Progressive commentators and sporting executives have been rivalling Cirque du Soleil contortionists this week as they have had to decide what to do about Haneen Zreika.
Zreika is a 22-year-old player for the GWS Giants in the AFL women’s league. She declined to play in Friday’s “Pride Round” against the Western Bulldogs on religious grounds because she didn’t want to wear a jersey emblazoned with the rainbow flag.
Usually, any person who doesn’t genuflect before the rainbow flag is pursued by the vocal left. Israel Folau and Margaret Court are the most high-profile examples.
Former Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton has been a perennial target, as are those associated with him. Mark Allaby, a PricewaterhouseCoopers executive, was forced to quit his position on the board of the ACL after pressure from activists and now works for IBM. Former Macquarie University professor Stephen Chavura had his position threatened because of his involvement with the Lachlan Macquarie Institute.
Even Coopers Brewery – a company that donates to SA’s annual pride festival – were subject to boycott threats because for hosting a “respectful conversation” between two MPs, one in favour of same-sex marriage and one opposed.
“Identity politicians from all corners have found themselves in a pickle about what to do when a Muslim woman, and not a Christian man, refuses to take a knee before the rainbow flag.”
Given this, one would expect Zreika’s contract to have been torn up by the AFLW, sponsors to withdraw their funding, federal politicians just months out from an election weighing in on her intolerance and round-the-clock news coverage.
It hasn’t played out like that, because Zreika is the first Muslim to play in the AFLW.
Identity politicians from all corners have found themselves in a pickle about what to do when a Muslim woman, and not a Christian man, refuses to take a knee before the rainbow flag.
The AFLW’s response has been curious. Presuming that Zreika is under the standard contract for players, she is obliged to play in any match for which she is named as part of the team, unless she has a medical reason not to do so.
If they wanted to punish her for her beliefs, the AFLW could have simply named her in the starting squad for Friday’s match and put her in a position of having to choose between her beliefs and breaching her contract, similar to what Rugby Australia did when they sought to dictate whether Israel Folau could quote the Bible on social media.
That didn’t eventuate. Zreika wasn’t selected for Friday’s game and so didn’t have to risk having her contract torn up.
Then there were the journalists, who seemed to twist themselves into pretzels to try to find a way to make sense of all of this without breaking any taboos. The most common narrative I read was that Zreika has no problem with homosexuality, but was under pressure from the Muslim community to decline to play.
Journos were at pains to point out that Zreika “grappled” with the decision for weeks, that she has many gay teammates who she gets along very well with, and that she played in last year’s pride round (which didn’t have a special jersey) without issue.
The Daily Telegraph told us that the “issue with wearing the jumper is not about her personal feelings towards LGBT people but concerns about whether wearing it aligns with the expectations and religious beliefs of her community.”
An anonymous AFLW source even said that Zreika consulted with her community leaders before making the decision.
“I would prefer if there was no such thing as a Pride Round and that sport didn’t involve itself too heavily in identity politics.”
See? She is just following the patriarchy that tells her what to do. It’s not her religious beliefs that inspired her decision; it’s the “expectations and religious beliefs of her community”. I guess we can all breathe easy. She’s not a homophobe. Her community leaders might be, though.
As for sponsors and MPs, they were silent. Compare this to the Folau case, where the pollies could hardly wait to weigh in.
It might sound like I’m complaining about the outcome, but I’m not. I would prefer if there was no such thing as a Pride Round and that sport didn’t involve itself too heavily in identity politics.
Failing that, I think a truly tolerant society should allow the followers of Islam, who are about the same in number as those who identify as part of the LGBT community, to have their identity respected.
Perhaps controversially, I also think this should extend to all religious believers, including Christians. But I doubt it will happen any time soon. I expect that if Zreika had been a Christian, then the week would have played out very differently.