Something remarkable is happening to my country. It is beginning to awaken. Victory does that.
It’s not the crass victory of a well financed, lucratively monetized Premiership football club. It is the victory borne of years of commitment, dedication, sacrifice and anonymous toil in the pursuit of an ideal. To be the best. The best in the world. The best of humanity in a physical discipline.
I had never heard of Mo Farah, or Jess Ennis before the London Olympics. My interest in what many consider to be the hardest athletic event of all, the 10,000m extends only to a dim memory of cheering Brendan Foster in 1976 when he finished 5th. I’ve spent my whole life cheering for England and for Britain. I only stopped supporting the England cricket team out of principle once Sir Norman Tebbit pointed his accusing finger at non-white immigrants when he came up with his notorious cricket test. I continued to vociferously support England in all football contests, even when the flag of St. George became increasingly associated with far right elements.
Islam came late to me, but it was never an issue until I started waking up to how increasingly Islamophobic the media was becoming. I wrote about that a lot. Sometimes, way too angrily. Increasingly, the question of loyalty was raised, unit the discourse about Muslims became so obscene in the media that the association between “Muslim” and “terrorist” practically became a mainstream notion. It disgusted many Muslims that it had become acceptable to talk about Muslims in the media in a way that was eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s demonisation of Jews.
Apparently, Max Clifford, who let’s face it, gets the media, told a group of young Muslims that the demonisation would stop only once we had prominent sports stars. At a chillingly simple level, that makes sense, much as I’d hope that most people wouldn’t be that shallow.
Last night, to my profound delight, I realised that people are not that shallow.
Last night, the nation roared in unison as Mohamed “Mo” Farah ran the perfect 10k, finishing with open disbelief and intent etched into his face, whilst the rest of his slender frame carried him home, propelled by the tail wind of a country blowing him home with every elegant stride. The disbelief turned to bewilderment as realisation dawned. As he prostrated to Allah, the crowd continued to cheer, the country continued to cheer. My family was jumping up and down. I shouted him home, hoarse. I shouted because this gold meant so much to my nation. I shouted because this gold meant so much to me. I shouted because the nation knows that Mo is Muslim, and doesn’t care. I shouted because the country I had loved so deeply, with a love that I felt so unrequited, was shouting with me, unequivocally declaring that this too, is my home.
I tweeted my heart out. Some consider me a cynic. I am a cynic, but I am more a romantic than a cynic. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love my family, my colleagues, my friends, my company, my city, my country, my fellow human beings. I hate war, and division, and theft, and oppression and propaganda. It brings out the worst in me. Last night was a reminder that humanity can in an instant rise above all of those things. We have to kindle the tiny fire we lit last night. We have to repeat these moments. We have to believe that a many cultures can and do live together in harmony in this nation, that we will not be divided against one another. We have to believe, because the alternative is unpalatable.
This was the tweet I wrote that revealed my heart to the world:
There were many others, but that one seems to have caught the attention of a pretty wide audience, including Anthony Sharwood of Australia’s The Punch, who wrote so kindly about me tonight. He, like many others, seem to get the point of why this is important, and what it is that I’m saying. I never made my religion an issue, and neither did the majority of the world’s Muslims, until we started to get called fifth columnists. There has been an attempt to divorce us from our homeland, to divide our identity and to force us to make choices. We didn’t want to bang on about our religion, but if we’re going to be called to account for it in a way that nobody else gets called to account, you can bet (because we don’t) that we’ll defend ourselves. Identity is complicated, and any attempt to divide it is dangerous. Forget about identity for a moment, let’s just think about home. This is my home. Last night, my country welcomed me with open arms.
Britain’s core value is not tolerance. We are better than that. Our core value is acceptance. Through diversity, we are strong. Last night, we saw that multiculturalism works. When Mo Farah prostrated to Allah upon his victory, nobody made a fuss of it, no more than anyone makes a fuss of Usain Bolt, or any number of sports stars crossing themselves. That’s as it should be. Usain Bolt is no less Jamaican for crossing himself, and Mohamed Farah is no less British for prostrating to Allah. This is Mo’s home. This is Jess’ home. This is my home.
Nobody cares that Mo’s black. Nobody cares that he’s Muslim. We see past colour, we see past religion, we see past all that and we just see one of us. That’s what brought tears to my eyes last night. I am one of “us”. I felt like I was finally home, and the years of alienation have been washed away in the euphoria of a nation united if just for a moment. It was a vision of what we could be. That’s worth holding on to.
The media makes money out of polarisation. That’s how you get public interest and advertising revenue. Acceptance doesn’t sell papers. Stories do. Usually, the more shocking, the more extreme, the more divisive, the better, but sometimes, those stories don’t have to be negative, sometimes, those stories are about hope, about glory, about unity, about striving, suffering, perseverance, sacrifice and yes, victory. Our nation needs victory, God do we need victory.
These are hard times. Many people have become scapegoats. Muslims, yes, but also more worryingly, the sick, the old, the unemployed and the poor. Labelled “scroungers”, or “skivers”, or “immigrants”, or “niggers”, or “pakis”, or “spastics”, it has been a sickening period of a nation bent on accelerating its decline.
Everything can change in a moment. We are better than that. This run of British Olympic success is not just about sport. It is a metaphor for life. We’ve had a tough few years, but what Mo Farah and the others have shown us is the best of us. That when we support one another (Sir Eddie Kulukundis paid for Farah’s naturalisation legal fees), when we nurture one another (Paula Radcliffe paid for Farah’s driving lessons), when we fund our kids (a £10,000 National Lottery grant allowed Farah to train full time), when we are inclusive, when we are united, when we work together, hard, unflinchingly with unwavering focus, we can win. We can heal, we can recover, and we can win.
My God we can win.