By Ipshita Agarwal
Edited by Namitha, Associate editor, The Indian Economist
So I’m sitting at my desk in office, going about my work. I have been closely following the almost war-
like situation between Gaza and Israel. Let’s say that based on my understanding and ideology, my opinion on this topic is a very clear condemnation for Israel due to the inhuman loss of life happening in Gaza. So I sport a ‘Pray for Gaza’ wristband to work. People who notice it either do not say anything or engage in an intellectual discussion with me, if they beg to differ. However, nobody asks me to take it off. Even though India has not taken a stand against Israel in this war, nobody tells me that I’m going against the stance of the country, or that my support for Gaza might be mistaken as the stance of my country, given that I work in an MNC which has people from various countries working together. People understand that it’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.
Shift to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games under way. A Malaysian cyclist, Azizulhasni Awang chose to show his personal support for Gaza in much the same way by wearing gloves that said ‘Save Gaza’. However, the incident was immediately brought under scrutiny, with the CWG chief Mike Hooper condemning this action as ‘inappropriate’. Awang received a ‘strong reprimand’ from his team’s management and was warned to not wear the gloves again.
About the same time, the India Vs England second test match was under way. English cricketer Moeen Ali chose to show his support for Gaza in much the same way. His wristbands said ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’. The ICC was quick to rule against it and banned him from wearing them again on the field. However, incidents like these have not originated today. The first time the world saw a show of humanitarianism in sports was in the 1968 Olympic Games – an incident that came to be known as the ‘Olympics Black Power Salute’. African- American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist during the award ceremony when their national anthem was being played. It was a gesture to symbolize black poverty and the conditions of ‘negroes’ or Black Americans back home.
This incident was condemned throughout the world as a political show on an international sporting platform. Carlos’ and Smith’s medals were taken back. 1968 to 2014 – We have seen the world change – globalization, technological advancements, the rise and growth of the Internet, and more freedom in all aspects. We should proudly be able to claim that all such achievements would have made us more tolerant, shouldn’t we? All this progress should have brought with it a tolerance for respecting the freedom of speech, of expression, of action.
They call the world a global village now – yet, those at the top of their games (literally) are the ones who have the least freedom to express their opinions or support at the international level. If the Malaysian cyclist Awang chose to wear those gloves, how did that convey anything apart from the fact that it was his personal opinion that ‘Gaza should be saved’. How did that relate to politicization or ‘inappropriate behavior’? If he chose the Commonwealth Games as a platform to showcase his support, a hope to move people who might be supporting him or following the games in general, was all he had. He was in no way showcasing or undermining his country’s stance on the issue.
If Moeen Ali wished to express his support on the field (his workplace, as ours is office), that in no way implied that he was trying to make a political statement on a cricket ground. Today, I am an ordinary citizen of the country, living an ordinary life. I have the freedom to show my support for a country based on my opinions because I live in a country where the right to freedom of speech and expression has been constitutionally granted to me. But has this right not been granted to those sportsmen? Did Carlos and Smith not have a right to express their opinions, maybe with a view to draw attention to the disdainful conditions of African Americans in the US at that time?
We all grow up, learning the importance and trying to imbibe the virtue of ‘sportsman spirit’ or ‘sportsmanship’. We are told to respect our competitors and accept defeat sportingly. But when the sportsman himself does not have a right to appeal to the people of the world, to take notice of a warzone where people are dying by the minute, what kind of reflection of freedom is this? Most countries of the world grant their citizens the Right to Freedom of speech and expression. But what about the world as a whole? Does the world guarantee its ‘citizens’ this right? Or does this right get extinguished the moment you step out of your country? Well, sadly, Moeen Ali was very much in his country when he was banned from wearing that wristband. The media everywhere reports such incidents. However, we forget to see the bigger picture. What help is banning such actions doing? On the contrary, if more people across the world became aware of the situation in Gaza, maybe it would in some way, directly or indirectly affect international governments who would press both parties for a cease fire.
However, these consequences are just what ‘might’ happen, given that we’ve clearly not been able to accept freedom of expression as a global right. 1968 or 2014, sadly, we’re still the same.
Ipshita is a second year student pursuing B.Com Honors at SRCC, Delhi University. She loves to read, interact and network. Books are her first love and she dreams to set up a chain of bookstores around the globe. Writing is her passion and she is particularly interested in the fields of public policy, politics and international relations. She aspires to build a career in public life and take up writing as a medium to bring change.