In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 7 December 2017 announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the football world took notice. It is notable that fans in both Scotland and Turkey—two culturally distinct locations—protested the Jerusalem decision in a similar manner. In Edinburgh, visiting fans of Glasgow Celtic unveiled a banners that read “Jerusalem is Palestine” and “Fuck Trump”. Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkish giants Galatasaray took to the field for their 10 December 2017 match against Akhisar Belediyespor with a banner reading “Jerusalem is Our Red Line” while footballers Younes Belhanda, Yasin Oztekin, and Sofiane Feghouli celebrated a goal in their team’s 4-2 victory by prostrating in prayer in the Islamic fashion. As one banner in the Turk Telekom Arena read—quoting the fourth Muslim caliph Ali—“If you cannot prevent persecution, announce it to everyone!”. Of course, the religious undertones of the Turkish fans’ message are unmistakable while the secular undertones of the Scottish fans’ message are equally unmistakable. They are both examples of global one-dimensional thought.

 

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In Edinburgh, visiting fans of Glasgow Celtic unveiled a banners that read “Jerusalem is Palestine” and “Fuck Trump”. Image Courtesy of: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-11-celtic-fc-supporters-fly-jerusalem-is-palestine-banner-at-football-match

 

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 “Western fan groups—like, perhaps, Celtic’s fan groups—have long supported the Palestinian cause (they have been fined by UEFA before for displaying Palestinian flags in the stadium)”. Images Courtesy of: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-11-celtic-fc-supporters-fly-jerusalem-is-palestine-banner-at-football-match

 

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Turkish giants Galatasaray took to the field for their 10 December 2017 match against Akhisar Belediyespor with a banner reading “Jerusalem is Our Red Line” (Bottom) while footballers Younes Belhanda, Yasin Oztekin, and Sofiane Feghouli celebrated a goal in their team’s 4-2 victory by prostrating in prayer in the Islamic fashion (Top).

 

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As one banner in the Turk Telekom Arena read—quoting the fourth Muslim caliph Ali—“If you cannot prevent persecution, announce it to everyone!”. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.ntv.com.tr/galeri/spor/galatasarayli-futbolculardan-kudus-mesaji,AEi4AlvU4kST3TVkeL9BEA/SMIgS97KR0KWQ2ZEhy_7Eg

 

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The Role of Religion in Turkish Society has Slowly Increased During the AKP’s rule. This has, of course, affected the average citizen. The top image is a flyer sent to a friend’s house scolding them for “celebrating” Christmas in a Muslim Country (this despite the fact that they have a church. The Second Image is one designed to show some of the feelings of average Turks; the Graffito reads “Sharia is the Only Way [forward]”. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

But this is where the similarities between the fan groups end, for the difference lies in the fact that the message of the Celtic fans was independent; the message of the Galatasaray fans was mandated by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF):

Turkish footballers and fans protested US President Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, unfurling pro-Palestine banners at domestic football matches.

According to Turkish media, protests followed the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) requesting all clubs playing in the Super League, 1st League, 2nd League and 3rd League to open Jerusalem banners while coming out on to the field for their matches this week.

(Baber 2017)

The choreography made by Super League side Yeni Malatyaspor one week later is a perfect example; on 18 December 2017—before their match with Galatasaray—fans of Yeni Malatyaspor revealed a choreography with an image of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque along with the message “Jerusalem is ours”. So why have the football fans in both Scotland and Turkey become so politicized? The answer is somewhere between Zeitgeist and political pressure. While Western fan groups—like, perhaps, Celtic’s fan groups—have long supported the Palestinian cause (they have been fined by UEFA before for displaying Palestinian flags in the stadium) as part of Western European liberal discourse, Turkish fans have tended to be less politicized–generally speaking–regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

 

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Fans of Yeni Malatyaspor revealed a choreography with an image of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque along with the message “Jerusalem is ours”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.malatyasonsoz.com.tr/haber-47481-Taraftar_Kudus_Bizimdir_Dedi__Gonulleri_Fethetti.html

 

It seems that the appearance of this topic in Turkish Stadiums currently can be tied to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent identity crisis. As Erdogan looks to rebrand himself as a “nationalist”, he has continued his attempts to mold Turkey into a regional hegemon in the Middle East. Indeed, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) made a decision on 8 December 2017 to require all professional clubs in the Turkish league system (from the Super League to the fourth-tier third division) to enter the field with a banner reading “JERUSALEM IS OUR RED LINE” (a quote from Mr. Erdogan himself) . It is unlikely that this decision was made without political pressure. At the same time, it is clear that Mr. Erdogan’s rhetoric—both inside and outside of the stadium—is directed at international observers. He is not a nationalist; rather he is continually pursuing a globalist agenda that focuses on the world to the detriment of Turkey’s national interests. As a part of this agenda, Mr. Erdogan has recently began directing more threats toward the United States government while also looking to shore up support at home.

In Istanbul, new billboards have been put up that showcase the “righteousness” of Mr. Erdogan’s policies. Members of the Sivil Dayanisma Platformu (Social Solidarity Platform—SDP), a pro-Erdogan and pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) civil society group, are behind these billboards. One reads “To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Another reads “Not a World Where the Mighty are Righteous; A World Where the Righteous are Mighty”. As could be expected, pro AKP and pro Erdogan media have celebrated Erdogan’s message to various degrees.

