The beautiful final day of the World Cup
Youssef Bazzi - 13/09/2007
On July 9 2006 the World Cup came to an end, the last day of the month we had been living with the world. We came together, provocative, joyful, cheering, passionately devoted to our clubs. We raised the flags of the world: German, Brazilian, Argentine, Italy and France. We leapt on tables to celebrating goals or screamed our protest at poor refereeing. We gasped when a player fell injured, swept our palms together in disgust at a wasted pass. We raised a toast to victory and quivered with nervous rage at defeat, fleeing from the mockery of opposition supporters. A month of pure pleasure, rocking to the world’s beat, glued to greatest stage of all. The planet and all who call it home, living for a single game with no intrinsic purpose other than the refinement of the human form and the display of pure harmony between the mind, heart and body; a game that celebrates life and its many splendored diversity. Here in Beirut, as elsewhere across the globe, we made sure to reorganize our lives in accordance with the match timetables, constantly muttering our mantra, “We have to get such-and-such done before the match,” or only making social arrangements, “after the match”. Even our circumstances and policies were bursting with the spirit of football, though mixed with a sizeable draught of pain. Throughout all our matches we were convinced of our own strength, scoring goals left and right as the world applauded and cheered us on, while our opponents were forced to resort to troublemaking, violence and the swift acquisition of red and yellow that inevitably followed. Despite the nightly explosions with their reek of hatred and cowardice, despite the petty and jealous assassinations, we felt in control as though we were guiding our own destiny and future. On July 9 our vigil ended with despair and shock at the sight of Zinedine Zidane and what seemed to be his callously violent act. We immediately rushed to pick apart his actions, explaining, excusing and condemning, joining the world in a moral debate extolling elegance and skill and deploring violence. Though this internationally repudiated act of violence was no more than a head-butt to the chest of another player, it was, more importantly, a televised head-butt witnessed by billions. This fact alone was enough to turn this lancing blow into a scandal, whose images and sounds quickly drowned out the celebrations of Italy’s victory. Suddenly joined with the world in its anger we felt divorced from the daily reality of our country and its neighbors, where violence—where the term refers to massacres and murder—is part of everyday life. I say, “we felt”, because a mere three nights later we were rudely awoken from pondering the “Zidane incident” by Hezbollah, which crossed the borders and the Blue Line to kill eight Israeli soldiers and abduct two more, thus restarting the war its aims to fight until the Day of Judgment.
As the meaning of this event dawned on us we prepared to embark on a journey into some real violence, the violence that conforms to the standards and ethics of the Middle East. Hezbollah’s leader appeared on television to replace the images of the World Cup and propose a new and bloody game with no rules or referee. His party and Southern Lebanon were ranged at one end of the pitch while the rest of the Lebanese population were lumped in the middle, a football to be punted back and forth by flaming legs and boots of steel. This was his “Truthful Promise”, which we had never asked for or demanded.
In the blink of an eye we had broken step with the world, now marching, against our will to the rhythm of another man’s drum: not the president, or the prime minister but a militia leader whose divided loyalties were owed partly to his own people and partly to the Iranian leaders and their Baathist allies. He marched us straight into a war.
Our business here is not to shed belated tears over its victims and the great damage done to the country but to make a sincere and heartfelt point: If Israel didn’t want this war, then Hezbollah committed a criminal act against us by initiating it. If Israel had in fact been dreaming of this war and doing everything it could to make it happen, then Hezbollah’s crime against us is all the greater. Indeed, it equates to betrayal. For the sake of eight dead soldiers and two prisoners, Israel was, as usual, prepared to flatten an entire country. For the sake of three Lebanese prisoners, Hezbollah was prepared to risk the slaughter of a whole people. We are that country, we are that people. More than a month has passed since the end of the war. Israel failed but was not defeated; Hezbollah succeeded but did not triumph. Both were victorious and failed. Both were defeated and succeeded. This is an altogether new form of war, in which the victor suffers no losses and the defeated counts their gains. I have no answer to the “strategic” problem, but I still remember the actor Rafiq Ali Ahmed in the play The Bell playing a peasant from the South who wanders out of his village and runs across a guerilla fighter about to launch a missile at Israel. He asks the guerilla to point the missile at the village telling him, “It’s just one missile. Perhaps it’ll hit us, perhaps not. But if that missile lands in Israel they’ll respond with tens of missiles and they’ll all land on the village.”
In his own way the peasant has found his own way to solve the problem without becoming an agent or ally of Israel. He remains true to the cause and avoids charges of betrayal. This approach is what lies behind the slogan of the South: “No to a return to the pre-1982 status quo” (the year of the Israeli invasion and the departure of the PLO guerrillas). This slogan is a refusal on the part of the South to act as the battlefield for absurd conflicts, the wars of strangers, because they have no desire to be real, or potential, victims against their will. How powerful is forgetting that these southerners could once again allow themselves to become victims and their territory a blasted wasteland, sacrificial lambs for a party and a single man. I can’t understand how this same peasant could be the one to fire off random rockets knowing that the response would be the destruction of the village.
I have no answer to give to the man from the South who proudly recounts the heroics of Hezbollah’s young fighters, then bursts into floods of bitter tears at what has happened to his home and family. Trembling at memories of fear and terror, despairing at his loss, ashamed of the humiliation he suffered for fleeing barefoot and unkempt from the artillery bombardments, he then pulls himself together and goes back to telling tales of heroism. Yet it isn’t clear whether this heroism was in the cause of life itself or merely extended death’s dominion. A year has passed since the Zinedine Zidane incident, the infamous head-butt we’ve long forgiven him. Ah! What a beautiful World Cup it was!