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Games, co*k-Fights and Fandangos in the Persian Gulf

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By Mathew Maavak

The Fifa World Cup begins next month. It's a quadrennial event that grips the entire world in a month-long state of sustained frenzy. Football - or soccer as it is known in the United States - unites the world like nothing ever does or did. The sole exceptions are a few Europeans who can transform a place like Belgium's Heysel Stadium into a shrine for the art of ripped-up concrete warfare. Yes, in Old Europe, people do kick the bucket before the ball.

Call it a clash within a civilization.

Yet, it is quite ironic that German cities like Munich and Berlin will host this universal sublimation of man's atavistic energies. Seven decades back, in these very places, one guttural voice roused a nation to do just the opposite. He marched them off to a titanic world war.

But wars and games are inverse sides of the same passion. While the ball is being kicked in Germany, both the United States and Iran may be facing one big showdown.

For now, it's still tentative, much like roosters squaring up before pecking the daylights out of each other in a co*k-fight.

In an April 7 column, headlined A Global Game of Chicken, Fred Kaplan described the possible confrontation between both nations in game terms:

Two cars speed toward each other, head-on, late at night. There are three possible outcomes. One driver gets nervous and veers away at the last second; he loses.

Both drivers veer away; the game's a draw. They both keep zooming straight ahead; everybody dies. Back in the early '60s, the flamboyant nuclear strategist Herman Kahn wrote that one way to win at chicken was to detach the steering wheel and wave it out of the window; the other driver, seeing you can't pull off the road, will be forced to do so himself. The dreadful thing about the current showdown between America and Iran is that both drivers seem to be unscrewing their steering wheels; they're girding themselves so firmly in their positions—the Americans saying Iran's enrichment is an intolerable threat to security, the Iranians saying it's an absolute ingredient of national integrity—that backing down is a course neither is willing to take.

There's another dangerous thing about chicken. One or both drivers might intend to veer off, but they know they don't have to until the last second. They might accelerate, to step up the pressure, as the cars approach each other; miscalculations—of time, distance, and intentions—could ensue; a collision could happen by accident.

Accidents can be triggered through a variety of ways. With saber-rattling expected to reach fever pitch in the coming days and weeks, nerves will be frayed close to the war zone. A tensed commander from a US or Iranian vessel might fire a torpedo or missile at an adversarial vessel floating too close for comfort. Something could be accidentally fired across from the Iraqi border.

Or Al Qaeda might help along by dispatching its camel brigade, decked in Iranian uniform to add some color to the morbid drama. Call that Osama bin Laden's idea of a costume party, replete with bangs, pow-wows and fireworks. It will be a strictly all-male stag affair, with neither Shi'ites nor infidels nor anyone not circumcised with a box-cutter on an airplane allowed in. Outsiders would be restricted to the belly dancers platform, where they can swish daggers in sync with lethal gyrations. This is already happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And this may be an excellent variant to the game of chicken by borrowing elements from bull-fighting. Here, the turbaned matador can kill two bulls at one go by waving a red flag at horns charging from opposite ends, exiting in time for the fatal lock.

There can be escalated attacks against US forces in Afghanistan, where some unfortunate soldier could be unwittingly invited into a Talibanized version of buzkashi - the Afghan traditional game where "goat dragging" beats out polo. Genghiz Khan and those Somalian warlords would be put to shame. If such horrors are televised, it can be blamed on Iran, the same way 9/11 was magically pinned on Saddam Hussein. Or some lunatic, dreaming of Saddam's good ole days, may carry out a spectacular terrorist attack on a major US base in Iraq. It can also be blamed on Iran. Haven't you heard of elite Revolutionary Guards performing pirouettes in camouflaged tutus and bal masques in Najaf and Basra? It doesn’t take much for ballet to go ballistic; both derive from the word ballo, the former from Italian (ball) and the latter from Greek (throw).

Told you didn't I that games and wars didn't differ in essence. And dances too, and I checked that connection at Oxford's Concise Ninth Edition on a hunch. There was an old classic case where a fight over a chicken led to a vendetta, and a duel over the honor and reputation of a lady at a promenade. And then it went back to vendetta and chickens. Don't believe me? Read Alexander Dumas' The Corsican Brothers!

One could fight for the less noble oil and nukes as well; ugly items more inviting for the golden pheasants of the Gulf Arab states. Many of them are itching for this geopolitical co*k-fight as the Persian rooster still struts like a proverbial peacock.

What they couldn't achieve through Saddam's genocidal war against the Iranians - with chemical weapons no less - could be wrought through the Americans, even after their societies supplied most of the 9/11 hijackers. They prefer an Iran destroyed more than Israel, as the latter unites the Arab world like nothing ever did or does.

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Mathew Maavak is a journalist based in Malaysia. Contact him at
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