«NO. 290 CONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE MUSCULAR JEW VS THE PALESTINIAN UNDERDOG JAMES M. DORSEY S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ...»
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CONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY:
THE MUSCULAR JEW VS THE PALESTINIAN UNDERDOG
JAMES M. DORSEY
S. RAJARATNAM SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
SINGAPORE9 APRIL 2015 About the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) was established in January 2007 as an autonomous school within the Nanyang Technological University. Known earlier as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies when it was established in July 1996, RSIS’ mission is to be a leading research and graduate teaching institution in strategic and
international affairs in the Asia Pacific. To accomplish this mission, it will:
Provide a rigorous professional graduate education with a strong practical emphasis Conduct policy-relevant research in defence, national security, international relations, strategic studies and diplomacy Foster a global network of like-minded professional schools Graduate Programmes RSIS offers a challenging graduate education in international affairs, taught by an international faculty of leading thinkers and practitioners. The Master of Science degree programmes in Strategic Studies, International Relations, Asian Studies, and International Political Economy are distinguished by their focus on the Asia Pacific, the professional practice of international affairs, and the cultivation of academic depth. Thus far, students from more than 50 countries have successfully completed one of these programmes. In 2010, a Double Masters Programme with Warwick University was also launched, with students required to spend the first year at Warwick and the second year at RSIS.
A select Doctor of Philosophy programme caters to advanced students who are supervised by senior faculty members with matching interests.
Research Research takes place within RSIS’ six components: the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS, 1996), the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR, 2004), the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS, 2006), the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (Centre for NTS Studies, 2008); the Temasek Foundation Centrefor Trade & Negotiations (TFCTN, 2008); and the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS, 2011). Research is also conducted in RSIS’ International Political Economy (IPE) Programme and Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme.
The focus of research is on issues relating to the security and stability of the Asia Pacific region and their implications for Singapore and other countries in the region.
The School has five endowed professorships that bring distinguished scholars and practitioners to teach and to conduct research at the school. They are the S. Rajaratnam Professorship in Strategic Studies, the Ngee Ann Kongsi Professorship in International Relations, the NTUC Professorship in International Economic Relations, the Bakrie Professorship in Southeast Asia Policy, and the Peter Lim Professorship in Peace Studies.
Collaboration with other professional schools of international affairs to form a global network of excellence is a RSIS priority. RSIS maintains links with other like-minded schools so as to enrich its research and teaching activities as well as learn from the best practices of successful schools.
Soccer threads itself as a red line through the 20 th century history of the Middle East and North Africa as independence populated the region with nation-states. Soccer was important to the leaders struggling for independence as a means to stake claims, develop national identity and fuel anti-colonial sentiment. For its rulers soccer was a tool they could harness to shape their nations in their own mould; for its citizenry it was both a popular form of entertainment and a platform for opposition and resistance.
The sport offers a unique arena for social and political differentiation and the projection of transnational, national, ethnic, sectarian, local, generational and gender identities sparking a long list of literature that dates back more than a century. 1 The sport also constitutes a carnivalesque event that lends itself to provocation of and confrontation with authority — local, national or colonial.2 ******************************* James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg in Germany, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
Soccer is about occupation and conquest, the occupation of an opponent’s territory and the conquest of his goal.3 The sense of confrontation is heightened with fans often segregated from one another in different sections of the stadium. “The playing field thus becomes a metaphor for the competition between communities, cities and nations: football focuses group identities,” said Iranian soccer scholar Houchang E. Chehabi.4 French Iranian soccer scholar Christian Bromberger noted that every match between rival towns, regions and countries took the form of a ritualised war, complete with anthems, military fanfares and banners wielded by fans who make up the support divisions and who 5 even call themselves “brigades”, “commandos”, “legions” and “assault troops”. Social scientist Janet Lever argued that in sports “nationalism is aroused by individual contestants but peaks over team sports… (It) peaks because many consider collective action a truer test of a country’s spirit than individual talent.”6 Little wonder that communities with contested identities and national leaders saw soccer, since its introduction to the Middle East and North Africa by colonial powers, as a key tool to shape their nations and promote modernity in a world in which according to political scientist Benedict Anderson “nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time.”7 The sport was initially employed as what sports scholar Mahfoud Amara described as the