The evocation of the nativity of the Messiah in Bethlehem, on this Christmas Eve, allows us to take another look at the world football championship that we have just experienced on the soil of the Emirate of Qatar, with the triumph of extraordinary Lionel Messi and his Argentina team. The honor paid by the Three Kings to the Messiah, in his manger, may seem as incongruous as the tribute granted to Lionel Messi by the Emir of Qatar. The Magi recognize in the child of the stable of Bethlehem a unique king. The Emir of Qatar adopts Lionel Messi as his princely equal.
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The accounts of the Nativity of the Messiah in Palestine evoke two details which symbolize the unique significance of the event: the song of the angels and the visit of the Magi. Under the starry sky of Bethlehem, the angels sing a song of glory and announce an era “of peace on earth to men of good will”. Some translations of the Greek text say “on earth peace, and benevolence to men”. Peace, benevolence, goodwill; this is apparently what the child from the nursery brings with him. All the spirit of Christmas comes down to this. We suspend all hostility and malevolence, as during the Christmas Truce in 1914 when the armies engaged in combat, not far from Ypres, fraternized in a spontaneous truce out of respect for the spirit of the Nativity of the Messiah. There are thus exceptional circumstances in which human nature bends, more or less consciously, to natural goodness and the spirit of brotherhood. It spontaneously suspends all hostility. We had the privilege of living such a moment, before Christmas Eve, during the final of the football world championship in Qatar on December 18th. After the match against France which he had just won, Lionel Messi was honored by the Emir of Qatar with a abaya (bisht) royal before receiving the cup won by the Argentina team. By this gesture, the Emir recognized in Messi a princely equal, a king of the world in football.
You have to be in bad faith to attack such a gesture, which is of the same register as that of the Magi, who came from the East to pay homage to the Messiah in his stable, under the astonished gaze of the donkey and the ox. , and offer him what the Orient has most precious: gold, frankincense and myrrh. All the imagery of the Nativity borrows its signifiers from the Near East. The child of the manger, poor among the poor, is recognized as king by very noble personages. They are represented on camels roaming the Arabian deserts under the starry sky. All the characters in the crib are dressed in oriental style with tunics (al thob), cape (bisht / abaya), head scarf (guthra / keffiyeh) held by a rope (agal). The imagery of the event commemorated on December 25 borrows its signifiers from the Arab world of the Levant and its dress codes which have hardly changed since the dawn of time. The characters are not dressed in jellabaof caftanof fez, or Phrygian cap; they wear rather “Levantine Arab” clothes. No one finds this shocking, on the contrary.
The malevolent critics of the gesture of the Emir of Qatar, elegantly accepted by Messi, have been unable to discern, amid the cheers, the fraternization between human cultures that this represents, as in Ypres in 1914 during the Christmas Truce. What have we not heard on the occasion of this World Cup. The well-founded and legitimate criticisms relate to the pharaonic cost, the ecological consequences as well as the working conditions of the immigrant workforce. Nothing can make you forget that. But there is also the event itself, the football world championship, as a game of national teams and what that represents in terms of the enthusiasm of the crowds and national mobilizations. Bread and games? Maybe, but it’s not just that.
This world championship was well organized, no one can deny it. However, some negative reactions are surprising. In the eyes of some, after the victories of the Moroccan team, it was only a question of reconquering Andalusia and revenge against Charles Martel in Poitiers. For others, marked by the spirit of the Crusade, organizing such a “Western” event in the Arabian desert is perfectly incongruous. Both forget that human nature doesn’t care about such details. Blind, they cannot understand that the reality of the world and the truth of man cannot be reduced to the dictatorship of observable material facts. Whatever the surrounding conditions, man does not forget that he remains the bearer of this natural goodness that can be seen at work even in wild beasts. The man, in spite of everything, remains capable of fraternization despite the painful memory, despite the warlike circumstances. This is the essence of the message conveyed by the Abu-Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity signed by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Pope Francis of Rome in 2019. The same Pope Francis, during his visit to Canada, did indeed wear a splendid Native American feather headdress as a tribute to his hosts and as a sign of fraternity. Lionel Messi has agreed to wear the bisht Qatari royal on his football shirt, in homage to his host the Emir of Qatar and as a sign of brotherhood. Formerly, Alexander the Great had done the same. Winner of Darius III, he picked up his cape, or his bishtto wear it in homage to the culture of which he had just slaughtered the King of kings.
Let the critics be silent in the face of the greatness of human nature capable of the best in the midst of the worst. On this Christmas Eve, shelling the unforgettable images of the Qatar world championship, failing to meditate on the Abu-Dhabi Document on Brotherhoodé or to sing the Gloria of the song of the angels, we can mumble, with benevolence, the words of fraternization of the song of the great Quebec singer-songwriters Gilles Vigneault, Félix Leclerc and Robert Charlebois:
When men will live on love,
There will be no more misery,
The soldiers will be troubadours
But we, we will be dead my brother
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Christmas truce for a football championship
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