example - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It was sad to see Saudi Arabia lose the final of the Asian Cup tournament, but on the other hand I rejoiced knowing that the winner of the title was an Arab team. I was even happier when this victorious team was the Iraqi team for a number of reasons, some of which are humanitarian, national, and political. Politically, I rejoiced at Iraq’s victory as it brought a smile to the exhausted faces of millions of Iraqis who are suffering severely both inside and outside of Iraq. Abroad, there is the pain of alienation, dispersion, and direct and indirect humiliation, as the pains of estrangement, the sufferings of dispersion and the worrying situation in Iraq are adequate.

In Iraq, the fire that is consuming the country, has turned life into something that resembles death, in fact it is death, as people are living in permanent fear and constant dismay. These people need to feel that there is some mercy in life no matter how much cruelty and misery they have been subjected to and that there is hope despite the suffering and the predominant darkness. When the Iraqi team won its first Asian Cup title, it brought smiles to the faces of people who almost forgot what it was like to smile and the meaning of joy.

At the national level, I rejoiced that the tournament for the world’s largest continent was not a missed opportunity and finally, the cup was awards to Arabs. Hence there is no difference between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, since we are all Arabs in the end. It is only natural that I support the Saudi team since I am Saudi. However, second to that, I am an Arab. The truth is that Arabs are generally in need of happiness as well as the Iraqis who are in need to smile. Today, everything in the Arab world is depressing in all respects. The victory whether Saudi or Iraqi is an ephemeral delight.

Politically, I wish the Iraqi football team would set an example of how the situation in Iraq should be in all respects. As we watched the Iraqi team during the match, we saw how the players all aimed towards one goal rather than working towards different aims in accordance to various parties or sects or different whims. The team was not composed of Sunnis and Shia, Kurds and Turkmen, Arabs and non-Arabs, Muslims and Christians, Assyrians and Babylonians etc. in fact everyone was Iraqi and only that mattered.

Iraq, and Iraq alone, occupied wholly the hearts of players whilst fans cheered for their country. The concepts of Sunni and Shia remained far from the arena and Muqtada al Sadr, al Maliki and al Hakim kept themselves out of sight…only Iraq was visible. When players passed the ball to one another, Shia players did not only pass to fellow Shia players and Sunni players did not only pass to fellow Sunni players. Rather, everyone was Iraqi playing in the name of Iraq and for the sake of Iraq. When the Iraqi team scored the winning goal, nobody asked whether the goal-scorer was Shia or Sunni. In addition, the cheering crowds were not divided into Arabs and Kurds or otherwise. The Iraqi team has set an example that should be followed by all Iraqis, particularly politicians and those who claim to speak on behalf of Iraq but only serve their own interests in the end that are irrelevant to Iraq.

Today, Iraq is in a state of agony, the inevitable ending of which is death if the current situation continues. This can only be settled by encouraging “team spirit” since it is this spirit that made the Iraqi team victorious in winning the cup, even though this team did not look hopeful as it entered the tournament. Team spirit made the impossible possible.

In fact, Iraq’s main problem lies in the hearts and the reality of affiliation. There are hearts filled with the desire to retaliate. In addition, the concepts of violence and revenge fail to disappear. Although the heritage itself had died, the delusions and the minds that breathe life back into it refuse to die and thus bring the dead back to life time and again. They continue to wreak havoc and destruction feeling no remorse. Such hearts and minds cannot accomplish anything – no matter how small. Hearts that know nothing but death and corruption can never generate a love for life.

On the other hand, belonging to one Iraq is not in the hearts of many Iraqis (though not all Iraqis) especially those who assume power, including politicians and others. There are Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, but all these [classifications] are at the expense of belonging to the same Iraq. To be Sunni or Shia, Arab or Kurd, Muslim or Christian is not an imperfection since plurality and differences are only natural. The imperfection, rather, lies in the fact that affiliation to the homeland is disregarded and should be the priority if Iraq is to survive and Iraqis are to continue to live. Team spirit, the purity of hearts and loyalty to Iraq together is the only way that Iraq can avoid suicide and escape the circle of death.

If Iraq is to survive, it needs to learn from its football team. The Iraqis know full well where their problem and solution lie. May God fight the sick hearts, personal interests, despicable sectarianism and the realizing of the interests of others at the expense of interests of the homeland. This does not affect Iraq alone but rather every country that does not feel such affiliation correspondingly and other affiliations after that. May God help Iraq first since Iraq’s disease lurks in the Iraqi nation.

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad is a distinguished Saudi Arabian political analyst, journalist and novelist. Mr. Al-Hamad was educated in Saudi Arabia and the United States, where he obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California, later returning to Riyadh to teach political science. He retired in 1995 to take up writing full time.

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