It was the typical heartwarming tale we all love reading about on the internet: A little Afghan boy, in love with his makeshift Lionel Messi jersey, became a worldwide sensation when the soccer star saw his dedication and sent the 5-year-old two autographed shirts and a signed ball.
For Murtaza Ahmadi, the story should've ended there, with his 15 minutes of internet fame and the knowledge the Messi deserves Murtaza as a fan.
But it didn't.
Now, in a recent development of events, Murtaza, his parents and his four siblings have been forced to flee their country and move to Pakistan after receiving multiple threats via phone calls. Ahmadi’s father told CNN they submitted an application to the United Nations, seeking asylum in Pakistan.
“I received 20-30 unknown threatening calls in Afghanistan asking why I'm teaching my kid about football and not teaching him about the Quran,” the boy's father, Muhammad Arif Ahmadi, said.
“I thought, 'I'm not safe here.' That's when I decided to come to Pakistan,” Ahmadi added. “Afghanistan cannot protect itself, so how can it protect me and my kids?”
The family is now renting a house in Quetta for $50 a month, and they apparently have some family in Pakistan.
It is outrageous that a child’s love for sports has landed him and his family in such deep trouble. Murtaza should be kicking around a soccer ball, not fleeing from religious intolerance and hatred.
This incident adds to others in suggesting that extremism in Afghanistan seems to be on the rise. Religious fanatics refuse to see past their ideology, and even something as harmless as sports is not encouraged in the younger generation.