What Is Rootless Cosmopolitan?

It’s the successor to the Tony Karon weblog and email commentaries that I sent out from 9/11 onward to a list that eventually grew to several hundred friends and colleagues in different parts of the world. Initially, they focused mostly on that slow-motion catastrophe known as the “war on terror” (including Iraq) but as this new state of affairs became our permanent reality, the commentaries also began covering more quotidian obsessions such as football (soccer!), pop culture and cuisine. It’s a kind of en famille commentary from an exasperated journalist watching the unfolding of a tragedy foretold. If Rootless Cosmopolitan were a cocktail, the recipe, with apologies to Gramsci, would be equal parts pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

Explaining the Name

“Rootless Cosmopolitan” was Stalin’s euphemistic pejorative for “Jew” during his anti-Semitic purges of the late 1940s. But as an African Jew with roots in Eastern Europe and before that France, raised under the cultural aegis of the British empire but living in the great global transit lounge that is New York (still playing the odd game of tennis-ball cricket with Jamaicans or Kashmiris in the parks of Brooklyn), I’ll happily answer to “rootless cosmopolitan” – even wear it as a badge of honor.

Rootless cosmopolitanism may describe my experience of Jewishness, but its hardly exclusive to Jews: It applies equally to most of the people I love and respect from every corner of the planet who see themselves as citizens of the world, their identities defined by multiple affinities formed in their movement through the spaces between cultures, their instincts including a disdain for racism and cultural (and geopolitical) arrogance, and a tendency to understand and respond to events through a global prism, rather than via the ties of blood and soil. Whether they were raised Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist; whether their origins are Jewish, Indian, English, Scottish, Irish, German, Chilean, Persian, Basque, Israeli, Palestinian, Australian, Serb, Libyan, Midwestern or what have you, they are always most at home among people of similar heart and spirit.

All of the great Jewish intellectual, philosophical, moral and cultural exemplars I can think of were products not of a separate Jewish existence, but of the Diaspora, our dispersal among the cultures of the world. Whether it’s Maimonides or Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein or Derrida; Kafka or Primo Levi; Serge Gainsbourg or Daniel Barenboim; Lenny Bruce or Bob Dylan; Mike Leigh or Ali G; kneidlach or rugelach or so many of the brooding operatic tunes I heard in synagogue as a kid; all are products not of Jews living only among themselves, but of our interaction with diverse influences in the Diaspora.

I’m a proud South African, and a proud African. I spent my youth there and had the privilege of working for a decade as a full-time activist in the liberation struggle against apartheid – an experience I wouldn’t exchange for anything. Frankly, it was that experience, more than any other, that taught me how to be a Jew in the world, and affirmed my rootless cosmopolitan instincts. I’m not at all religious, and certainly no Zionist (Israel in no way “represents” me, nor do I believe that it should hold a place for me, and others like me who’ve chosen to live elsewhere — the majority of Jews, actually — at the expense of others.) But I am proudly Jewish, my own sense of the meaning of that term captured in that famous comment by the great rabbi Hillel, who when challenged to define Judaism while standing on one foot, said: “That which is hateful unto yourself, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary.”

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  26. FootballFan1894 says:

    I recently stumbled across an article on the ‘Time’ website titled “No, England Did NOT Invent Football (Soccer) As We Know It” by Tony Karon. The article was so incorrect I felt there were points that needed correcting, however as there appeared to be nowhere on the site where I could leave comments, I found the author had his own website so I decided to leave my comments here.

    Tony Karon is either somebody that knows little about the history of Football or he is so anti-English that he doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Either way his article is full of incorrect information. He says that Dave Richards’ argument is flawed, maybe Tony should have checked his own response, which is more than just flawed.

    Let’s look at some of the points raised in Tony Karon’s article:-

    1. They called it “football,” not because the ball is played with the feet, but because the game is played on foot rather on horseback. (sic)

    The theory ‘The word football was coined to refer to games that were played on foot (as opposed to on horses.)’ has no historical evidence to prove this. And it is just a theory and nothing else, put about by people who try to justify calling Association Football, ‘soccer’. And it is a fairly recent theory.

    Let’s look at the evidence we do have. The word ‘Football’ has been in use in England since at least 1314, this is when the Lord Mayor of London on behalf of Edward II, issued a writ to prohibit football in England. However as the ruling classes used French as their language the de cree was written in French and not English.

    The oldest known use of the word ‘Football’ in English was in 1409, when Henry IV issued a proclamation forbidding the leving of money for ‘Foteball’.

    Then we come to a book written circa 1660 by Francis Willughby called ‘Book of Plaies’, which describes ‘Football’ as a kicking game.

