Thursday, April 14, 2005

Soccer and the Mullahcracy

Speaking of Michael Ledeen, he published an interesting piece on March 30th explaining why so-called "soccer riots" that have taken place in Iran are anything but examples of hooliganism:

A couple of years ago, before I learned better, I was on a BBC radio broadcast in which they had a reporter on the scene in Tehran reporting on big riots in Tehran following a soccer game. The BBC woman in London asked me what I thought about it all, and I said it was a sign of discontent with the regime.

She commented, "But we have soccer hooligans in England, too, don't we?"

And I said, "yes, but they aren't burning effigies of Tony Blair. The Iranians are burning pictures of Khamenei and Rafsanjani."

It was a wasted effort, of course, and I have since decided to decline the BBC's various invitations to legitimize their propaganda network. So it was deja vu when I noticed that the International Herald Tribune, the sly voice of the New York Times in Paris, had refused to see what is in front of everyone's eyes, instead treating the latest anti-regime demonstrations in Iran as a sporting event. Written by their soccer maven, Rob Hughes, the article doesn't even hint at a political component to last week's street battles:


If he had been interested, Hughes could have seen pictures of Iranian security forces closing in on the "fans," both inside the stadium and out on the streets, where women — who are barred from attending athletic events in the Islamic republic — were singled out for special brutality. And if he had checked some of the Iranian blogs, he could have discovered that demonstrations were going on all over the country, not just at the Azadi ("Freedom") Stadium.


As Ledeen points out, we're not talking about some Iranian equivalent of the East End Firm or Chelsea Headhunters. Soccer has become one of the main outlets through which patriotic Iranians can celebrate their country while defying the mullahcracy. The mullahs have always been hostile to the game, which was heavily restricted during the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini. Today, soccer matches are one of the few places where men and women can openly mingle and get away with it.

The fact that soccer in Iran has become imbued with politics should hardly come as a surprise. There are numerous examples around the world of the sport serving as a vehicle for political beliefs, such as Scotland's Old Firm. This has been especially true of societies ruled by dictatorships, where sports frequently provide the only outlet for otherwise-banned expression and conduct. In Spain under the Franco dictatorship, for example, the only place where residents of Catalonia could speak their regional language or display their own flag was at an FC Barcelona match. Hopefully, Iranians will soon enjoy the opportunity to live in a free society, and soccer in their country can go back to being just a game.


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