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A Man Without a Country

Mushir Salem Jawher no doubt wishes he hadn't run in the Tiberias Marathon in Jerusalem on January 4th...or at least that he hadn't won it.

Mr. Jawher, who was known as Leonard Mucheru before he renounced his Kenyan citizenship several years ago to run races on behalf of Bahrain, was the first citizen of an Arab nation to compete in a marathon held in Israel. He might have suffered no particular consequences from that distinction if he hadn't finished first in the race. But finish first he did, after which somebody from the Jerusalem Post quoted the victor as saying "people should live together in harmony."

This assertion was received with "shock and regret" by the government of Bahrain, which asserted that Jawher had broken the laws of his assumed country by competing in Isreal. Bahrain has revoked Jawher's citizenship. That might have been merely an inconvenience if he could have returned to being Leonard Mucheru, humble Kenyan, but Kenya maintains that the marathoner broke their laws by failing to surrender his Kenyan passport when he began running for Bahrain three years ago, so he's not welcome in his native country, either.

Ironically, Mushir Salem Jawher, who is Catholic, was celebrated as a national hero in Bahrain just a month ago, when he won a gold medal in the 15th Asian Games, held in Qatar. Now, in part because he said he was very proud to have run in Israel, he has become stateless.

Mr. Jawher's best hope for relief may be Shlomo Ben-Gal, the Chairman of the Israeli Athletic Association, who said this week that he was supporting Jawher by sending a letter to the International Association of Athletics Federation. "We believe that sports should be above all political considerations, and that athletes and sporting events can bridge and connect countries across the world," he said.

That is the sort of goofy-if-generally harmless pap belied by most major international athletic competitions of the past millennium or so and seriously strained by the phenomenon of Kenyan runners competing for the greater glory of whatever nation will pay them to do so. Still, if tattered principles like the one in Mr. Ben-Gal's letter don't win the day for Mushir Salem Jawher, aka Leonard Mucheru, he may next find himself competing as Izzy Schwartz.

This program aired on January 11, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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