Caught by the River

The News From Lahore

3rd March 2009

Hi Jeff

Hope’s all well. Word has it you might like to do a Caught By The River event or two at the Green Man, let me know if so, as it sounds like a great idea.

Meanwhile I’ve attached something I just wrote in response to the news from Lahore – don’t know if it’s something you might want to put on the blog – it’s probably trite and obvious but I felt the need to get it off my chest.

all best

John Williams

This morning, reading the news of the atrocity in Lahore, I found myself in tears. This was a reaction beyond that I had to 9/11, which devastated a city I love. It was unlike even my reaction to 7/7, despite that horror taking place amid my long-time home. This time I felt personally violated.

It took me a little while to understand why. Then I got it. I am not a religious person, but for the first time in my life I am starting to feel some empathy with the folks who wanted the Satanic Verses burned or protested outside Jerry Springer: The Opera. This morning’s terror was an attack on the game of cricket, and the game of cricket – and I’m not being in any way flippant here – has all the very best qualities of a religion.

You see, thus far in the war against terror, we’ve had on the one side ‘Islamic nutters’ and on the other ‘the forces of freedom and democracy’ and you don’t really need to be an Islamic nutter to be less than convinced by the integrity of the Blair-Bush model of ‘freedom and democracy’, seeing it at best as a set of Western values that don’t necessarily make much sense in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. Today in Lahore, though, is something different, a new frontier. This is Islamic nutters versus the ethos of cricket. And cricket and its values are genuinely embedded in Pakistan. When they attacked cricket, they knew exactly what they were attacking. And so, I think, do I.

Cricket is of course a legacy of British imperialism, but it is a legacy of which the British can be proud. After all, dirty word though imperialism now is – and without wanting to minimise the many, many horrors committed in its name – the British version of imperialism did also have its idealistic features. In particular it believed in the values of education and the virtues of sport. Both came together in the shape of cricket, the sport that precisely embodies all that is best in the British liberal tradition, and has become the great game of so many of Britain’s former colonies, particularly, now, the subcontinent.

This is a game that is based around teamwork, while giving full scope for the individual to express themselves. It’s a sport in which the notion of fair play is central, within which to cheat has always been to betray it utterly. It’s a sport in which everyone, whatever their physical gifts, can play a part, in which the diminutive batter can do battle with the hulking bowler, or vice versa, and the outcome is never certain. It’s a sport that takes time to play, that encourages reflection and the simple joys of playing outdoors. It’s a sport that encourages both literacy and numeracy, that takes pleasure in the arts of commentary and reportage, in the skills of scoring and statistic keeping. It encourages friendly competition. It encourages the brotherhood of nations.

And those are the things I believe in and those are the things that twelve men tried to destroy today with their machine guns, their pistols, their rocket launchers and their grenades.

And it is because they knew what they were attacking, were not caught up in a fanatical crusade against the Great Satan of America, because they decided to try to murder what is best in their country, what is best in our world, it is because of all that, that I felt this morning that the knock had come on my door.

It is because of that, that I can say now, once and for all, what side I’m on in the war on terror. I’m on the side of cricket.