They say hockey is a religion in Canada. It binds fans, amazes them, frustrates them, and gives them something to believe in when all else seems amiss. For many, it is the hope that keeps them optimistic through trials. It brings people from all walks of life together - the rich and the poor cheer side by side when their team wins, and sulk and complain together after losses. From those sitting in the luxury boxes, to those listening to the games on a borrowed radio, everyone shares the joy and pain together.
It is no wonder, then, that it is also plagued by a handful of overzealous fanatics who tarnish the good name of the game and it's fans. When the Habs finally put away the resilient Boston Bruins in the deciding seventh game last night, the "moderate" adherents celebrated by cheering through the streets. Millions of people throughout the province watched with joy as the fourth and fifth goals were scored to dash any chance of an improbable Bruin comeback. But for a few dozen alcohol-fueled hooligans, cheering was not enough.
And so they set aflame police cars, smashed windows of nearby stores, and caused over a half million dollars of damage throughout downtown Montreal in a senseless riot. Just like 1993, when the Habs last won the Stanley Cup. And 1994, in Vancouver. And probably in dozens of other cities for other sports with other passionate fans. In spite of the healthy competition and pure athleticism that define professional sports, it also brings out the worst in people.
Fans of a hockey team are always judged by their class. Every city likes to claim that it is home to the "classiest" fans, while all other teams are characterized by how "unclassy" their fans are. And now the entire hockey world is calling out the people of Montreal as classless, while Montrealers are arguing that the riots were isolated cases that do not truly represent the city of Montreal or the people that live there.
All this seems very familiar to me. The voice of the "true fans", the vast majority of them completely horrified by the barbarism that took place last night, is drowned out by a small number of idiots. And what else are others to think, when the images they see in the media are that of burning cars, smashed windows, and senseless yelling?
When the images in the media portray the same sort of violence and insanity in the Muslim world, it hurts over a billion people in a similar manner. We know what everyone is seeing in the media, and we know it doesn't represent our beliefs at all. But for all our efforts to clear our names, the next case of stupidity cancels out everything good that was said and done.
A few days earlier, in Boston, a Montrealer was beaten nearly to death for wearing a red jersey and being French. A couple of drunk Boston fans punched and kicked him to the ground, leaving him unconscious in a large pool of his own blood. Nearly killed for, essentially, his beliefs.
Some people criticize religion, based on what they observe in the media. They complain that it warps minds, kills reason, and incites hatred. What happened in Montreal, what happened in Boston last week - this was all that and more. Just like one wouldn't blame hockey in general for these ugly incidents, one can't blame religion in general for the ugly acts committed in it's name.
What can be blamed, however, is alcohol. It is that, and not hockey itself, that drives people to such idiocy. It is an unfortunate reality that beer is part of the hockey culture in Canada. One can't sit down and watch a game without being interrupted by a number of nonsensical beer commercials. It is like this with most professional sports, I'm sure, but I can't be bothered to check.
I absolutely hate smoking and cigarettes, and I fully support all the laws that seek to suppress it. Tobacco companies are forbidden from advertising on billboards and in television commercials, smokers are forced to pay extreme taxes to feed their habit, and even the cigarette boxes are required to contain graphic anti-smoking messages. But in spite of all this, I've never heard of anyone causing a half million dollars of damage due to the influence of cigarettes. I've never heard of someone beaten brutally due to the influence of cigarettes. I've never heard of someone cause a fatal car accident because of a tobacco overdose.
Alcohol has done all that, and more. And yet, it is not only a tolerated habit, it is celebrated. And it is somehow spared of any criticism when incidents like last night in Montreal, or last week in Boston, happen. Yes, these incidents are rare, but still much more common than violent religious fervour, which gets all the press.
Alhamdulillah that Islam has protected me from the habits that drive people to such foolishness. For all that critics argue against Islam and other religions, it is perhaps the only force that will protect us from the most fatal influences.