post-colonial tool par excellence “for party-state regimes in their projects of mobilizing populations around nation-state building and integration into the international bi-polar world system.” It has since then helped autocratic leaders maintain power while managing the transition of their economies from state-run to market-oriented. It did so in part by exploiting the fact that nations emerge, in the words of Turkish sociologist Dogu Ergil, out of the tireless global competition that determines dominance, submission and the hierarchy of nations. Success in sports increases the confidence of nations. Failure does the opposite, Ergil argued.8 Amara and Ergil’s insights are relevant in the context of ethnographer Anthony D. Smith’s emphasis on “common myths and memories” and “mass, public culture” as crucial elements of national consciousness and the realisation that the relationship between nationalism and sports is to a large degree determined in the political context.9 That context in turn is defined by the multifaceted nature of nationalism. “There is a very real difference between the nationalism of a well-established world 3 Tom Clark,. ‘Aspects of the Psychology of Games and Sports,’ British Journal of Psychology, 31-4 (1941), 279-293 4 Houchang E. Chehabi. “The Politics of Football in Iran” in ed. Fringe Nations in World Soccer, ed. Kausik Bandyopadhyay and Sabyasachi Mallick, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), 77 5 Christian Bromberger.. ‘Football as world-view and as ritual, French Cultural Studies,’. 6 (1995),. 293 - 311 6 Janet Lever, Soccer Madness: Brazil’s Passion for the World’s Most Popular Sport (Long Grove: Waveland Press, 1983), 29 7 Benedict Anderson. “Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, ( London: Verso, 1983) Kindle edition 8 Dogu Ergil. “On Football.” Today’s Zaman, July 19,2014 (accessed July 19, 2014) http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist/dogu-ergil/on-football_353397.html 9 Anthony D. Smith, “The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates About Ethnicity and Nationalism,” (London: Polity Press, 2000), 3 1 power and that of a submerged people… Inevitably there will also be a marked variation in the manner in which sport is used in such different contexts to promotes the nationalist cause,” noted sports scholar Alan Bairner.10 At the bottom line, sports and particularly soccer enabled post-colonial societies in the Middle East and North Africa to generate meaning and symbolism that gave imagined substance to an identity that differentiated the conceived nation from others and helped neutralise the threat posed by racial, ethnic, social, religious and regional identities they incorporated. At the same time, it allowed such sub-groups to differentiate themselves even though those sub-identities potentially would compete with the larger national identity.
As a result, sports in general and soccer in particular served historically in the Middle East and North Africa as a platform of opposition and resistance against colonial rulers and their local allies, and as a tool to project on the international stage a nation struggling to achieve independence. Given its 11 strength in producing various forms of distinction, sports frequently helped post-colonial Middle Eastern and North African societies mould multiple, often rival identities into one that encompassed the nation as a whole. It was simultaneously designed to help construct national myths and advance post-colonial modernisation and foreign policy goals.
Constructing National Identity through Sports
Construction of a deeply rooted national identity was often hampered by the fact that a significant number of nations in the region lacked the perception of a long-standing common history on which countries like Egypt, Turkey and Iran pride themselves or the wrenching, unifying experience of a vicious struggle for independence as in the case of Algeria. This deficit was reinforced by the emergence of neo-patriarchic autocracies across that region that viewed the population as immature subjects rather than full-fledged citizens. As a result, sports — soccer in particular — underperformed as a tool in moulding nations and promoting feelings of national solidarity in line with historian Eric Hobsbawm’s definition of nations as imagined or constructed entities with invented traditions.12 Nevertheless, Middle Eastern and North African examples of the political employment of sports to create national myths are myriad. Egypt, a regional sports powerhouse, claimed to have fathered soccer long before the British who are largely credited with the emergence of the sport. Ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s State Information Service asserted that ancient Egyptians had recorded th their knowledge of the game with inscriptions on the walls of temples that were discovered by the 5 century Greek historian Herodotus.13 In his memoire of a visit to Egypt titled “An Account of Egypt”, 14 10
Alan Bairner, “Sport, Nationalism and Globalization; European and North American Perspectives,” (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 2001), 164 11 Pierre Bordieu, “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, (London: Routledge, 1984), 211-212 12 Eric Hobshawm. Introduction / Mass-producing traditions: Europe 1870 – 1940 in Eric Hobshawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1-4 / 263-307 13 State Information Service. 2009. History of the Egyptian football game, accessed December 31, 2009 http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/Templates/Articles/tmpArticles.aspx?ArtID=1746 2 Herodotus made no mention of the inscriptions or of ancient Egyptians playing something akin to soccer. He also failed to refer to assertions that he saw young men kicking around a ball made of goatskin and straw. 15 Zionists like the Shah of Iran and the Ottoman Empire’s reformist Young Turks saw sports as a way to mould their citizenry in a nationalist image. For the Zionists, the goal was the new, muscular Jew.