I cycled into the street to think about love. In the kitchen on the laptop I had just watched the Morocco-Canada football match. Morocco had won brilliantly, a historic World Cup victory, to which the commentator had said: “Let’s hope it stays calm in Rotterdam, in Amsterdam, in Brussels, and Paris.” Perhaps the commentator had hoped that the Moroccans would quietly celebrate the victory, contemplating the goals in the armchair at home. But the neighborhood was already honking and I cycled in fog of heavy fireworks.
So I wanted to think about love because love has a hard time. The Belgians had to cut the word love out of their football shirt. The German players were not allowed to wear love on their arm. The Dutch minister wore a love pin in the Qatari stadium, which she veiled under an orange scarf with the text ‘Never Mind’.
Love is also complicated. Love is a power game, a misunderstanding, love is different for everyone. I remember the corona marches, parades full of cheerful yellow umbrellas with ‘love’ on them and red hearts. ‘Love, freedom, not dictatorship!’, the demonstrators shouted, a slogan that Qatar could use well; yet that love was not the same as the minister’s love. Her love pin meant: we wanted to be brave when it didn’t matter anymore. It meant: we knew this was a bad World Cup, but we went anyway, to make a gas deal, we cover the homophobia and the exploitation of the workers with a very big cloak of nevermind.
This love did not make anyone happy, neither the people who were against love nor the people who were in favor of love, the minister had already played down her homeopathically diluted act of heroism in her meetings with Qatari ministers.
Then we had nothing at all. No gas deal. Not good football. No love.
And while cycling I thought of 1 Corinthians verse 13, the most beautiful sentences in the bible: ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am sounding brass or a clanging cymbal’ .
Perhaps the minister had taken off the anti-discrimination pin because she realized that, our hollowness. And that her own country also has a big love problem, because there is a lot of hatred here. After Morocco’s match against Belgium, some groups of young people rioted. On Twitter, Wilders had raged against the Moroccans as usual. And Liveable Rotterdam, the largest party in the city, demanded an urgent debate. The old, sluggish hate reflexes, the eternal return of group responsibility. Even the so-called spokespersons of the Moroccan community raged against their own youth: “You give Wilders even more work… Thanks to you, you do that yourself,” said one. As if Wilders needs reason to measure with double standards.
In Rotterdam there is a tradition that Feyenoord supporters ruin the city if they become champions, which happened at the last three championships. No one ever asked me why I did that. That’s love: not judging someone for what someone else has done. Love is even that you look away, that you don’t blow yourself up, that you allow the other person a riot. But the scarf nevermind is not granted to everyone.
The West-Kruiskade was a jam of joy that evening. Scooters in red capes raced past, flares exploded in the skyline. Men, but also many women, moved to the Kruisplein. Their love was real, you could see it in their eyes. Near the Moroccan butcher shop where a now famous Dutch writer once worked, two boys were dancing on their yellow DHL bus. This was the neighborhood that politicians wanted to chase them out of, where they were suspicious in the street, but now it was their carnival.
I spoke to some young women wrapped in red flags. One said: “If you do something right you are a Dutchman and if you do something wrong you are a Moroccan.” I thought that was a nice quote, but I crossed out the sentence because it would be much too serious for this holiday. Red torches burned behind them, the bloodless city blushed. Maybe this was love then, in an otherwise bloodless World Cup.
A version of this article also appeared in the December 3, 2022 newspaper