The Olympics and Zionism – the N word on its side

August 9, 2012 by

One Comment

Olympic Gold

Mo Farah has become the ultimate proof that lefties are right, that liberal immigration and asylum policy is great, and that David Cameron is an idiot for saying that multi-culturalism in Europe has failed.

Poor Mo. All he did was work astonishingly hard to win a fantastic 5,000 and 10,000 meters’ double. But the Olympics are all about the symbolism, so why should Mo be exempt?

In a culture where “hoodies“, young (mainly) black men who cover their faces from police cameras so as not to be caught for their anti-social and un-British behavior, are at once condemned and courted, this meme was a cracker.

Writers across the political spectrum have been commenting on the implications of Farrah’s win. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suggests there is fair amount of hypocrisy in the way in which racist anti-immigration pundits rushed to embrace the successes of immigrant athletes: “Mixed feelings must have curdled the patriotic juices,” she quips.

She has a point. Racism is still rife in the UK, with even highly-paid and high-profile soccer players being taken to court for racist jibes. She concludes with a scenario in which she talks to a Somali-British family festooned with Union Jacks on the train:

They told me they were so happy because of Farah. They wanted their children to be like him, make this country proud of them. Near us a white family was just as joyous and for the same reasons. And I thought, this is brilliant, we are in it together. And then a smart-looking white woman in her forties muttered to a man she was with: “They’re not British. How dare they? Why don’t they go back where they came from?” 


Shiraz Maher fought back in the Spectator, even quoting Britain’s Chief Rabbi in her defence, to argue that, contrary to Alibhai-Brown’s assertion, there is no hypocrisy involved, only damaging simplification on the part of Alibhai-Brown and her ilk.

There is, according to Maher, no generic critique of immigration: There is only a fear of the immigrant who is encouraged by leftists to “refuse to integrate into British life, or contribute positively to civic life”.

In this sense, Maher goes on, Mo Farah is the example of the ideal immigrant: He runs for his country, sings its National Anthem, and carries its flag with great pride. He is integrated, and his contribution this summer has been huge.

As Jews, we can identify with both Maher and Alibhai-Brown. But more than anyone we can identify with Mr Farah. Check out his first name. The name his parents gave him is Mohammed. He chooses to go by Mo. Just as many Mordecai’s have done before him…

What most struck me most was the way in which both Maher and Alibhai-Brown avoided using the N word. Alibhai-Brown used the P word – Patriotism – with a sneer, but nowhere in the debate did either of them use the word Nationalism.

The N Word

And yet Nationalism is what they both were arguing about, and this is the concept that the Olympics has miraculously rehabilitated. Britain’s showing at the Olympics has demonstrated that nationalism is not always a dirty word.

  1. The thousands of Brits in the various stadia showed that it’s okay to cheer on your own folks, and it doesn’t mean you hate those who aren’t your own (you can even cheer for them too).
  2. The opening event, the competitors, and the public have also shown us that race (chance of birth) and nationality (cultural choice) are not the same thing, and multiplicity of racial origins does not lead to a break-down of the nation. This liberal form of nationalism suggests that racism and nationalism are not inevitable bed-fellows, nor is racial diversity necessarily an enemy of the nation.
  3. Finally, the Games have shown Britain, as did the Royal Jubilee before, that belonging is both exclusive (“it’s a Brit thing, you wouldn’t understand”) yet constructive.


So what is this national sentiment? What is this patriotism thing? Gadi Taub, in this talk he gave at our Global Jewish Forum, would suggest that patriotism is what allows a democracy to flourish. Because a democracy can’t work if I don’t trust that we are in it together. You may be left and I may be right, she may be black and he may be white, but we all trust that we all in our different ways have the good of the nation in our hearts.

It turns out that diverse people are not necessarily unified by geography – close neighbors can be enemies. Nor do shared legal systems or economic cooperation always lead to a feeling of togetherness and solidarity (otherwise who can explain the centrifugal forces pushing at the edges of the European Union these days?)

People who have never met each other are brought together emotionally not by Facebook but through that heady combination of symbolism (flags and anthems), mythology (take a bow, Danny Boyle) and a sense of pulling for something greater than oneself – a shared past and shared future. This is the stuff that Nationalism is made of, and sometimes it can be wonderful.

Which of course brings us to Zionism, the nationalism of the Jews.

There, I said it.

The Z word is actually the N word knocked on its side….

One Comment

  1. charlotte says:

    The question is: would those people cheering for Mo Farah and painting his name on the soles of their feet (weird!) be happy to have a drink with him in a pub, one day? We think ‘yes’ – but would they be as happy to share a drink with his cousin (who they’ve never met)? We’re not sure.But Danny Boyle has done far more than any declaration of statehood will ever do to describe what being British means. And above all it’s about being quirky and almost INdescribable…

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