There is much that militant Islamists and jihadists agree on, but when it comes to sports in general and soccer in particular sharp divisions emerge. Men like the late Osama Bin Laden, Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah line up on one side of the ideological and theological divide opposite groups like the Taliban, Harakat Al Shabab Al Mujahidun, Boko Haram, and the jihadists who took control of northern Mali in 2012. The Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq, belongs ideologically and theologically to those that view soccer as an infidel invention designed to distract the faithful from their religious obligations but opportunistically employs football in its sophisticated public relations and public diplomacy endeavour. Bin Laden, Haniyeh and Nasrallah base their employment of soccer as a recruitment and bonding tool on those Salafi and mainstream Islamic scholars who argue that the Prophet Mohammed advocated physical exercise to maintain a healthy body as opposed to more militant students of Islam who at best seek to re-write the rules of the game to Islamicize it, if not outright ban the sport. The practicality and usefulness of soccer is evident in the fact that perpetrators of attacks like those by Hamas on civilian targets in Israel in 2003 and the 2004 Madrid train bombings bonded by playing soccer together.
About the Speaker
James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow focused on the Middle East and North Africa who publishes widely in peer-reviewed journals as well as non-academic publications. A veteran, award-winning foreign correspondent for four decades in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Financial Times, James has met a multitude of the region’s leaders. As a journalist, James covered primarily ethnic and religious conflict, including some of recent history’s most dramatic events such as the 1973 Middle East war; the Lebanese civil war; the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S.-backed insurgency that ultimately led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops; the Palestinian intifadas; the Iranian revolution, U.S. embassy hostage crisis and the Iran-Iraq war; the Iraqi invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia; the armed struggles in the Western Sahara, Algeria, the Philippines, Kashmir, Eritrea, Tigre, the Ogaden, Chad, Niger, Chechnya, the Caucasus and Georgia; the Columbian drug cartels; the fall of Noriega in Panama; the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador; the Kurdish insurgency in south-eastern Turkey, post-revolution Iran and Saddam’s Iraq; and the war on terror. James writes a widely acclaimed blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a book with the same title, and authors a syndicated column. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences, workshops and seminars and is consulted by governments, corporations and judicial authorities. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Utrecht. James won the Dolf van den Broek prize in 2003 and was a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 and 1988 as well as was a finalist for the 2012 European Press Prize; the Kurt Schork Award and the Amnesty International Media Award in 2002 and the Index on Censorship Award in 2012.