Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Letter from California-December 23, 2003

Southern California and South Carolina differ in many ways, but they do have some things in common. The example that’s on my mind at the moment is football. Southern California and South Carolina share a strong tradition of top-notch high school teams that produce lots of NFL players. Not only that, but both regions have a Bowl-quality college football team called “USC”, though one of the two USCs goes to Rose Bowls and the other goes to the occasional Bowl with names like Carquest or Poulan Weed Eater. On the other hand, SoCal doesn’t have an NFL team anymore, so maybe it evens out.

In addition to high school, college and pro, South Carolina has its share of recreational leagues, but perhaps none quite like the one that recently made the news in Irvine, just an hour or so south of L.A. in toney Orange County (or the O.C., as Fox viewers everywhere call it). Irvine is the home of the nation’s first Muslim men’s recreational flag football league. If you’ve never been to Irvine, it’s a lot like the town of Stepford from The Stepford Wives. Instead of being a docile robot, though, the typical wife is more likely to be driving her land-barge SUV to Tae-Bo class, drinking a papaya smoothie and arranging a playdate for her toddler on the mobile phone all at once. There’s really no way she can be expected to watch out for you as you cross the street. After all, this is Orange County. If you insist on walking, well, you have to be willing to accept the consequences.

What could be more American than a group of young men getting together for a friendly flag football tournament over the New Year’s weekend? Even more, most of these men are children of immigrants to this country, proving that despite rumors to the contrary, the Great American Melting Pot bubbles on. It brings me a lot of comfort to know that second generation immigrants still gravitate toward the gridiron for fun, even if their parents think of a football as a round thing that you don’t touch with your hands. It’s nice to know that the children of Palestinian, Iranian, Syrian and Egyptian immigrants have taken on our ways. They’re playing football and devising elaborate ways of wasting an entire weekend. Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue!

One little flaw has emerged in this Norman Rockwell painting, though. It seems that the young men of the league have decided to name their teams in ways that honor their Muslim heritage, and not everyone is thrilled. One team, for example, called itself The Mujahideen, which I’m led to understand means something like “Holy Warrior.” It’s also the term that has been applied at various times to Islamic guerrilla warriors fighting the USSR, the USA, Israel, India, and many others. Some object, saying that the term is too loaded with anti-Jewish meaning for use in such a frivolous way. The players say it just means warriors.

Squaring off with the Mujahideen (I pity the person who has to write the cheers for these teams) will be the Soldiers of Allah. Hmmm, there definitely does seem to be a military theme here, and not a lot of originality: The Holy Warriors against God’s Soldiers. I hope they don’t have the same color uniform or people might not be able to tell them apart.

Then there’s The Intifada. That’s the term used currently by the Palestinians to describe their “uprising” against the occupation by Israel of their territory. Declared in 2000, the Intifada (the real one, not the flag football team) has resulted in the deaths of more than 900 Israelis and brought destruction to Palestinian cities in the form of Israeli retaliation. The league members try to suggest that this, too, is a more of a general term, nothing more than a way of saying “Don’t Tread on Me”. They’re surprised that the local Jewish community finds it hard to separate the team name from the actual Intifada. Why this should surprise them I have no idea. The players might not be sympathetic to terrorism, as they claim, but that doesn’t mean they’re not boneheads.

Personally, I have a hard time taking too much offense. After all, wouldn’t calling a team The Knights be pretty much the same thing as calling it the Holy Warriors? If a bunch of weekend jocks started feeling patriotic and named their team The Revolution, it wouldn’t sound too bad to us, but perhaps the British would feel otherwise. After all, it was their tea we dumped into Boston Harbor. I can picture the dirty look I’d get from my British wife now.

The other reason I have a hard time getting too upset is that we’re talking about a group of men being required to name something and doing it without supervision. It’s frightening to think what percentage of newborn children would be named after a superhero if it were entirely up to their fathers. Imagine it: instead of “Jacob,” America’s most popular baby boy’s name might be “Batman.” Don’t laugh! That could really happen.

The organizer of the event says that if he had it to do over again, he’d just call the teams “Team 1, team 2, team 3 and team 4.” Wise, probably. It reminds me of Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction describing why he recited a bizarre poem to all the people he had been paid to exterminate: “I never really knew what it meant. I just thought it sounded like some cold-blooded stuff to say.” Of course, he used a different word for “stuff.”

Or as Khan, an 18 year-old player for one of the teams said, “They were just trying to be cool.”


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