As our colleague Parth Taneja notes in this blog, the rivalry between India and Pakistan—fraught with religious, regional, historical, and political overtones—is one of the most passionate and freighted in world cricket. Cricket has been the vehicle for the most bigoted forms of nationalism and yet also the means whereby that bigotry can be contained and dissipated. That strange ability of sport to upend prejudice can be seen in this photograph of Pakistan supporters gathered in Karachi to watch the India versus Pakistan World Cup match (more pictures here).
To judge from portrayals by Western media, Pakistan is a seething hotbed of religious conservatism, with heavily armed fanatics running rampant, targeted shootings of children, and the curtailing of women’s rights. Some of this is true; just as some of this is true of the United States. What this photograph reveals to me, Martin, is a group of young men and women, studiously (and tensely) watching the game. It’s a good bet that every one of the people sitting here is a Muslim. Many of them may consider themselves devout. The Pakistan colors and flags that they have painted on their cheeks and wear on their backs suggest to me that these young men and women may well be as passionately committed to the continued survival and thriving of the state of Pakistan as its cricket team. They might also hold strong views on the future of Kashmir. Yet, note also: the women are uncovered; men and women sit together without an orgy breaking out or the religious police beating them; there are even women expressing an interest in cricket—although one appears to be texting rather than watching!
The photograph is a reminder, to me at least, to remember that sport—like life and politics and faith—is, pace Kierkegaard, rarely either/or, no matter how much either may separate the winners from the losers. Instead, complexity, subtlety, richness, and yes, mutuality and cohabitation, abound—when, that is, we allow them to.