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MALAPPURAM, JUNE 26:

Bend it no more Beckham, the Mullahs want you out of Malappuram. And Ronaldinho, the one who signed soccer balls for Jewish child victims of suicide bombings—and all the other ‘‘amoral Jewish-American and imperialist conspirators’’ of this World Cup, seriously corrupting the local Muslim youth here.

This is Kerala’s Muslim heartland where football subdues religion and everything else every World Cup. Here, cutouts of soccer greats look down on the din of victory jathas and the pungent flavours of free-to-join streetside biryani parties, after a Brazil, Argentina, England, Italy or France win, in its many villages. This is where movie halls switch to screening soccer matches live, and where even the bride’s and groom’s sides come solemnly dressed up in Brazil and Argentina jerseys respectively, as in a recent marriage in town.

Most of its major radical Muslim outfits of consequence—from the perennially battling factions of the powerful Sunnis and their feeder outfits, the SKSSF, SSF, the Quran Study Centre, the Hudaveez Association and more—have now sunk their squabbles to unitedy fight ‘‘football decadence.’’ It’s no haphazard, one-off, half-baked clerical knee-jerk either, but a serious, systematic and phased campaign. A back-to-roots and values push of sorts, which they swear would last well beyond the World Cup, ‘‘so that Malappuram wouldn’t ever go under this madness again.’’

Dozens of village mahal committees are busy organising ‘‘awareness’’ meetings of their flock against this ‘menace,’ all over Malappuram. ‘‘The qatibs (priests) are now speaking out to the devout after prayers about this, and we are also planning a series of debates and discussions at several levels to get our youth back on course, besides other means that we are working on,’’ says Sidheeque Saqafi, vice-president of the Sunni Students Federation. A throw up: a few days back, local fans in Tirur found the cutouts and flexboards of their heroes they had put up, burnt down.

This is what Sunni cleric and leader Cheroor Abdullah Musaliar says, in the outfit’s official website: ‘‘The young men who cut their hair in ugly imitation of a Jewish footballer (read Beckham) and those who come for Friday’s jumaa prayers to the mosques tying British and American flags around their head… have they not read about the cruelties of the Jewish-American partnership in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo jails, and in Palestine?’’ he asks.

This country, the Musaliar’s exhortation reminds, spends ‘‘crores of Rupees for sports, but what good has these (sports) heroes done for this country, or its human beings?’’ Therefore, he affirms, ‘‘It is time to take confident decisions based on our Islamic values, for which Islam holds us responsible.’’

Saqafi asserts that the local Muslim youth should not idolise the Beckhams, Figos, Ronaldos and Kloses anyway. ‘‘We are not against their sitting and watching football matches on TV. But they have enough local Muslim heroes of the past like Varikkunnathu Kunhahmed Haji and Ali Musaliar (both leaders of the 1921 Muslim uprising in Malabar), and we want to get them back to that focus,’’ he says.

A statement that the radicals have issued says the youth must immediately stop ‘‘going after the morally weak and unscrupulous soccer stars. The youth in this district are falling prey to the conspiracy of imperialists.’’ According to Saqafi, so much has been the ‘‘imperialist commercialisation’’ of the World Cup in Malappuram that its young men are wasting fortunes on it — on flags, boards, banners and even special commercial promotions. ‘‘Over half a lakh of flags of the World Cup-playing countries have been sold here in the last three weeks, and our youth think of nothing but football,’’ he points out.

‘‘The problem in Malappuram is people tend to take things to the extremes—be it football or religion. Football is very much a part of that place and I hope things don’t to go to the extent of Somalia, where they have a religious football ban now on,’’ says N M Najeeb, former international footballer and coach of the SBT football team, who grew up playing in Malappuram’s many football fields. ‘‘I really can’t understand what’s wrong if football fans do a bit of hero-liking — it’s never literally ‘hero worship’, anyway. But ideally, Malappuram should spend its energies more on producing footballers who would let them wave our own national flag during some future world cup, rather than of some distant country.’’

The permanent critics of ‘Imperialism’, however, have a different take. The local CPM, which is working on consolidating its newly acquired hold over this district, thinks the radicals are on a Quixotic trip. ‘‘What is the harm if our young people have some innocent fun? And how could there be imperialism in this only because countries like France, Britain and the US have sent their teams?’’ says Saidalikutty, the district CPM secretary. But the comrades don’t want to burn their fingers getting involved in this one.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/7378.html