War, Rifles and Flags: Fútbol Fever Part Deux

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Every human love and hate has a context.

U.S. students debkeh to Yankee Doodle in Jarash, 2006.

I have now witnessed fútbol fever first-hand while living in four different countries.

I was in Egypt during the African Cup when Ghana was hosting; and I was in three different countries during three consecutive World Cups — first in Jordan when Germany was hosting; then in Bangladesh when South Africa was hosting; and most recently in the United States with Brazil hosting.

Some symptoms of this particular fever include temporary madness (if love is a temporary madness); peculiar manifestations of patriotism or transnational loyalties on one’s body, home, car, children, and pets; fickle bandwagonness and accusations of bandwagonning; erratic and ecstatic fangirling; sudden onset of hot sweats during the pageantry of particular attractive athletes; and increased levels of pious devotion including extra prayers, kinder behavior, and generous charity.

The exact expressions of happiness and grief may vary according to context, but the intensity of delirious partisan adoration of team sports – regardless of context – mirrors each other in a way akin to the strife of kinship rivalry.


While I was studying Arabic at Yarmouk University in Jordan, the games coincided with the 2006 Lebanon War (also called the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War, also known as the July War. Names are, of course, political.). There were moments my roommate and I thought we could see through our windows smoke clouds from the Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon.

Located near the northern border of Jordan, Irbid is also very close to the borders of Syria, the northwest of Israel, and Southern Lebanon. The fear and anger during the war — and the flooding in of refugees — was palpable in a characteristically quiet town.

The flags of loyalties went up as if to both express and shield the crushing feelings of helplessness in the face of human suffering.

… So when I first heard shots of gunfire and men shouting loudly at night, I was terrified. They felt close.

Too close.

My roommate and I ran to look out our apartment windows. The night in Irbid was dark — and it was too dark to see anything.  We considered whether the war had crossed the border, because, really, what were those borders without their guardians’ machine guns and wars other than lines redrawn on a map by European men who lived on another continent?

Our terror, however, soon changed to relief.

World Cup 2006 had begun, and fans were celebrating the first goals made — by shooting their rifles in the air.  Over a single night, flags representing team loyalties went up.  More Italian flags could be seen covering storefronts and cars than the usual Palestinian flags and paraphernalia of the Jordanian King.

Although in other contexts we might have been angry with this absurdly ridiculous waste and dangerous nuisance, we could not help but feel grateful that it was only celebratory fireworks — and not the fire of war.

Raad Adayleh/AP

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