    In 1780 ‘A General Dictionary of the English Language’ by Thomas Sheridan defines ‘Football’ as “a ball driven by the foot”.

    If that is not enough, in 1801 ‘Sports and Pastimes of the People of England’ by Joseph Strutt, tells us that ‘Football’ “is so called because the ball is driven about with the feet instead of the hands.”

    Now getting back to this theory that football referred to games that were played on foot as opposed to on horses, this as I said before has no evidence. As we know the word ‘Football’ is an English one, so for the horseback theory to be correct then there would have to at least have been a medieval ball game played on horseback as opposed to on foot, played in Britain. Yet the earliest record of such a game played in the British Isles is polo, which was introduced to England in 1834. As we have already seen the word ‘Football’ had already been in the English language for over 400 years by then.

    If the horseback theory was true then games such as cricket, hockey, stoolball, bandy, golf and loads more would have also been known as football. We know through records kept that these games were not known as football, in fact the only games that were known as football were those that involved kicking the ball with the foot, hence the name Football. Funny that!

    2. The idea of moving the ball towards the opponent’s goal by passing it from player to player was invented in Scotland (which, if you know your football geography, is a different country) in the early 20th century.

    This is also incorrect. Passing the ball in football had taken place in Britain for hundreds of years. However in the Football Association’s 1863 Laws of the Game, the offside law (Law VI) read ‘When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer the opponent’s goal-line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until the ball has been played; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked from behind the goal-line.’ This in effect ruled out forward passing. Players would go it alone and try to dribble the ball as far up the field as possible. This was common practice among the public schools. But remember back then many football clubs played to their own set of laws and would have a different offside law to that of the FA’s.

    In 1866, the FA changed Law VI to read ‘When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer the opponent’s goal-line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until the ball has been played, unless there are at least three of his opponents between him and their own goal; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal-line.’ This change of wording to the offside law in effect made forward passing possible.

    Sheffield, who played to their own rules, had been passing the ball from at least 1865, and the Royal Engineers from at least the late 1860?s. Both these English clubs along with Scottish club Queen’s Park, who had amended the offside law from three to two of his opponents between him and their own goal and who also had been playing a passing game from the late 1860?s, are known as early pioneers of the passing game in Association Football.

    Other early pioneers included Blackburn Olympic and many Lancashire clubs, Cambridge University, Shropshire Wanderers, Corinthians, many schools and many working class clubs. While it was true that some former public school boys would carry on with their dribbling game for a few more years and the Scottish excelled at passing the ball, by the early 20th century, when Tony Karon said it began, most clubs in Britain would have been playing the passing game.

    Interesting to note that Sheffield was pioneers of another important feature of the modern game, that is heading the ball, which they had done so from at least 1866.

    3. Scottish coaches took their style to Central Europe in the 1920s, creating the foundation for the legendary prewar Austrian national team… That same interwar Scottish-influenced game in Central Europe laid the foundation for the “Magnificent Magyars,” the Hungarian national team.

    Many British coaches had took to coaching on the continent. One of the most important football coaches behind both the great Austrian and Hungarian teams was Jimmy Hogan, who worked with the great Hugo Meisi as coach to the great Austrian side of the 1930s. While the Hungarian coach from 1949 to 1957, Gustav Sebes said of him “We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.” Sandor Barcs, the president of the Hungarian FA said in 1953, “Jimmy Hogan taught us everything we know about football.” Tony Karon fails to mention Hogan. Why? Because Jimmy was English, and to mention him would not sit well in his anti-English spill.

    4. England invented a game of running around kicking a ball in the mid-19th century (although the Chinese claim to have played a version centuries earlier).

    Actually football had been played in England from at least the 12th century (and very possibly earlier) and organised with rules from at least the 15th century.

    As for China, although many early forms of football existed such as Tsu Chu or Cuju in China, Kemari in Japan, Harpustum played by the Romans, the Greek game, Episkyros (aka Pheninda), or Sepak Raga, played in the Malay states, or in South America, Poktapok which was played by the Mayans. Ullamatzli played by the Aztecs, the Native Americans played ball games using bats and feet. The Aboriginals in Australia played Marn Gook, while the Pacific Island communities of Polynesia and Micronesia had their own kicking games, and in North Africa, they played Koura. However, these and other early forms of football had very little in common with Association Football.

    It’s a pity that Tony Karon couldn’t be bothered to do any real research as if he did his article would have read much different. Too many people try to write articles by surfing the net, they would be better using libraries checking books, newspapers etc. You would expect better from a journalist, or is that too much to ask?

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