This year marked the 100th year of Arab participation in the Olympic Games, starting in 1912 with Egypt and growing until this year 17 Arab countries took part in the international competition.
The Arab athletes did not do badly, either, winning a number of gold, silver and bronze medals.
And for the first time Saudi Arabia sent female athletes to the Olympics. Wojdan Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar represented the Kingdom in the +78kg. judo and 800m events respectively. Although neither of them won a medal, both of them are heroes in my mind for their persistence and Arab pride.
The Arabs deserved a little more respect from London which seemed to have a problem printing banners with Arabic words correctly: the “Welcome to London” banner was printed in Arabic, backwards, as were signs at London train stations warning commuters not to leave bags unattended; and banners in Arabic at the giant Westfield Stratford City Complex at the main entrance to the Olympic Park were also messed up.
The Israelis won nothing at all in the London Games for all the hoopla and controversy they tried to create.
First, the Israelis sought to hijack the Games by insisting that the Olympics hold a one-minute-long moment of silence to recognize the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed by Palestinian guerrillas in 1972, at the height of the Palestine-Israel wars. The war that saw the Egyptian army push its way back into the occupied Sinai Desert took place a year later in Sept. 1973.
Fortunately, the International Olympic Committee refused the Israeli demands, although pro-Israel writers in the United States denounced the decision as the result of European anti-Semitism. It seems that to them everything critical of Israel is anti-Semitic. In fairness, any commemoration should also have recognized the thousands of Palestinians who have lost their homes, lands, villages and lives as a result of Israeli terrorism. Maybe out of revenge for not getting their way – it’s a cultural thing for Israelis to lash out and smear anyone who challenges their self-defined importance – Israel leaked false reports that Arab terrorists and Al-Qaeda were plotting to kill their athletes.
This is so vicious of the Israelis, but not so unusual for them.
And they spent millions lobbying the media covering the Olympics to force them to identify Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It’s not.
Israelis just don’t know what to do when they can’t portray themselves as victims, because in reality, Israel is the oppressor of human rights in Palestine.
Which reminds me that had the Olympics been held in the United States, they would have probably been renamed in honor of some Israeli claim to Jerusalem, disparaging the Arab world and might have included an Israeli-driven competition to “disarm the Arab terrorist” track race, which would have been rigged to allow the Israelis to win the gold, silver and bronze medals.
But enough about them.
Since the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm through the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the Arab world won 79 medals including: 21 gold, 21 silver and 37 bronze.
There are many in the Arab world who do not recognize the power of perception in changing the balance of power in the world. Humans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or nationality are influenced by perception.
The Chinese recognize the power of perception. Throughout the Games they have either been leading the United States or have been right behind not only in total Olympic medals but also total gold medals and that has given the Chinese a PR perception edge over the Americans.
The Olympic Games reflect endurance and stamina, that is, the ability to not give up. Not give up in demanding freedom in Syria. Not give up in demanding freedom for Palestine. Not give up in demanding the end to the demonization of the Arab world by the West.
People of the West: The Crusades have been over for more than 800 years. You’d think the West would let it go. Saladin won. Get over it. People in the Arab world: Perception is often reality. Why don’t we fight a little harder to win the positive perceptions of the rest of the world? It’s in our power to do so. The Olympics can be a great place to start.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and radio talk show host. Reach him at www.RadioChicagoland.com.