What can an Egyptian judoka and an Iranian swimmer learn from a Lebanese bellydancer?
Ramadan Darwish is an Egyptian judoka. In Moscow last month, Israeli judoka Arik Ze’evi defeated Darwish in the quarterfinals of the Judo Grand Slam. In a sport tightly bound by displays of respect to the judge and to one’s opponent, Darwish at first refused to return to the center of the ring at the end of the match to bow in respect to the judge.
Finally, after being exhorted to do so by those in the crowd, the sulking Darwish bowed to the judge, but then ignored tradition by turning his back on Ze’evi who tried to shake his hand. According to one observer at event, this brought Darwish and his country “shame, disgrace, and dishonor” because it was not the Judo Way.
Mohammed Alirezaei is an Iranian swimmer in the breaststroke. Just as he had done in the 2008 Summer Olympics, Alirezaei disqualified himself from the 100 meter breaststroke event this past week at the World Swimming Championships in Shanghai by refusing to swim in a race heat with an Israeli.
After his most recent unsportsmanlike action prompted calls for Iranian athletes to be banned from participating in the Olympics in London next year, Alirezaei lamely claimed that the reason he didn’t swim was because he was ‘tired and drowsy’.
However, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency, the Chairman of Iran’s National Olympic Committee Mohammad Ali Abadi had previously left no doubt why swimmers like Alirezaei refuse to swim in races against Israelis: “Iranian sports organizations follow the government’s policy towards the ‘Zionist regime’ and boycott all competitions in which Israeli athletes are present.” It is a policy that is bringing increasing shame, disgrace, and dishonor to Iranian athletes and to the country of Iran.
Johanna Fakhry is a Lebanese bellydancer who performed on stage last month in Clisson, France with the Israeli band Orphaned Land. According to the band’s lead singer Kobi Farhi, Fakhry contacted the band on Facebook and suggested that she perform with them. She also suggested that at the conclusion of the performance, both she and Farhi wave Lebanese and Israeli flags. That is precisely what happened.
The response has been wide-ranging: from Facebook postings that express hope that everyone in the region can live in peace to the far more predictable and sinister calls for death for Fakhry and her family–a family that by the way has had her barred from ever returning to Lebanon.
Through it all, the brave Fakhry has remained elegantly articulate and delivers a message that Darwish and Alirezaie would do well to learn–if only they had an ounce of her courage and class:
“As a young child living in Lebanon, I…thought of Israel as an enemy, now I consider them friends . . . I don’t regret what I did on stage because my actions were delivering a passionate message of freedom and peace.”
Gal Nevo, the Israeli that Alirezaei refused to compete against, swam the fastest race of his life and qualified for the London Olympics. Arik Ze’evi went on to win the Gold Medal and also qualify for the Olympic Games.