Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 essay “The Clash of Civilizations”, familiar to all scholars of International Relations, hypothesized that
the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1993-06-01/clash-civilizations).
Such a wide-ranging generalization sparked many responses; some supportive and others dismissive. It is in the context of global terrorism, characterized most recently by the so-called “Islamic State”, or ISIS, ISIL, and DAESH, depending on your choice of acronym, that Huntington’s concept has again entered popular discourse. Many Western news outlets report that the Islamist militants of ISIS are looking to spark the very “clash of civilizations” that Huntington first hypothesized. Whatever your view on the matter is, it is clear that there are many people who support this black and white worldview, and nowhere is this more evident than in the responses of football fans to the horrible violence inflicted on Paris three weeks ago. First I will discuss ISIS’ tactics, targeting the crowded stadiums and music venues that look to bring people from diverse backgrounds together, before looking at the responses of specific teams to this violence and their general world views in the context of a possible emerging “clash of civilizations”.
Hashim Almadani noted that ISIS’ decision to focus attacks on crowded stadiums is part of a strategy that tries “to target those ideologies that unite people from different backgrounds as a group…historically, they target what the majority of people enjoy and what gets their interest, for example, music and sport.” ISIS were looking to target sport because of its unifying nature—it appeals to a wide range of people from various backgrounds—and they also knew that it would spark a response.
As Almadani points out, “football has always been related to the group of fanatics/ultras, who are highly active in all the sport teams in Europe. Those groups known as passionate football fans that mostly are related to a political ideology, like far left or far right, are organised groups and can be used as an ‘indirect aftermath effect’ to increase the hate speech within the same society that normally are mixed between different nationalities and different racial/ cultural backgrounds. This means more hateful speech, more side incidents that may face Arabs and Muslims, and more indirect support to ISIS strategy to extend the gap between society that can give them a justification for their plans”. The sick plan of ISIS’ Islamic militants is to divide and conquer Western society, creating a wedge between essentially White Christians and non-White, non-Christian, immigrants. Unfortunately, the response of many football fan groups has been along these lines and we have seen an alarming increase in the politicization of Ultras from both sides of the spectrum as regards migrants and Muslims.
In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks that began with a bombing at a France-Germany football match (Luckily, one of the attackers was turned away from the stadium when he tried to enter with a ticket), we saw the unifying power of sports. French and English fans came together in a show of unity during their friendly on November 17, 2015, even singing the French national anthem together.
Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34818994 (Left) And http://www.espnfc.com/blog/the-match/60/post/2714735/england-vs-france-at-wembley-as-symbol-of-unity (Right)
Unfortunately, on the same night on the other side of Europe, we saw the divisive power of sports in the response to another nation’s national anthem.
During a moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks in Istanbul before a Turkey-Greece friendly fans whistled down both the Greek national anthem and the moment of silence, with chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God Is Great) mixed in. It was not a pretty sie and Turkish national team coach Fatih Terim was forced to ask “Ölmüş insanlara saygı duruşu yapıyoruz, 1 dakika sabredemiyor muyuz? Ne oluyor bize?” (“We are having a moment of silence for people who have died, can’t we be patient for one minute? What is happening to us?”). Leftist media outlets in Turkey revealed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was behind the scandalous behavior as they gave out free tickets for the match to party members. In the end, though, it wasn’t so unprecedented—Turkish fans in Konya earlier whistled down a moment of silence remembering the dead killed in an October bombing in Ankara. For the fans in Istanbul this was a protest against Europe, a Europe that they saw as anti-Muslim. Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t hold much weight and instead the Turkish fans just ended up looking to the world like ISIS apologists at best; ISIS sympathizers and supporters at worst.
In this type of divisive atmosphere Ultras in Central Europe have not been shy in telling the world what they think of ISIS and, by extension, of Muslims in general. The Facebook page of Ultra Style posted a picture of an anonymous graffiti that challenges ISIS: “ISIS, 50 Vs. 50. Whenever you want”. Other groups are even more direct. Fans in Slovakia at a Kosice-Presov match hung a banner that read “Pray Fight for Europe!” In the Czech Republic, at a Hradec Kralove match, the fans’ banners read “Fight for Paris, Defend Europe”. In Slovenia the fans were longer winded, displaying banners amid Slovenian flags that read “The most precious thing that can be taken from us is our own nation. If we are not going to fight for it, we are going to lose it forever, STOP Migrants!” The language used by all these groups is similar, it urges a fight for Europe. That fight, of course, is also a fight for Christianity. On October 31, 2015, before the Paris attacks, the Ultras of Polish side Slask Wroclaw displayed a detailed banner that read “When Islamic plague floods Europe, stand in defense of Christianity.” The image is of a knight in armor, with a red cross on his chest, drawing his sword against three boats full of Arabs; on the sides of the boats is written “USS ISIS”.
Images Courtesy of: Ultra Style’s Facebook Page.
In response to the anti-Islamism of European sides, a few teams from North Africa urged for cooler heads to prevail. In Morocco the Ultras Siempre Paloma asked in their banners “Stop Islamophobia”. The Ultras Eagles of Moroccan side Raja Casablanca hung a banner that said “ISIS: You use the Koran only when you want to”. Their fans said that “we will defend our Islam from lies, because it is all about peace and respect”. Turkish fans from UltrAslan of Galatasaray walked through Madrid with banners that read “Muslims are not Terrorists!”. Even they had been brought into this cycle of labeling, despite the fact that UltrAslan are not even a political Ultra group; they look to attract support from all parts of Turkish society. Interestingly enough, the fans of Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv also took the opportunity to harden their own identity. At the Champions League match with Chelsea their banner read “Europe Wake Up! Zionism Is Not a Crime!”
Images Courtesy Of: Ultra Style’s Facebook Page
What the fans on both sides of this ideological divide show us is that identities are becoming hardened. That the fans of a Turkish team like Galatasaray would invoke Muslim solidarity to this degree would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. That was a time when Turkey looked to Europe and saw themselves as, in some ways at least, European; Galatasaray was the sporting side of this aspiration. Now, with the government of Turkey taking the country in another direction, even sports is not immune from the political trends. The fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv, for their part, are looking to gain acceptance from a Europe that not too long ago—again, due to religious differences—discriminated against Jews. Social memory, it seems, does not last long since these Jewish Israeli fans have no qualms today with indirectly equating Zionism with a new European solidarity against Islam.
It is important to keep an eye on the football stadium as it is where emerging identities—far right Europeanism and moderate Islamism—are coming into contact. How the dialogue evolves will go some way to showing how near we are to the clash of civilizations that the bloodthirsty members of ISIS seem so hell bent on creating.
I love my country. I always have and always will, so I can understand some of the sentiments that fans are voicing. But that is also why it is important that we, as both football fans and human beings, resist the xenophobic trends on both sides of the divide; in order to defeat the evil of ISIS we must remain united together, behind our values, without turning to blind hate.