The importance of football to a society cannot be understated. It seems that despite their clear disregard for human life, even the bloodthirsty members of ISIS recognize it. During Saddam Hussein’s rule the Iraqi football team suffered a precipitous decline in performance first due to the deaths incurred in the brutal eight-year war with Iran, followed by the international sanctions imposed on the country. One of Saddam’s sons, the infamous Uday Hussein, was head of the football federation that he ruled with an iron fist. Following losses players were beaten and lashed with electric cables or forced to jump into pits of raw sewage. After failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, the team was forced to kick a concrete soccer ball around a prison yard as punishment. In the West when stories like this came out they were laughed at for their absurdity—following Saddam’s removal, the stories were revealed to be all too true.
In 2007, in the midst of the Iraqi (civil) war, Iraq managed to win the Asian Cup with a victory over Saudi Arabia in the final played in Jakarta, Indonesia. It gave hope to a ravaged nation, with one taxi driver stating “those 25 men brought happiness and hope to 25 million Iraqis, the thing our politicians couldn’t do.” A country’s pride was, if only for a few moments, restored on the soccer field.
Eight years on, in the current installment of the Asian Cup, things have again gone awry. But this time it isn’t innocent players suffering, it is innocent people suffering. ISIS militants executed 13 teenage boys in Mosul on January 12 for the crime of violating Sharia Law. What was the “crime”, as reported by activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently? Watching Iraq defeat Jordan 1-0 in a football match played in Brisbane, Australia. It is absurd, but this too is all too real. These innocent teenage boys had in their minds the same thing many teenage boys all over the world have—watching their country preform at an international soccer match. But having pride for a country now partially occupied by Islamist militants somehow became a crime that cost them their lives.
Watching This In Mosul Could Cost You Your Life (Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2917071/ISIS-execute-13-football-fans-firing-squad-watching-Iraq-play-Jordan-TV-Islamist-controlled-Mosul.html)
Islam and football have, admittedly, been at odds in the past as well. As I outlined in my thesis, many Ottoman Sultans viewed football with suspicion and forbade the game for Turks. Therefore it was a Armenians, Greeks, and Levantines who formed teams and played against the visiting British sailors. More recently, during last summer’s World Cup, it was female fans who were forbidden to watch Iran’s World Cup matches with male fans—such mixing of the sexes was deemed “un-Islamic”.
But these are Muslim governments that used football as an excuse to keep people from coming together—they are much different than ISIS, a terrorist group which seeks to extend its reach into every corner of society. Before the World Cup, I wrote about Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria where football fans were also targeted. Yahoo News, for their part, paralleled ISIS’ recent killings with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The amount of blood shed at Kabul’s National Soccer Stadium is horrifying—it was where the Taliban conducted public executions. In 1999 a female accused of killing her husband in a domestic dispute was shot to death on the edge of the field’s penalty area. The chilling photo is below:
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.rawa.org/murder-w.htm
With such violence perpetrated by ISIS just over Turkey’s southern borders it should come as no surprise that some of Turkey’s domestic soccer games in the southeast have become venues for politically influenced violence. The sad thing is that Turkey’s President is still showing no understanding of the menace that is growing—and the further instability it is fomenting—with each passing day. In response to the Paris attacks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Muslims have never taken part in terrorist massacres”. Even if ISIS are not true Muslims—such people cannot be, in my opinion—I still have to ask the question: If not a “terrorist massacre”, then what is executing 13 teenagers for watching a soccer game?