The BBC has warned English football fans not to dress as crusaders when attending the Euro 2016 tournament this summer as they might cause offence to Muslims.
Posing the question: “Is it wrong to dress as a crusader for an England match?” the answer appears to be a resounding “yes”.
“Crusaders were the perpetrators of violent attacks across Europe and the Middle East on Muslims, Jews and pagans,” the website intones, suggesting that fans may simply want to don the English flag instead, as “this has nothing to do with crusaders or what they stood for”.
And although it can’t help musing: “The English flag used to have connotations with far-right nationalism,” it is forced to concede that: “Today the flag is flown by local authorities and individuals in a purely patriotic sense.”
Digging deeper into the history of the crusades, the website depicts crusaders as “wading ankle deep in blood, killing civilians and resorting to cannibalism,” although it admits that accounts of such actions “may have [been] exaggerated,” while a source is cited describing the leader of the Muslim forces, Nur ed-Din as “a just prince, valiant and wise, and according to the traditions of his race, a religious man”.
Breezing past the fact that the Christian Holy Roman Empire was “losing territory to Muslim Turks in the East,” the website recounts the history of the crusades in terms depicting the Christian forces as the equivalent of today’s Islamic State: religion-crazed extremists who ravaged the Middle East in an attempt to win favour in heaven.
The English king Richard the First, we are told, slayed his captives while his forces “massacred” the people of Constantinople and plundered the city.
The website then goes on to ask three members of the public whether they would dress up as a crusader at a football match. One would as “the costumes are very over-the-top and clearly in the realms of fancy dress,” but the others wouldn’t.
David from Hounslow said: “If I know that something offends others but I am involved with them in a joint activity then it is probably a good idea to moderate or stop what is giving offence. The potent symbolism of the crusader outfit takes the issue beyond the world of just a bit of fun.”
And Amin from London chips in: “I have some reservations due to the bloody history of the crusades. Yes, it’s a part of history, but we need to move on. Conquest and pillage in the name of Christianity isn’t exactly a positive reminder of our history and not something we should really be celebrating.”
A spokesman for the BBC insisted that the iWonder website doesn’t take a view on any topic. “iWonder guides are not the BBC passing judgement, they cover a huge range of topics and are designed to ask questions which encourage debate. In this instance, the users were given the opportunity to express their own views by voting on the topic,” he told The Times.
But the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) has suggested that fans take heed of the BBC’s warning and leave the crusader costumes behind when travelling to France for the tournament this summer.
Chris Doyle, director of Caabu, said the word “crusade” has powerful negative connotations in the Arab world, which could potentially open fans up to being targeted by extremists.
“I would hope Muslims do not take offence but there may well be people who do. They may present themselves as more of a target to any extremist,” he said.
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