According to AS, a Real Madrid fan club in Iraq was targeted by Islamic terrorists during a meeting, with 16 people being killed, and 20 more injured. The attack occurred in the town of Balad, about 75 miles north of Baghdad, where at least 93 people were killed in three car bombings yesterday. Gunmen wielding AK-47s entered the cafe where about 50 club members were meeting and began firing, leaving a grisly, blood-soaked scene.
The president of the group, Ziad Subhan, told AS that the Islamic terrorists “don’t like football, they think it’s anti-Muslim. They just carry out attacks like this. This is a terrible tragedy.”
That ISIS are the kind of guys who think everything that makes life even slightly worth living is anti-Muslim is as wretched as it is, at this point, axiomatic. It’s a blinkered and blood-soaked worldview that makes the simple act of watching soccer one of almost unimaginable bravery. It makes the world as parched as the land. But the story also has this.
Real Madrid is aware of the attack and released a statement expressing condolences for the victims and their families. The team will wear black armbands during tomorrow’s match against Deportivo.
Is this the first time that Muslim victims of ISIS have received international support and sympathy on the sporting level? The sympathy gap was made obvious to everyone after the back-to-back attacks on Beirut and Paris in November, which The Atlantic more accurately called “the empathy gap.” There is of course the idea that simply by being Muslims, they have brought it on themselves, and are victims, sure, but somehow also culpable. But more than that, a feeling that those lives are disposable. Partly because they are Muslim, but also because we assume that they are going to die, just from living over there. It’s an unspoken and unexamined feeling that they don’t feel pain, or that their losses aren’t as wrenching as ours. (TNC talked about this with the lives of black men in Between the World and Me).
So it is easy to be cynical and say “ok, so their lives matter only because of sports, right?” But if it is a shared love of sports that lets people recognize a shared humanity, then all the better for sports. Let’s just hope we remember this when people who aren’t cheering for a team are slaughtered.