The Olympics have come and gone, having returned to Athens for the 28th installment of the modern games. Besides being an occasion for the inglorious introduction of women’s wrestling, the defiant proclamation of Soviet superiority by a defeated Russian gymnast, and the (welcome) assurance that the overpaid NBA players will no longer be referred to as the “Dream Team,” they served as a fine kickoff for what President George W. Bush, during his speech at the Republican National Convention, dubbed the “Liberty Century.” And could there be a better symbol of the Liberty Century, thought the President, than the Iraqi soccer team, which, after unexpectedly advancing to the quarter-finals, became the Cinderella story of the games? Not wanting to miss an opportunity to demonstrate the meaning of the RNC placard “LET FREEDOM REIGN,” the President’s p.r. people created a campaign ad featuring slow-mo images of courageous Iraqi footballers heading, dribbling, and slide-tackling (with some Afghanis thrown in for good measure) together with the words, “At this Olympics there will be two more free nations—and two fewer terrorist regimes.”
Yet the newly “free” Iraqis were not pleased. Midfielder Salih Sadir told Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wall: “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign . . . He can find another way to advertise himself.”
Footballer Ahmed Manajid was more to the point: “How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? . . . He has committed so many crimes.” At least the Olympics are keeping “free” Iraqis from fighting coalition forces: “In fact,” Mr. Wall reports, “if [Manajid] were not playing soccer he would ‘for sure’ be fighting as part of the resistance.”
Manajid rejects the terrorist label that has been placed on resistance fighters. “I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?” He has good cause to wonder: His cousin Omar was gunned down by coalition forces while defending his hometown of Fallujah.
The Bush campaign reacted to the Iraqi soccer team’s objections with its usual cockeyed optimism: According to campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel, “The ad simply talks about President Bush’s optimism and how democracy has triumphed over terror. . . . Twenty-five million people in Iraq are free as a result of the actions of the coalition.”
What sort of “freedom” is this, wonders Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad, whose m.o. is “destroy everything”? “What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?”
This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.
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