Interfaith football teams have reduced tension on Muslims and Christians to a point

Study in Iraq reveals advantages and disadvantages of interventions in the field of social cohesion

Combining rival groups to break discrimination is not a new idea. But will positive interaction with ethnic groups help to reconcile after intense violence? A social scientist tested this idea in Iraq by placing Christians and Muslims on both football teams. The resulting friendship with players has helped connect these communities – but only to a point.

Relations between Muslims and Christians melted in northern Iraq after the Islamic State occupied Mosul and surrounding areas in 2014. Only around 100,000 Mosul Christians fled their homes and returned. for many years to live comfortably next to Muslim residents whom they see as complicit in the attack. Stanford University political scientist Salma Mousa, an avid football fan who grew up in the Middle East, wondered if popular sport could combine these communities.

Although players made small behavioral changes on the playing field, it did not result in broader behavioral changes.

For example, at the end of a two-month league, almost 61% of Christian players in mixed teams have agreed to sign up for mixed teams next season, compared to 47% of all players – Christian team, Mousa reported in August. 14 science. Almost 54% of Christian players on mixed teams voted for a Muslim freshman to win a sports award given to someone who was not on their own team, compared to around 31% of all players. Christian teams. And when researchers contacted players six months later, about 61% of Christian players on mixed teams coach Muslim players at least once a week, compared to 17% of players on all-Christian teams.

But Mousa has not seen this kind of inter-ethnic friendship outside the farm. Even after Christian mixed-team players received an $ 8 voucher for a Muslim restaurant in Mosul, players from separate teams were no less likely to make a 40-minute commute. The behavior of Christian players towards Muslims in general also hasn’t changed much in the polls at the start and top of the league.

“I trust … that the contact settle everything,” Mousa said.”At first I fizzled, however then I truly began to feel that having this good impairment toward the starting was a triumph” to improve intergroup relations.

Mousa’s research is based on the “Interaction Hypothesis,” the idea that positive interaction between members of the rival team can break discrimination. This idea is based on much of the world’s peace efforts, with the US Agency for International Development raising $ 877 million for “social cohesion” programs by 2020 alone.

Soccer Experiment is the first well-known study in contact theory to show that change can change behavior in the real world, wrote Princeton University behavioral psychologists Elizabeth Levy Paluck and Chelsey Clark in a commentary on the same. Science issue.

Northern Iraq’s fun adult football teams have been separated by religion. Mousa therefore invited Christian football teams to two cities in the region, Ankawa and Qaraqosh, to participate in their experiment, and then recruited 51 teams to form four leagues. Most teams get three new Christian or Muslim players to play with the nine Christian players on the team, creating a mix of interfaith and purely Christian teams. All Muslim actors have also been kicked out by ISIS to make sure Christians do not associate with ISIS fighters.

Mousa quickly saw the friendship forged with the players of the mixed team. In one team, members pooled their money to pay taxi fares for Muslim players heading to town for training. Another team chose a Muslim player as captain. But when Mousa surveyed Christian players in mixed and separate teams to see if their behavior had changed with Muslims in general, he saw no change. For example, Christians on mixed teams did not think that there was a greater possibility than Christians on all-Christian teams of having Muslims as neighbors. Mousa also did not observe any change in the behavior of preliminary investigations and follow-up of Muslim actors.

Mousa’s project adds counterintuitive evidence that it might be easier to change the behavior of people in rival groups than to change their attitudes, says New York University political scientist Michael Gilligan. Perhaps even more important to change the behavior of rivals against each other, he said. “It gives you trust that if this turns into a frenzy program in these zones, they can truly have a [big] sway.”

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