Egyptian Judoka, Islam El Shehaby, did not shake hands with his Israeli contestant after the match, and he’s the talk of the whole country. Should he have shaken hands? Was he right not to? Should he have accepted an Israeli opponent in the first place? Would he have shaken hands if he hadn’t been the one to lose the match? Scrolls of heated philosophical and political debates orbiting these exact four questions have been taking up a good chunk of my news feeds for the past week or so.
At first, I couldn’t form an opinion of his action. I found myself being ping-ponged from one side to the other. I’d read one in favor of Islam’s action and I find myself concurring only to come across a totally opposite opinion and find myself in agreement with the logic behind it as well. So, I stop and think to myself, “Do I really not have an opinion about this incident?” I mean, this visible manifestation of the long-standing rivalry between Arabs and Israelis must garner some instant and clear opinion out of me, a writer. Why isn’t it garnering anything? Soon enough, I reach a personal conviction after investigating the underlying details of the whole incident, because I couldn’t bear the thought of not having an opinion about something.
This is not where I tell you all about the opinion I reached and how I came to it. No. This is where I invite you to a more existential discussion: where does this obligation to form an opinion about everything we come across come from in the first place? And why will we be deemed useless airheads if we don’t? So we’re in the age of social media where opinions make a person, and if we can’t make up our minds about something, we might feel the urge to pick a side, or adopt a wise or shocking opinion passed by someone we admire to prove we’re not to be taken for granted. What is wrong with being in the grey area, or even just elapsing in the vacuum? If something does not intersect with my life meaningfully, I don’t have to have a strong opinion about it and I can’t be expected to wrap my head around everything that crosses my path. We don’t have the capacity for that, and therefore we, and I’m also reminding myself here, should be fine with our blankness on some issues no matter how vital they seem to anyone.
I imagine myself in Islam’s shoes and realize, I am not Islam. And I have no idea what he was thinking when he chose to play that match all together. I decide that his reaction, or lack of it to be precise, must have made sense to him in some way or another and I am in no position to judge him because he is most probably not waiting for my or any other person’s opinion. The atrocities being made by Israel everyday in the name of defending itself are not going to stop if only Islam had accepted Sasson’s Handshake. The 2,134 children who have been killed at the hands of Israeli forces since the year 2000 are not going to wake up from their graves because Islam snubbed the handshake either. And no one is going to think that Egypt and Israel have deepened their amicable political friendship if that one-second handshake had had its way. What Islam did is his call and we should leave it at that. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is that we as Arabs don’t do anything to alleviate all the aforementioned suffering and still won’t shut up about things that don’t matter.
Social media commentators and newspapers couldn’t shut up about Doaa El-Ghobashy wearing her hijab and a full coverage suit to a volleyball match against what everyone thought were “normally dressed” German competitors, either. She and her teammate, Nada Moawad, were the subject of massive online scrutiny before it became clear that women are allowed to wear full coverage suits according to new rulings that took place before the 2012 London Olympic games. Arab Olympian ladies in general got bashed by fellow Arabs whether they covered up or not, and since all the focus is on the women’s attire, marital status and looks, very few gave justice to the Egyptian team being the first to make it to a women’s beach volley Olympic game or to the achievements of refugees who have been given a chance at competing at the Olympics for the first time.
Just when you think that the world is approaching a milestone in overcoming sexism with the possibility of Hilary Clinton being the first female president of the world’s leading power, the Olympics media coverage shows you that we still have a long way to go, just like the miles we have yet to cut and the necessary discussions that are not being made about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the fact that it came out in the time of America’s first black president.
You know what other discussions are not being made as much as they need to be at the Olympics? The discussion of 122 Egyptians athletes making it to the games and the only ones that are news material are so because of their personal beliefs. Mentions in my newsfeed about Doaa and Islam have far surpassed those about Sara Samir and Mohamed Ehab who won us two bronze medals. The discussion that everyone in the Arab world will have to pay to watch the Olympic games starting 2018. The discussion about Egyptian Olympians fighting against all odds to be able to travel to the Olympics and compete without governmental support .
Olympics wise, this is what we need to be starting constructive conversations about on social media and news media outlets. If you have a worthy opinion on the previous, I would like to invite you, not for a discussion, but for posing real solutions to the problem.
Fashion police have no say on what athletes choose or choose not to wear unless it is something positive or constructive. Can you design aesthetically pleasing, culturally appropriate and performance boosting attire? Then you can be the boss of the attire conversation.
Do you have expert constructive advice for Islam on how he could have performed better on the match or how he could have judged his opponent’s weak techniques better, you ought to come forward. Otherwise, the world does not need your opinion, and you could exhaust all that brain power of yours thinking about more worthwhile things and solutions.