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World Cup 2006 Postmortem
In Defense of Zidane

There are reports that it was a racial slur. The UKDaily Mirror says the slur was “Arab Terrorist.” Materrazi, the ‘victim’ in this episode, obviously instigated Zidane, of the specifics we have no idea. In the past, Zidane has been taunted both for his French citizenship (by a Saudi) and for his religion. He received red-cards for his retaliation both of those times. Materrrazi’s father “managed the notoriously right-wing, racist Italian club S.S. Lazio. In 2000, England players received racist threats and chants from Lazio fans and Lazio players had even, until recently, openly used the fascist stiff-arm salute at games.” [See the transcipt below].

Sometimes there is direct evidence, and sometimes the evidence is circumstantial. Here, it is the latter. In the end, the conclusion is inescapable: Zinadine Zidane, Algerian son of immigrants, brought a whooping to a bigot. He used the world’s biggest stage to make his point: you have no right to denigrate me. You see, I find nothing immoral or unsportsmanlike in Zidane’s act. Sportsmanship would require that there was equality to start with, but for Zidane, and for the 16 other ‘colored’ players on the French team, equality has never been available. Henry and Vieira both have been targets of sustained racism during club play. Alienation of the colored is what Europe excels in today. In 1998, Zidane was told by the French manager:

“Zizou, the French team is not you, and you don’t represent the French team. Think hard about those words,” then adding, “But it’s you who can make us win.” In 2006, upon arriving in a bus for the game against Spain, French players were greeted by Spanish fans who made monkey noises and threw banana peels at the largely dark-skinned French team.

In other words, Zidane could only be unsportsman if sportsmanship was the norm. Since that is simply not the case, Zidane simply behaved according to the norms available to him: power. Calling his non-fatal, non-injurious, non-harmful (except to himself) act an act of ‘violence’ is not reasonable. In fact, there is plenty of doubt as to whether or not the 6’5 defender flopped. An act of violence, especially the Muslim acts of violence I have long been condemning presuppose premeditation, and planning, and willful disregard for women, children, and civilians. Zidane’s act was spontaneous; borne solely out of his appreciation of the fact that he had been disrespected when he did not deserve to be. Perhaps Zidane should have been more like Jackie Robinson. But the fact remains that Zidane is not in Robinson’s situation. Zidane is a colored player in a sport that has been full of colored players for almost a hundred years and yet still contains explicit acts of racism such that its governing body has to initiate a “Say No To Racism” platform. Jackie Robinson was a gentleman because he was the first to make it. Zidane is at a place where we should be far beyond the stage of gaining acceptance; where respect should be freely available.

Imagine if the greatest footballer of our generation was a Jew. That’s right: imagine Zidane, who is the greatest footballer of our generation, as a Jew. Now imagine that a German (or Italian—who were also fascists) calls him a “dirty Jew.” This Jew, the greatest footballer of our generation, uses his big Jew nose to beat up the bigot. I would be sending the guy fan-mail and pouring olive oil in my already fecund nose to make it more like his. Except the greatest footballer of our generation is not Jewish. He is Berber. North-African. Arab. Algerian. Not white. As I would celebrate the nose-whooping, I am celebrating Zidane’e use of his skull. You see, it was that bald pate, that “Arab terrorist” forehead, which delivered not one, but two headers in the 1998 World Cup and sent Brazil packing and put Zidane on the path to super-stardom and gave France a world cup. The team that Zidane did not represent, he came to embody. They called him “The Eternal” in Paris. It is appropriate, all too appropriate, that he used that same head to beat to the floor (literally) a far more important opponent: bigotry.

Sometimes sport is bigger than the sport. The Olympics have given us some such examples. So has boxing. Now it is soccer.

There are many who will decry Zidane having cost his country another cup. Others who will say that he “should have risen above it.” But that’s what is most wonderful about this situation: Zidane had already accomplished in 1998 all he needed to accomplish to prove himself. He had already brought one cup to his cup-less country. He had already, prior to coming to Germany 2006, “risen above” the entire cavalcade of history and bigotry, to become the “greatest footballer of our generation.” So great was he that despite losing last night, and despite getting thrown out, he was still determined the winner of the Golden Ball Award as the best player of the tournament. When it came to football, Zidane didn’t have anything to prove. He was the greatest football of our generation, and as such, what he deserved, was some respect. He did not get it. So he put the Italian on the floor. Zidane was always the best at getting what is most elusive. I believe in the end Zidane will say that he was wrong in what he did. That will make Zidane an even greater hero.

I shaved my head at the beginning of the world cup and from this day will always keep it shaved.

Thank you bald wizard.

ps - of course, if it is revealed that Materrazi did not say a racial slur, I will gladly revise my position.

Postscript: A reader at Daily Kos has provided a transcript of the PURPORTED conversation:

Here’s the conversation (English is my translation of the Russian translation) as my husband found in a Russian online publication:

The exchange went like this (rumors):

“Ordinanza de tirare il costume!!” (Stop pulling my jersey)

“Taciti, encu.lo, hai solamente cio che merite...” (Shut up, f..got, you get what you deserve)

“si e cio...” (Aha, right away)

Zidane is walking away at this point, while Materrazi says this:

“meritate tutti ciò, voi gli enc.ulato di musulmani, sporchi terroristici” (You deserve this, muslim f..gots, dirty terrorists)

Ali Eteraz writes at ProgressiveIslam.Org, where this piece originally appeared.

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