Religion | Despite best efforts, Inter’s knights err

Izmir, Turkey | With great sensitivity, Internazionale of Milan in September had agreed, in consultation with European football authorities, not to wear its centenary away strip to a Champions League group-stage match versus Fenerbahçe in Istanbul. Fearing that the St. George’s Cross, a chest-bisecting bold red on white, might trigger associations with the Crusades, the club gained permission to wear the home-standing nerazzurro (black-and-blue) shirt. (The cross serves as the municipal flag for Milan as well as for other cities worldwide.) Inter lost 0–1.

Inter again consulted with UEFA and Fenerbahçe before the return encounter at the San Siro on Nov 27. This time, the side wore the red-and-white and stormed to a 3–0 victory, which brought “profound grief” to Izmir (Smyrna)-based attorney Baris Kaska—and not just at the score line. The Fener supporter within a few days after the match announced that he would take legal action and now seeks judgment in the local courts in western Turkey.

Kaska asks UEFA to annul the match, citing the European body’s stated mission to bar discrimination “on grounds of gender, religion or race.” Internazionale, Kaska told Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, “manifested in the most explicit manner the superiority of one religion over another” (Ricardo Ginés, “Un abogado turco pide a la UEFA una sanción contra el Inter por una camiseta que cree ofensiva para el islam,” Dec 10). Columnist Mehmet Y. Yilmaz of Turkish newspaper Radikal supported the actions, also demanding that Inter’s three goals be stricken. (See The Times for other reaction.)

Kaska in the Spanish-newspaper interview makes particular mention of the Knights Templar, established between 1119 and 1120 during the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem, housed them in what had been the Jewish Temple, from which the Templars took their name. Only the knights, charged with defending Crusader states in the Holy Land, wore the regalia, a white surcoat with red cross on the mantle. St. Bernard of Clairvaux drew up their rule and praised them for being “most learned in the art of war.” He told them to cut their hair close and to “wash seldom.”

La Vanguardia points out that, following the Crusades and the rise of the Ottomans, the latter developed their own “religion of warriors, whose creed was a war cry, whose dogma was a call to arms.” A comment at the De Fide Catholica blog concurs, noting that the “Turkish soccer team itself wears the star and the crescent, whom many in Europe could identify with religion. Baris Kaska, shut up, go live in the medieval times you belong in, and don’t embarrass modern Turkey anymore.”

That such wars of faith and surrounding mysteries still hold sway seems curious in the globalized world. The scorer of Inter’s second goal on Nov 27, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was born in Malmö, Sweden; his father is a Bosnian Muslim and his mother Croatian.

La Gazzetta dello Sport points out that Inter Milan’s shirt production continues to cause problems. On another centenary garment, the club printed the incorrect date of its founding and misspelled its nickname “nerazzuro.” The misprinted shirts are now collectors’ items.

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