By Alec Rooney
The Christian Action Network
Last week, at the Olympics in Rio, an Egyptian judo competitor refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent. It’s right there on video for all to see. At a sporting event unrelated to religion, national borders or politics, one man steps back from the offered hand of another, backing away in refusal.
It’s a shocking thing to see — almost embarrassing. That’s one of the weird things about naked, unbridled hate: It elicits a cringe reaction. You feel the shame of someone so wrapped up in his own smallness, so unaware of how he is coming across.
Not courageous, not defiant, not steadfast — just cringe-worthy.
Add to that the fact that the Egyptian, whose name is Islam El Shehaby, hadn’t even won. He’d been beaten decisively. That made the hulking Muslim warrior’s actions toward his opponent, Israel's Or Sasson, seem even more childish.
The phrase "take my ball and go home" comes to mind. Or simply, "sore loser."
The crowd, to its credit, booed El Shehaby. He had also refused to bow to the Israeli, and since bowing is a required gesture of respect in the sport of judo, the referees made him come back and give a reluctant, barely adequate nod.
At first glance, the incident was just more evidence of the wide gulf that lies between Islam and Judeo-Christianity.
Viewed in a wider scope, it’s even more than that. It shows the gulf between Islam and the rest of the world. In a grand, global sports spectacle held specifically to unite people of all nationalities, faiths, languages and colors in friendly competition (and consumption), it’s the Muslim man who just can’t get along.
But … let’s try to be charitable to El Shehaby. For any Muslim in the international spotlight, the social pressure from home has to be intense. It was reported that certain extreme Islamist media figures had called for the athlete to withdraw from even competing with an Israeli, for fear of shaming Egypt and all of Islam.
"My son, watch out. Don't be fooled, or fool yourself, thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy," said Moutaz Matar, a host of the Islamist-leaning TV network Al-Sharq, as reported by NBC. "Egypt will cry; Egypt will be sad and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people."
Normalization — we can’t have that. That could lead to cooperation, understanding, or even — dare one say it — progress.
So even if El Shehaby had wanted to shake hands with Sasson, he could have been daunted by the kind of reception he would get from many fans back home. Not to mention from powerful Muslims who, offended by the sight of manly, grown-up courtesy, could do negative things to his athletic career. Or his family.
Seen in this light, the act of shaking hands with his opponent would have been very risky — an act of supreme defiance toward Islam — for the Egyptian.
That’s right: The supremely grown-up, sportsmanlike and noble thing for El Shehaby to have done … would have been the most offensive to the Islamic peanut gallery.
He just wasn’t up to the task. He had to go along with his tribe, and express his hatred for the other tribe, lest he end up out in the cold with no tribe at all.
Or maybe he was just being a sore loser.
For an antidote to El Shehaby’s sour note at the Olympics, do yourself a favor and watch this short video clip of U.S. tennis player Jack Sock telling his opponent (Australian Lleyton Hewitt) about a bad call that went in Sock’s favor, and shouldn’t have. Challenge it and take your point, Sock tells his opponent in front of awed fans. Just listen to the reaction of the crowd.
That is sportsmanship.