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I am not a soccer fan, but I was drawn to watch the last half of the World Cup match between

Italy and France on Sunday, July 9. Part of the magnetic pull was Zinedine Zidane, a player whom I had read about briefly and whose profile seemed so unique that I sat down to watch him play his last game, a great soccer player who exemplified the best in sportsmanship, civility and citizenship. In my quest to understand the head-butt incident I ended up making an analogy between him and billion or so Muslims who subscribe to the same faith that he does. Zidane, the son of Muslim Algerian immigrants to France, rose to prominence in the soccer world despite the many obstacles in his way. He came to be loved by the French, in fact, to be considered quintessentially French. He proudly bore the hopes and dreams of his nation on his shoulders, delivered well when he won the World Cup for France in 1998. He is often spoken of in terms of endearment, lovingly called Zissou by his French countrymen, respected by colleagues and opponents alike for his civility and restraint. In this World Cup he brilliantly carried France all the way to the finals against Italy. This was to be his last match before retirement, and France was proudly holding its breath for a sendoff that would have honored his distinguished career as a soccer great. Instead, the world was shocked when towards the end of the game, Zidane, apparently after trading some words with another Italian player, turned, took two steps forward and head-butted him in the chest, sending him falling backwards to the ground. I was shocked and alarmed. Shocked at his conduct in such a public space and alarmed at what the implications would be. I felt betrayed by this great man, who I never knew, yet whom I felt drawn to after reading about him. I immediately thought that he must have been provoked. Materazzi must have said something disgusting to make Zidane react in such a manner. At the same time, I felt that out of respect to his own self and his legacy, and to the millions of people who regard him in high esteem, he should have shown restraint, no matter how ugly the remarks were. It was then that it occurred to me that what I had just witnessed was a microcosm of the Muslim Ummah, played out in a soccer field before the eyes of the whole world. For me Zidane was the Muslim Ummah, with past glory and achievement crowning his forehead, leading his people to victory, achievement and a respectable place among nations. His opponents were bent on striking him down, and one in particular, Materrazi was an embodiment of the monstrous powers who are bent on occupying, provoking and stereotyping the Muslim Ummah. And like the Ummah today, the provocation was too much for him. He snapped and did something uncharacteristic because he felt victimized. Perhaps he was called a "dirty

terrorist" as some report, or his sister or mother were called by some degrading name as others report. Whatever it was, he lost all sense of where he was, his legacy, his future and the difference he could have made to the game, and fell victim to the deliberate provocative assaults on his person. I see his reaction as analogous to the protests, flag burnings and other emotional outbursts committed by Muslims against others who may have deliberately provoked them. Like Zidane, we shock the world when we do things uncharacteristic of our faith, and we betray those who see in us a ray of hope for civilization. Like Zidane, the Muslim Ummah has suffered provocations and deliberate attempts to tarnish its image, despite great civilizational achievements for a millennium. And like Zidane, we snap when we cannot take it any more. Like Zidane's suffering of an alleged abuse, we also suffer the abuse of the desecration of our holy symbols, occupation of our lands, colonization, genocide and murder of innocent civilians. And like him, the temptation is to turn our back on history, our legacy of patience and restraint and to lash out without considering whether our actions are ethical or strategic. Kidnappings, bombing of innocent civilians, destruction of property after the cartoon episode are all images that have come to characterize the Ummah.

As Zidane walked away from the field, past the trophy that could have been his, I thought: like him, will the Ummah get red-carded into oblivion, leaving behind a great legacy and squandering our opportunities to make a difference for humanity's future?

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