When players took a knee they said ‘gesture politics’ and when Raheem buys a car the country goes into a crisis of conscience.
When I was attending high school in Greece, there were two Ahmeds in the class and from what I remember in the entire building. I was the curly-haired Ahmed and he was the I guess not-so-curly haired Ahmed.
Then someone took the executive decision to change some vowels in our names so one was Ahmed and the other was Ahmad. I eventually became Achment but that's a story for another time.
Muslim problems I know right!
But as we grew older it was not as much the hair and the spelling of our name that separated me and my good pal but rather our behaviour. No doubt he was far more sensible than I.
One day the fire alarm went off at school, it was heard that Ahmed pulled it, the school went nuts! Everyone evacuated, scenes at the front door and you know that feeling when the entire adult population is trying to locate, lecture and punish you at 9 am. The moment had arrived live in the parking lot.
I went down the Shaggy path and said ‘It wasn't me'. There were doubts, a lot of doubts until Ahmad intervened and said it was him.
“I accidentally triggered it with my elbow as I was passing by”. He was admittedly a much taller Ahmed and the story seemed just about right, and so the day went on as if nothing ever happened.
When I was riding the bus home, I thought to myself “phew that was close”, Mum would have had a laugh with me if they called her. She was much scarier than my headmaster. Then it got a bit deeper. I thought why were they so sure it was me?
Later in life, I was called into a room at my university by one of my favourite lecturers who told me that he had reported me for plagiarism and that I'll probably be kicked out of the course.
I was bewildered, I rejected the claim and insisted that I hadn't plagiarised anything because I was actually reading books and the internet to me was as familiar territory as the Himalayas are to a nomadic desert tribesman in the Sahara.
He was not convinced, shaking his head as if I had sealed my fate with my own hands. In a last gasp of desperation I asked him to show me the plagiarism report, he proceeded to point at the percentage it said next to the file.
There was a problem though, it was another bloke called Ahmed.
I told him “I think you got the wrong person. I'm the other Ahmed, the one with a distinction, right there look you gave me the highest grade, no plagiarism, no problem.”
His face turned red. He apologized and asked me if I could keep it between us. The other Ahmed was much more mature and sensible than me. He also did not plagiarise and we both graduated happily ever after. The only plagiarism we ever did was copy-paste our first names.
The moral of these small and to many maybe perhaps insignificant stories is that they represent a facet of a very complex judgment game that we like to play in Europe where I was born and raised.
Let's call it the two Ahmed’s games; the one who is sensible is the one we give the benefit of the doubt, the one with the funny haircut, “troubled” attitude or what have you, scapegoat him.
It's actually a much more organic process than it sounds, sometimes it only takes a look to decide the whole thing; a person's fate that is.
Why so fatalist? Because there’s power dynamics involved that by the looks of things we have to wait centuries to balance again. A near-impossible task to manufacture equality especially when judgement and marginalizing become so natural.
And these stories are soft and nuanced but others are much heavier and come with lethal consequences as many of our brothers and sisters fell way too early because of police brutality, racial profiling and murder.
But the other Ahmed, the sensible one, isn’t safe either because at any point if they come out of the assimilated persona fantasy that white structures have “blessed” us with, then as we say in Arabic ‘khalas’ you’re done.
Now let's bend it like Beckham and turn to the football pitch so we can make sense of how these things play out with our icons, champions and celebrities.
The far-right tried to bully Benzema and he scored 4 goals in Euros, France’s top scorer.
They said he’s a “paper Frenchman”, that he has contempt towards France, branded him guilty before the courts had their say and exiled him for 6 years from the national team - depriving him of a World Cup win.
French reporters even asked him to say thank you to Didier Deschamps, his coach, live on air to which he graciously did.
For a man who won three Champions leagues in a row, is Real Madrid’s top striker since 2009 and made it out of Lyon’s banlieue to start this journey, he is still not handed his flowers.
In his own words
‘When I score I'm French and when I don't I’m Arab’.
But there was another Algerian-native Zinedine Zidane before him. At some point his picture engulfed the Eiffel tower, an image only Napoleon would dream of, the man could have been president at that point. Jacques Chiraq’s favourite athlete and France’s favourite son.
The cracks were there, but no one wanted to look. Right after the 1998 world cup, France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights inserted a new question into its annual survey asking if there are ‘too many players of foreign origin in the French football team?’ A whopping 31 percent of those surveyed agreed. Imagine that you are world champions but still a third of the country isn't happy!
Then in 2006, Materazzi’ chest was pounded after he provoked Zidane by insulting his sister and mother. Violence is not the answer and darkness can never be healed with darkness. But Zidane had brought the light for 35 years; in this tournament, he had been France’s stand out player; it was the last match of his career, a second world cup was on the line, but no Zidane, no party.
France lost the final on penalties and then the humiliation and abuse started. Zidane became the bad guy, the angry Arab, the issue of the day, the man everyone was waiting for an apology from. The sensible leader had turned into a Joker-like villain who disappointed an entire nation.
If Zidane is not convincing enough, take a recent example. Marcus Rashford, MBE holder, Man United prodigy and England's sensation.
When he missed the penalty though, which he probably did because he was trying to end child hunger for the last two years, something the UK's prime minister should have done, he suddenly fell victim to racist abuse. But Marcus is the good guy!
Look, the point here is not to divide after all it was us that were conquered in this manner. And it is not "isms and schisms" that we are seeking rather peace and unity.
What we need to realize though is that the way we evaluate, assess and judge people of colour or any ethnic minority needs not a change but a tectonic paradigm shift.
“We have made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another”
Knowing each other, implies understanding, perceiving, accepting and embracing, through thick and thin. It was very nice to see the solidarity towards Marcus in Manchester, the outpour on social media for him, Sancho and Saka, the pride and recognition despite the bitter defeat.
But this happens way too much, way too predictably and we let it happen. If it ever comes home, the yard must be in order.
When players took a knee they said ‘gesture politics’ and when Raheem buys a car the country goes into a crisis of conscience. When we let the little things go like that then we should not be surprised when the abuse “randomly” starts