English Articles

 Love, Nationalism and Football

Today, I am going to talk to you about three things: Romantic love, nationalism and soccer –the real football. If you like, we can call them as stories of Romeo & Juliet, Mel Gibson and English soccer fans respectively. I invite you to look closely at each of these three phenomena. Those are part of our daily lives and we have to have an answer as to what they mean to us as Muslims and as human beings.

(THİS ARTİCLE is a speech that M. Bilici delivered at the University of Michigan to members of Muslim Student Association in Ann Arbor and Dearborn)

LET’S BEGIN WITH ROMANTIC LOVE. A relationship into which two individuals participate whether actively or not. At least one party, the lover, exercises an emotional act. There is a lover and an object of love. Let’s call them Romeo and Juliet or Majnun and Leila. Like many people Romeo or Majnun fall in love. We all know what it is all about. Yet, we seldom question the nature of this emotional upheaval on the part of the lover. We can let Romeo speak for himself and on behalf of all lovers since they all share similar vocabulary and set of behaviors.

According to lover his or her (henceforth his) love is UNIQUE and she finds expression always in SUPERLATIVE forms. She is the most beautiful, for example. She is the only one. She is the one. She is different. There is something special about her. She is perfect, flawless and above everything. She is unique.

For Romeo (lover), Juliet (love) is someone without which he CANNOT LIVE. Lover considers the part of his life that is gone without her as a loss, as an unfortunate time.

He furnishes his room and environment with symbols, gifts and objects that will remind her. He sees the world and things around him through the lenses of her image. The song of their first meeting, the location of their first encounter all becomes sacred. Many things, if not everything, become a sign telling him about her.

Not only lover re-shapes his life to fit the expectations and requests of his love (remember he is ready to do anything for her) but also he is ready to sacrifice his life for her. Death for her sake and suicide as a response to separation from her all become possible for the true lover. Lover is READY TO DIE for his love.

TO RECAP, in the eyes of lover and according to the description of lover, the love is (1) the most beautiful, the only one; (2) the timeless, unique one and (3) the one for which lover’s life can be sacrificed. All these attributes of the love and the predispositions of the lover reveal a picture which is quite different from the reality of the object of love. Is she really the most beautiful woman? Is she really unique? Could not lover has possibly not met her and live a normal life?

There is a huge GAP between the description and the reality of the object of love. But before going into further discussion of that let’s look at our next subject of interest, that is, nationalism and see what our patriotic members of nation tell us.

A TRUE NATIONALIST is a good reader of high school national history textbooks. He believes that his nation is the greatest nation. That it is unique. In the case of Americans, nation happens to be an “exception” (American exceptionalism, so to say). Americans can’t make it but almost all other nations, especially non-immigrant ones, claim to be the oldest nation. Nation is eternal and shall survive forever, as many national anthems would say.

Nationalism is probably the richest one in terms of supply of icons, imagery, flags and anthems. We are asked to show utmost respect to the founding fathers, nation builders, leaders such as Kemal Ataturk of Turkey.

National historiography’s description of nation reveals a unique, timeless, eternal entity called nation. Just like the true lover, a true nationalist sees the world around him through the lenses of his object of love, that’s nation. “They are either with us or against us.” “We are the originators of civilization.” An interesting Turkish nationalist assertion in the early 1930’s was that all languages are derivatives of Turkish language. Something they called Sun Language Theory. Why would nationalists want so much to order the world in accordance with the centrality and supremacy of their own nation?

Furthermore, just like lover, the nationalist is also ready to die for his nation. He obeys all the requests of the nation and sacrifices his life for it. He becomes a martyr. In fact, you would be surprised at the spectrum of sacrifices that are expressed by the concept of martyrdom.

What interests us more here is how a lover or a nationalist engages in such a deep and strong type of connection with such objects as another person or an imagined community called nation. This pattern of attachment is not unique to love and nationalism. Football/soccer fandom also displays similar emotional engagements.

