Just Not Cricket!

Check out this photo, taken in Brussels, of a suspicious Muslim-type guy who for some reason is carrying under his arm what looks to be a rifle covered up in cloth. (Yes, I know that the surrounding text rather gives the game away, especially for those out there who can understand French.)

There he was, waiting for a tram on a Sunday morning last August, on the Avenue Louise in one of the European capital’s most luxurious districts. This photo was taken out of the window by a security official at the Israeli embassy in Brussels who lives along the Avenue Louise, and who passed it on to the police – who in turn sent out an alert for the public to be on the look-out for this guy. (Wanted posters on post office walls and the like, one imagines, to the extent real-life post offices still exist in Brussels.)

But that turned out not to be necessary; the fellow’s name is Assim Abassi, a Pakistani national, and upon learning that he was the subject of an official man-hunt he went directly to the police himself, and he took along his cricket bat. For that was actually what he had been carrying on that August morning, wrapping it in cloth to protect it as he traveled to the South of the city for his usual Sunday set of overs with his friends.

That’s all it was, then: a cricket bat. Now, tensions are understandably running a bit high in Brussels after last May’s shooting that killed three at the Jewish Museum there. But still: it was only a cricket bat, if somewhat undercover, yet this guy was distinctly brown so the alarm needed to sound.

Disgraceful! Shortly after his visit to the police station to clear things up, Mr. Abassi remarked for another local newspaper about how “[n]o one, including the police, has apologized yet.” But his problems had really just begun, for Mr. Abassi was no Belgian citizen. Rather, his father worked as some sort of lower-level worker at the Pakistani embassy in Brussels. Emphasis on worked, for the embassy reacted to this affair by transferring Mr. Abassi’s father out of Belgium, to employment at some Pakistani diplomatic office elsewhere in the world. Since neither the father nor any other member of the family was a Belgian citizen, that meant that that entire family lost its legal justification for continuing to reside within Belgium and had to move away.

Western Culpability – and Eastern

In the first place, then, we have a shameful overreaction to what was undoubtedly a perfectly decent young Pakistani taking his cricket bat with him to a bit of Sunday-morning cricket. Those official apologies which Mr. Abassi indicated he was awaiting were surely due, and there is no further indication that anything of the sort was forthcoming.

In addition, though, and as developed at length in a commentary published (in English) on the website of a Pakistani paper, the Express Tribune, this ignominious episode also raises painful questions about the Pakistani embassy’s cruel reaction to the ludicrous manhunt of Mr. Abassi, a fellow-national (and son of one of their employees) whom one assumes it is the taxpayer-funded duty of that embassy to support in such incidents. That Pakistani editorial claims that the embassy felt that Mr. Abassi had somehow “shamed” Pakistan’s reputation – apparently just for carrying around a cloth-covered cricket bat in public!

To my mind, the episode resembles nothing else so much as that familiar phenomenon of Muslim culture whereby young girls or young women who are raped are killed shortly thereafter – by their own family – for thereby having brought shame on the family. This sort of drastic punishment for something that was never one’s fault in the first place is surely a phenomenon that mystifies most other cultures outside the Islamic. By no means, however, does it excuse the terrible prejudices and paranoia towards putative “terrorists” revealed by the Brussels police authorities.

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