May 5, 2014 By Habeeb

The Curious Case of Fawad Ahmad

Fawad Ahmed

The term cricket yardstick says we don’t play games merely on grounds.  Spectators matter. So do spectators moving like waves in tune not only with each run scored but also with each moment which placates their ego. They have collective subconscious, which sets the behavioral norm of each player and determines the shapes and contours of the insignia on her T-shirt. The nationalistic, racist and exclusivist ethos of spectators, whom sport feeds the emotional vitamins religions are not able to feed in mechanically secularized societies, discipline ‘the wayward’ and ‘selfishly asocial’ players.

AmartyaSen realizes how such a yardstick can be detrimental to a polyphonic society he envisages: “Political value of pluralism has much to do with acceptance – that indeed is the domain in which swikriti” (which Sen translates as acceptance) “delivers a lot (This is indeed a central issue in ‘multiculturalism’ which has become a matter of much contention in contemporary Europe and America. The denial of swikriti can be illustrated, for example, by the persecution of Turkish immigrants in Germany and by Lord Tebbit’s more amiable ‘cricket yardstick’, to wit, you cannot be accepted to be truly settled in England unless you support the English cricket team in test matches.)” (AmartyaSen, Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity-Farrar, Straus and Giroux I9 Union Square West, New York Iooo3)

In India, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal found cricket as an apt metaphor which tells patriotic nationalists from the unruly Pak Paramours from among the Indian mass. So, ironically, they did not give a chance for the Pak fans among the Indians a chance to root for the green shirts. Since both the teams have the capacity to defeat the other, Indian nationalism of the kind the Hindutva brigades vouch for could not brook a moment when Pakistan win. So they used to dig up pitches and threaten the players from across of the border.

Cricket yardstick, which was founded in England, is being applied in cricket playing nations in various forms and colours. This might help us read the recent furor over a decision by Fawad Ahmad, the new entrant to the Australian cricket team, of not wearing the beer sponsor’s logo. Fawad Ahmad is the second Muslim as well as the second Pakistan born cricketer in the Australian cricket team. He has arrived in Australia from Pakistan as an asylum seeker. It is said that the Cricket Australia had to intervene to get the federal regulations so tweaked that Fawad gets permanent citizenship – a step towards his being selected to the team. Fawad opted not to wear the logo of the sponsor company which manufactures beers. Though some Tweeted their resentment over the player’s decision, Cricket Australia backed him up, saying ‘it is fully supportive of Fawad’s personal beliefs and he is a valued and popular member of the Australian cricket team and the wider cricket community.’

But some elements in the Australian society reacted to Fawad’s and CA’s personal choices, describing them as racist. The first Tweet appeared, sarcastically noting that Fawad replaced the beer logo with the logo of ‘explosives.’ (Does it signify that Muslims’ avoidance of ‘civilized behaviors like drinking and gambling pours out of their repressed subconscious in the form of wanton violence like bombing?). Former cricketer Doug Walters joined the fray, Tweeting that “if he doesn’t want to wear the team gear, he should not be part of the team. Maybe if he doesn’t want to be paid, that’s okay”.There are many takers for Doug Walters’ argument, including former rugby international David Campese.

The argument that drinking and teetotalism can be seen as a character of a race is to be strongly contested. We can say Islam abhors wine. That does not mean Muslims are all teetotalers. Muslim cricketers who wear the beer logo do not become non-Muslims. Normatively, a Muslim when s/he drinks ceases to be a Muslim. But to become a Muslim is not as much a state as being part of a race. So by merely drinking, someone can’t be said to have fallen out of the Muslim race, but to have done something which the faith s/he sticks to does strongly advises against and should abstain from. Only when someone consciously and openly flouts the prescription of the faith by drinking, he can be said to have opted out of the fold.  We used to call a Muslim drinker named Beeran in our countryside Beer-an (The first syllable does not stop like ‘bee’ but ‘beer’). The joke has subtle racist undertones, since his personal choices was thus equated with his being outside the fold of a race and being part of another race and as no non-Muslim drinkers were thus jocularly nicknamed.

Do the detractors of Fawad Ahmed implicitly suggest that alcohol is intrinsically part of the Australian society and culture from which he was not supposed to break away? Racism here occurs the other way around when they equate his decision with a deviation from the standard racial ethos. In fact, cultural standardization is rampant in the down under, where there is a strong right-wing, Islamophobic current which thinks by way of homogenizing culture. One can think of the positive reception by the Australian ruling administration of the French government’s decision to ban headscarves.  In what can be termed as a similar incident as that of Fawad, the legendary Dean Jones – the swashbuckling Australian batsman whose big fan I was – called South African cricketer Hashim Amla ‘the terrorist’ during his stint as a commentator. In fact, on another occasion Hashim Amla has opted not to use the Castle logo in his T-shirt. But there was not so much furor over the decision in South Africa as there is in Australia. India’s Parvez Rasool hid the liquor brand logo while he played for Pune Warriors. The choice of these players was not interpreted as being deviant from racial, national or collective ethos. One can guess that the right wing in these countries is not as pervasive as it is in Australia.

Wearing logo on the dress one wears signifies her tacit approval of what the logo symbolizes. Can one be receptive to swastika in a T-shirt if a Nazi fanatic sponsors a cricket team? Similarly, drinking and smoking do have multi-layered significations. It can symbolize hippie, apolitical counter culture on the cover of a music album but it poses the message of health hazard in a public interest advertisement. Liquor in the T-shirt of a cricketer means that drinking, not teetotaling, is the basic element of a brave, brilliant, and adventurous life of cricketer. If this message was not specially meant for communication, a liquor baron would not have spent millions on it. A cricketer wants to wean himself away from this generalized meaning.  Since cricket is much more than advertising and other yardsticks, his is a rebellious choice to communicate that teetotaling, not drinking, is part of a cricketer’s life. And that choice comes out of his religion. If we don’t shut him and his faith from cricket, we have no right to shut his choices out.

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