zondag 12 augustus 2012

Fair Play

For fourteen days we were experiencing the fever of sports performances, in the spirit of global brotherhood and fair play. And the world enjoyed it.

But I can not resist making a few comments, it’s probably to do with my underdeveloped interest in sports. What keeps me hooked in particular, is the often unthinkingly acclaimed concept of ‘fair play’. 

Because fair play is a concept that belongs to winners, it is used mainly by those already in control. Within communities that are - politically and economically - comfortable, losers are still relative winners and in such a situation fair play thrives.

That explains why the term stems from the British Empire, which at the time of the founding of the Olympics was at the height of its power. But, says Professor of sports history Tony Collins, this gives an indication of the illusory aspects of fair play: “The British expanded their empire by force and manipulation. The idea of fair play can only be maintained if you are the dominant world power”.

Also in politics we cling to fair play: to the idea that reasonable people talk to each other in a reasonable way and look after their interests in rivalry with others while respecting the rules of the game.

Daniel Gordis articulates these thoroughly courteous and optimistic view of politics in a retrospective on his youth: “In the American suburban home in which I was raised, we were taught that war was an aberration. Conflict is solvable. If war persisted, the both sides had been less bold than they needed to be. If Americans and North Vietnamese wanted to, they could figure out a way to end the conflict; the same was clearly true of Jews and Arabs”. And then he poses the question whether one, as with fair play, must not belong to the winners already in order to afford oneself such a high moral view of conflict management and politics.

Gordis comes to these thoughts after his move to Israel. “The Middle East is not a Hebrew-speaking version of the comfortable, safe, conflict-free suburban Baltimore in which I had been raised”. Perhaps completely different rules apply there.

Those thoughts are strengthened with him by the recent death of Yitzhak Shamir, the uncompromising right-wing Israeli Prime Minister of the nineties. Gordis has mixed feelings when retrospecting his life. He knows that in life already Shamir was not very popular because of his staunch views, and for his funeral hardly any interest appeared to exist.

But, Gordis observes, Shamir did not stem from the comfortable suburb with its fair play. He had very different experiences with the world. His father escaped the Nazis only to be murdered, when he returned to his birthplace Ruzhany in Belarus, by his former neighbors. Shamir could not help but see the world as hostile to Jews, against which Jews should stand vigilant and combative.

Therefore, Shamir at the time of the British mandate until 1948 was not inclined to let his terrorism against the British to be taken away from him because it would be unfair play. Following the assassination attempt against Harold MacMichael, the Commissioner of the British Mandate, for example, he said later without any regrets: “There are those who say that to kill Martin (a British sergeant) is terrorism, but to bomb civilians is professional warfare. But I think it is the same from the moral point of view”.

At this moment, says Gordis, Israel belongs to the winners. “Ours is not the world that Shamir and his generation inherited. Ours is a world in which the Jews are secure, and largely safe”, and that is in no small measure due to controversial actions of Shamir, Begin and Ariel Sharon.

The irony of the story is that Israel, now it is relatively comfortable, in its turn makes play with fair play: there will be no talking with terrorists (read Palestinians).

It's not fair.

Also see The Green Line and the Red Line