FANS OF TURKISH SOCCER TEAM GALATASARAY shout out something very strange when they are in the stadium for the match. They say WE CAME HERE TO DIE! Yes, that is what they say three times when they express their support for their team. Unfortunately, they do die in case of post-game fights between fans of competing teams. Don’t get me wrong. Turkey is just an example. It is worse in England. In South America and the rest of the world soccer is something that drives people crazy. It is pretty much a common phenomenon.

A good football fan would have colors of his team everywhere; on his screensaver, on his desk and the room. His team is the best team and the champion. He has special songs to sing and ready to change his life for his team.

IN THE THREE PHENOMENA that I have been talking about there is a common pattern. There is an obvious exaggeration on the part of lovers, nationalists and fans in their description of their objects of attachment. We all know that the lover could live without his love. We know that she is really not the most beautiful girl on campus. We know that our nation is really not that ancient and that we are not the strongest nation. We know that we are not superior to others. How can all teams be the best simultaneously? If one fan who claims that his team is champion is right then the other fans making the same claim for other teams are lying!?

Is lover lying when he utters all these fascinating complimentary words to his love? How can we explain the excesses in those descriptions? What do the GAPS between the descriptions and the realities of those objects of attachment tell us?

If we stick to the descriptions that we have (i.e.; unique, the best, timeless, worthy of worship) and rethink what is the best entity that fits to those descriptions we will end up with GOD. Yes, God. All the attributes of love or nation are indeed attributes of God.

WHAT IS INTERESTING HERE is the fact that we have a deep-seated strong need for attachment to something that transcends us: Something free of time and something omnipresent. We need to invest our emotions and feelings in something outside ourselves. The universality of religion despite variety of gods and goddesses highlights the centrality of this need for attachment. People have worshipped cows, idols, inanimate objects, other human beings etc. Today, human beings can live without god but not without deifying something.

Remember the STORY OF IBRAHIM who was searching for his Creator. He started with the moon and then sun. But later he decided that they are transient and cannot respond to his needs which are infinite. He listened to the voice deep inside himself and sticked to the description. He ended up with God as the object of such an attachment.

Usually one would not love so strongly SOMETHING THAT IS TRANSIENT. So we prepare the ground for our emotional attachment by pulling our object of attachment out of time. It becomes timeless and worthy of worship. Then we love in the way we love. We built WALLS OF ASSUMPTIONS TO FACILITATE OUR ATTACHMENTS. But for such strong attachments, often times we deceive ourselves about the reality. We hope and tend to think that the beauty we see in our love is eternal and permanent. If it is not, and it is not, then we behave AS IF it is. That is what results in the gap between our descriptions of our objects of love and the reality of them.

LOVE IS INEVITABLE but the addressee of love varies. Love, nationalism and football fandom are all misdirected letters sent to the wrong addresses. The consequences of such mistaken attachments are often painful. But I won’t delve into discussion of them here.

Having said all that DO I SUGGEST THAT WE SHOULD NOT FALL IN LOVE or we should not be patriotic or we should not support Wolverines (Michigan football team)? The answer is an absolute NO! We can and we usually do fall in love. But for healthier “attachments” and for painless encounters we need to be realistic. Our experiences of such attachments suggest that we should connect to objects of love through their TRUE SUSTAINER. We should base our interest on a permanent ground not on ephemeral things. More importantly we should ask ourselves, why do I have such a strong need and desire to dedicate myself to something even if my objects of dedication mostly turn out to be not worthy of my commitment.

The challenge that we all face at daily basis is the existential challenge that Prophet Ibrahim experienced. We love things but they are transient, unworthy of that love. The depth of our love indicates presence of an object of love worthy of worship. It is only through discovery of that TRUE OBJECT OF LOVE that we can find ultimate peace of mind and heart. It is only then that we can turn the transient beauties into permanent ones. All we need is to recognize the reality and attribute the source of beauty to its proper place. After all, Juliet and Leila can’t replace God but God can provide timelessness to their beauties.


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