Enemy games

In the end, the terror attack dreaded by the organizers of the World Cup in South Africa took place thousands of kilometers away, in Kampala, Uganda. The double bombing last Sunday, claimed by Somali Islamist fighters, was aimed at Uganda, as it supports the tottering government in Mogadishu against the fanatical Shabab organization. But it was also aimed at soccer: The 73 dead were watching the World Cup final at an Ethiopian-themed restaurant and at a rugby club. Uganda and Ethiopia are both targets of the Shabab, which holds a greater part of Somalia than its government, as they are both members of an African force propping up the government. Soccer is a target because, according to them, it is «a Satanic act» that corrupts Muslims. Shabab is an al-Qaida subsidiary in the Horn of Africa region. Like all the attacks inspired by Osama bin Laden’s organization, the most recent was heavy in symbolism. The only unexpected aspects were that the Shabab had never before carried out an attack beyond Somalia’s borders and that Uganda had never been subject to such an attack, despite being in the heart of a region rife with tension. Uganda also plays a vigorous part in military intervention (either unilaterally or as part of a larger regional force) in neighboring Sudan, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, since early 2007, Somalia. So far, it hadn’t suffered an attack like al-Qaida’s coordinated bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which cost the lives of 240 people and were a warmup to the September 11, 2001 attacks. With al-Qaida’s hard logic, the attack on Uganda seems unavoidable, given the terror group’s efforts to establish an Islamic state wherever it can, and its fierce determination to punish its enemies. Reuters quoted Sheikh Yusuf Isse, one of the Shabab’s leaders, saying: «Uganda is an important country of infidels, which supports the so-called government of Somalia… We know that Uganda is opposed to Islam and we are very happy about what happened in Kampala.» The sheikh was ecstatic about the success of the attack. «That is the best news we have ever heard,» he said. The timing, however, was certainly not a coincidence and it shows the larger dimensions of the Uganda-Islamist conflict. Photographs from the crime scene show the collision of two worlds. In many pictures, we see pretty women lying dead where they were seated, the marks of roller bearings and shrapnel a wild red wound on dark skin. They wear light blouses and tight jeans. Beer bottles lie on the ground, among white plastic chairs lit up by the photographers’ flashes. They were in a crowd enjoying something that they would never have under the regime that the Shabab is trying to establish next door: personal freedom, beer and soccer. The oppression of women and the prohibition of alcohol can be found in many parts of the world and many civilizations. But the hatred for football and other sports seems to be a trademark of the more fanatic Muslims of our time. In parts of Somalia under the Shabab’s control, people are not allowed to play soccer or even watch it on television. According to reports from Mogadishu, at least two people were executed for watching World Cup games on television, while local football officials have been kidnapped and tortured. Soccer, the Shabab claims, is a satanic occupation which seduces young men away from waging holy war. This fanaticism is the same as that of Afghanistan’s Taliban who banned kite flying, who destroyed the giant Buddhas of Bamyan as well as masterpieces in Afghanistan’s museums in 2001. For once, we must agree with the fanatics. They are right: football does seduce – not only the young but also the old, men and women, players and fans. The slaughter in Kampala reminds us that the great game is not that which is played in the stadiums: It is between those who find in a game the joys and sorrows of life, and those who serve only the absolute, who want to impose their fanatical views on all, without a game, without a rival team.

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