Good Intentions Perhaps, But What Were They Thinking?
By Farish A. Noor
There are blunders and there are blunders. There are blunders that are done
out of ignorance and are, upon hindsight, pardonable. But there are also
blunders that tell us more about the blunderers themselves and are at best
laughable and at worse deplorable.
The recent fiasco to come out of the deserts of Iraq falls in the latter
category and tells us a lot about the thinking going on among the real
powers-that-be in Iraq today; namely the Americans. When American soldiers
dropped footballs to Iraqi children from their attack helicopters, few of
them realised what the repercussions might be. Little did they realise that
not every Iraqi – football crazy some of them might be – would be all that
happy to receive free footballs with the flags of the world on them, when
one of those flags happen to be that of Saudi Arabia with the Kalimah, or
Muslim declaration of faith, on it.
Needless to say, some of the less tolerant Iraqi clerics were not about to
take the matter lightly as they pointed out that the footballs would have
been kicked around, and at some point or another an Iraqi child was more
than likely to kick the Saudi flag and thus the Kalimah as well. Tempers
flared, the footballs were confiscated by irate Muslims and the Americans
have once again had to flee the scene with egg on their face.
One should not go so far as to accept the claim that this was yet another
deliberate attack on Islam and insult to Muslims. After all if the Americans
wanted to insult Muslims they have other means to do so, like bombing their
countries back to the middle-ages and reducing their capitals to burning
embers. The likelihood was that this was a public relations move that went
embarrassingly wrong, to the detriment of all concerned- not least the
children of Iraq who could do with some decent toys to play with after more
than half a decade of civil strife and the daily horror of having to live in
a country torn apart first by a foreign invasion and now by increasing
However one needs to ask the obvious question: Who on earth advised the
Americans on this move, and did nobody check to see if the Saudi flag was on
the ball itself? This leads one to suspect that the grand plan to bring
about regime change and stability to Iraq is and has always been an in-house
matter, where all decisions from grandest to the most trivial are the
exclusive purview of the self-proclaimed ‘liberators’ of Iraq. Was not a
single Muslim consulted on the matter, or do the opinions and advice of
Muslims no longer count in the calculation of the Americans when dealing
with the Iraq issue?
Faced with this latest debacle, one can only sympathise with the plight of
the Iraqi government and the leader of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who
in his latest outburst has asked the Americans to come to their senses and
realise the limits to America’s own power in the region.
The leaders of Iraq have asked again and again for the USA and the
International community to heed their advice and opinions, and have warned
that by encouraging the political activism of the component groups and
religious communities of the country they risk tearing Iraq apart. Now, with
a government that is almost devoid of support from the Arab Sunni
communities, it would appear as if Prime Minister Maliki’s warnings have
come home to roost and the situation in Iraq can only deteriorate further.
The ridiculous farce that is the so-called ‘football controversy’ is just
another instance in a long catalogue of blunders and errors that could have
been avoided had the USA and international community give a modicum of
credit to the ground-level intelligence and experience of the politicians of
Iraq, who have, after all, been living in the country long before the
Americans were flown in by helicopters. Yet as many observers have noted,
empires with long-term overreach ambitions seldom heed the advice of others,
and seldom still learn from their own mistakes in the past. One is reminded
of the sentence from the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, when the narrator wryly
notes: “We shoot them up and bomb them, then we give them band-aids”.
Dropping footballs from helicopters can only serve as a PR stunt at best
when the Iraqis know that those very same helicopters can also rain death to
the enemies of the United States. How many more blunders will it take before
the administration in Washington realises that it can only bring about a
peaceful solution and a safe exit from Iraq if and when it takes the Iraqis
themselves into confidence? Free footballs do not a liberation movement
make, and when those footballs carry the Kalimah on them as well then the
stakes in the game can only be raised higher.