 

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“To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ayhan_ogan

 

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“To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Image Courtsey of: https://twitter.com/sivildp

 

Yeni Akit columnist Ahmet Gulumseyen also celebrated the football teams’ message (via their “red line” banners) in his 13 December 2017 column. In his column, Mr. Gulumseyen slams the football fans for their “divisive” role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests (Author’s Note: The football fans were not divisive, as I noted here) while celebrating their “correct” attitude regarding the topic of Jerusalem; apparently for Mr. Gulumseyen the football fans are only useful insofar as they toe the party (the AKP) line. Of course, this is a fascistic line of thought which aims to neuter the social power of football fans. That such a position should come out of Yeni Akit is not surprising; it is—after all—known for its hate speech . According to Al-Monitor, Yeni Akit was cited as one of the major Turkish newspapers most guilty of engaging in hate speech against Armenians, Jews, and Christians. While Mr. Gulumseyen’s article does not constitute hate speech, it is an example of propaganda designed to influence–and perhaps silence–Turkish football fans!

At the same time—and despite Yeni Akit’s support of Mr. Erdogan—it is clear that Mr. Erdogan is as much of a nationalist as Yeni Akit is a newspaper operating with the best interests of the Turkish nation in mind. Just like Yeni Akit denigrates Turkish citizens on the basis of their ethnic identity, Mr. Erdogan continually divides his own people. As Al-Monitor reports, a pair of

new decrees published in the Official Gazette on Dec. 24 grant immunity from prosecution for any person, regardless of whether they were acting in any official capacity, deemed to have been resisting “terrorists” or attempts to overthrow the government during the [15 July 2016] coup [attempt]. Most controversially, it grants similar immunity to the self-appointed guardians acting against anything that could be construed as a “continuation” of the coup attempt.

In effect, the government decree opens the door for vigilante justice; it is the kind of civil strife that the globalist logic encourages all over the world (in order to weaken national cohesion) and it is the kind of civil strife that we must resist if we value our countries and human lives. Clearly, the AKP are not nationalists. At the same time, the football fans are clearly not independent.

Ironically, it is the same case in Israel. Although much of the rhetorical discussion following Mr. Trump’s declaration has mentioned Jerusalem, there has been little discussion of Israeli society in the news. Football provides one small window onto Israeli society; specifically, the football club Beitar Jerusalem shows just how little independence exists among football fans in Israel.

The fans of Beitar proudly proclaim that they are “the most racist fans in the country”. While Beitar’s right-wing Israeli nationalism is certainly disconcerting to observers—to the point that fans left the stadium after one of the team’s first Muslim signings scored a goal for Beitar—it is not altogether surprising. After all, the club’s fans seem to be reflecting the national policies of Israel: Israel is swiftly becoming an apartheid state, and its Arab citizens are both separate and unequal. Thus, it should come as no surprise that one of the country’s leading football clubs has become a haven for racist sentiment. While some fan groups, like Beitar Nordia, have attempted to resist the racism of Beitar’s main fan group “La Familia” it is difficult. This is because, as Sean Oakley notes, “the complicity of Israel’s ruling class with the anti-Arab, Islamophobic bigotry of Beitar’s fanbase has real consequences”; after all, it is the continued division between Jews and Arabs which sustains Israel’s status as one of the worst examples of nationalism in the modern world: a racist form of exclusive ethnic nationalism. Given these examples, it is clear that both Turkish and Israeli fans are not independent of the whims of their respective governments; they are both at the mercy of the messages sent by their respective states. This kind of social control stifles the elements of football fandom which could challenge the state’s hegemony.

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Football provides one small window onto Israeli society; specifically, the football club Beitar Jerusalem shows just how little independence exists among football fans in Israel.. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Sports/Beitar-adopts-no-tolerance-policy-on-racism-485567

 

It should be noted that, since March of 2017, the Beitar club has taken a harsher stance vis-à-vis their racist fans. Still, it will be a difficult process. After all, in Israel, Palestinian football players are sometimes targeted by the state. As Dave Zirin of The Nation puts it, “If you degrade the national team [of Palestine], you degrade the idea that there could ever be a nation”. And it is not just the Israeli state that treats opposing footballers harshly; indeed, the cultural struggles of the region manifest themselves in football-related policies for other countries as well. In August of 2017, Iran condemned two Iranian nationals for just taking the field against an Israeli club while playing for a Greek side in the UEFA Europa League. Given the mutual animosity, it is difficult to envision a separation of politics and football in either Turkey or Israel in the near future.

U.S. President Donald Trump may have seen his recognition of Jerusalem as furthering America’s national interests, since he criticized the countries which voted against the U.S. decision in the U.N. for taking “hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then [voting] against us [the United States]”. While it is clear that “foreign aid” is inherently anti-nationalist (countries like the U.S. would be better off spending money on their own citizens, improving the lives of the impoverished African American and Hispanic communities, for instance, rather than spending on foreign adventures) it is also clear that Mr. Trump’s decision is a mix of low and high risk both domestically and internationally. Given that Jerusalem has, for years, been Israel’s de facto capital, the decision can be seen as low risk. Also, given that foreign aid has—for years—been a burden on the U.S., making a declaration that was bound to alienate most of the world provides a good opportunity for the U.S. to possibly absolve itself of foreign responsibilities (should the costs outweigh the benefits).

 

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View of the Rusting Subway System in New York City, seen from the Cross Bronx expressway on I-95 Southbound. Perhaps investing in  domestic Infrastructure could, indeed, be more profitable than expensive foreign aid campaigns. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

At the same time, of course, the decision has fueled anti-Americanism in the wider Middle east (as evidenced by the response from Turkish stadiums) and widened the rift between Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims (exacerbating the situation which gave Beitar fans their raison d’etre). While we will not immediately know how the fallout from Mr. Trump’s decision will effect the United States, we do know how the fallout has affected Turkish football: It has provided yet another opportunity for the Turkish state to influence the football fans through ideology, thus further dividing the country domestically while also silencing a significant portion of Turkish civil society in the name of a faux (and dangerous) form of exclusive nationalism.

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