L’Infâme: FIFA Frippery
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, March 5, 2007
Asmahan Mansour is an 11-year-old Canadian Muslim who two years ago, on her own, decided to start wearing the hijab, a common head scarf that covers the hair but not the face. Variations of the hijab are worn across many religions, Christianity included (to this day you won’t catch a traditional Christian woman accepting in the hills of Lebanon communion without a head scarf, though according to the everlasting rules of religious prejudice, neither would you catch that same woman calling it a hijab). Many a Catholic nun’s head gear is, color and constrictedness aside, indistinguishable from the hijab. At any rate: Asmahan Mansour, our 11-year-old Canadian (whose mother bears the overwhelmingly Catholic name of Maria), is also a striker on a competitive soccer team based in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, in the province of Ontario. Asmahan has played soccer, and freely worn the hijab while playing soccer, whenever she’s played in Ontario. The province’s soccer federation has no problem with the scarf.
On February 25, Asmahan and her team were in a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, playing in a pretty big soccer tournament. When Asmahan took the field, a referee who happened to be Muslim declared that she would not be allowed to play with the headscarf. Too dangerous. Was the referee worried that Asmahan’s Muslim appearance might get a Sunni-Shia riot going in the stands? Was he worried about Islamophobic reactions from Quebecers, who not long ago admitted to being distinctly racist? Was he worried that a rogue gang of FBI agents straying over from nearby Vermont might spot the headscarf, mistake Asmahan for an immediate danger to national security and render her to Afghanistan for a little torture (for her) and recreation (for her torturers)?
No, no and, surprisingly, no. The referee was worried that Asmahan might strangle herself with her hijab. So he ordered it off her head, or Asmahan off the field. Asmahan chose to walk off the field and, wonderfully, saw several of her teammates follow. That is true team spirit. There’s no way the hijab could be termed dangerous, not with logic and common sense informing whatever lurked beneath the referee’s receding hairline, not with a few decades of hijab-wearing girls and women playing the sport, including in world-class championships sponsored by FIFA, the international football federation and Vatican of the sport. (It would be interesting for a prospective doctoral student to study how many soccer girls have suffered whiplash or have reenacted the scalping portions of the Battle of Little Bighorn from ponytail mishaps).
Asmahan’s coach pulled his team from the competition in protest of the ref’s budgelessness. The “incident” became Canada’s talk of the moment, although not so much south of the border where, for all the many regressive things going on since 2001, hijab idiocies have not been among them: women and girls get to wear the thing wherever they please, schools, churches, voting booths, soccer fields and the back seats of daddy’s fogged up SUV included. Montreal, one of the most multicultural cities on the planet, appears less accommodating. The referee’s decision was upheld by the local soccer ruling body, scarfed as it was by a different kind of regressive dress. The decision was appealed to the International Football Association Board, a more than hundred-year-old board that determines all the rules of the game. And on Saturday the board concluded, in Manchester, that the hijab ban stands. It cited Law 4, which states that players “must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).” Again: how the hijab can be termed dangerous, except in those utterly bigoted perceptions, is beyond logic, especially since FIFA has never objected to players wearing the damn things elsewhere. So Asmahan is out of luck, unless the folks in Quebec loosen up. This, incidentally, is not meant as a defense of the hijab, a form of dress I consider, like any religiously proscribed dress, to be superstitious, pointless, and unfailingly regressive. In this case it’s also sexist, as the hijab finds its origins in the scriptural assumption that modesty is women’s wont. All of that is besides the point: Precisely when they’re not inflicted on others, personal beliefs in Versace or the hijab are nobody’s business but the wearer’s.
Too bad for soccer in Quebec. Back on the field on Saturday, somewhere in Ottawa, Asmahan and her hijab scored two goals. No word on whether headers played a part.