Never quite got into the whole guest blogger thing.
Did it few times and despite being convinced I wasn’t precious about this game it proved I was…. however… What follows is a cracking piece from Robert Samuelson who is a soon to be lawyer and a writer of words well worth reading.
May I apologise to regular readers who weren’t expecting decent content and assure them normal service will be resumed asap… Sammy’s Blog which you need to bookmark, by the way is HERE.
Or is it? David Baddiel is a smart man. He went to Haberdashers’. So it was with some surprise that I discovered he is fronting a new campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in football. Of-course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with conducting a public exercise in informing people of the problems of racism. Such a display of philanthropic morality is to be applauded. In modern day Britain we live in a world of both vocal and silent oppression.
The days of Brick Lane riots may be long gone, but the sinister guise of homophobia, xenophobia, hatred and idiocy still lurks on our street corners and estates, in our places of work and, sadly, through the dogma of some extremist political parties. In many ways David Baddiel is being perfectly avant-garde in his decision to lend voice to thought and publicity to propriety.
Unfortunately this is the right campaign carried out in the wrong way; the correct sentiment utterly confused with incorrect methodology. Anti-semitism exists in football; this much is true. We’ve all heard opposition fans hissing in evil reproduction of the noise of gas chambers. Some of us may have even been subjected to direct chants of real racial venom, songs and phrases that go way beyond what can be publically understood as ‘banter’ and well across the line into blatant abuse.
A campaign to raise awareness of such incidences is important. It brings the problem to the forefront of national debate, concentrating the minds of our policing and political authorities towards tackling the problem, and hopefully encouraging the silent majority to stand up and shout down the racially prejudiced. Baddiel’s campaign would be fine if that appeared to be its overriding objective and, for all I know, perhaps it is. Perhaps the ultimate aim is to achieve just that: a new wave of citizens fighting back against the appalling behaviour of a small minority of extremists. If that is the case, then I applaud and lend my support to a scheme that, if it was intending such an end, is as nuanced as it is principled.
Sadly I am afraid Baddiel has completely missed the point. It is startling that so much of the dialogue that this campaign has created has been about the use of the word ‘yid’ at places like Tottenham Hotspur FC.
On its own, or out of the context of a football match at White Hart Lane or another Spurs-related event elsewhere, this word would undoubtedly cause offence. It is steeped in a history of persecution, arising etymologically from Eastern European ‘Yiddish’ language, which mixed German, Polish and Russian with Hebrew into a vernacular of specific peculiarity to Ashkenazi Judaism. The Nazis would abbreviate Yiddish speakers to ‘Yids’.
It became a by-word for segregation, for misinterpretation, for the ghetto, the concentration camps. Even earlier than Hitler, the term ‘Yid’ had been used to separate Jews from locals in Russian villages during the Pogroms of the late nineteenth century. Go back through annals of Jewish history, and the word ‘Yid’ has been used not so much by Jews themselves, but by those who have sought to isolate them, to control them, to destroy them.
Imagine the following scenario: a businessman is chairing a meeting and introducing each participant. Round the table he goes, using first names, last names, nicknames, informally and affably combining the professional with the casual as he takes control of the session ahead. Reaching a Jewish man at the table, the chairman describes him as a ‘yid’. Is this socially unacceptable, humiliating, degrading, inappropriate and offensive? Yes, absolutely.
Now imagine the next scenario: it is 1973 and English football is rife with racism, dominated by white masters in boardrooms and white supremacists in the stands. Tottenham Hotspur are playing a home game and the visiting supporters start singing a song about Auschwitz. Knowing that Spurs have more Jewish supporters than any other team (although Arsenal are a very close second), these visiting supporters immediately latch on to the fact that, somewhere near them in the stadium, will be a Jew. Is the song as equally disgusting and illegal as the businessman in the scenario above? Yes, absolutely.
If Baddiel was trying to fight against instances akin to those described above, we’d be discussing a campaign of genuine altruism. Racism of any form should not be tolerated anywhere, but in the UK in 2011 it is a downright disgrace that its menace still stalks our streets.
We live in the age of information, where knowledge is but a click, a touch screen, away. With the dissemination of ideas and opinions comes an opportunity to educate. This should be a time of ever-increasing harmony, not through a new closeness in our coalition politics, but simply out of pure understanding of each other, of why and how we are they way we are.
I feel proud to live in a free country like the UK, where any and all religions are tolerated, where our right to protest is celebrated and encouraged, where our troops fight for similar freedoms around the world, where we can be as bright a beacon of hope for humanity as the great revolutionaries that have gone before in America, in France and, yes, in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Yet still our progress is hampered by a moronic few, the sub-intelligent detriments to development. We can all see how the British National Party feeds on basic social fears and political vacuums, feeding worried communities with propaganda and vitriol, anger and resentment. Violence begets violence, misunderstanding begets misunderstanding. Across generations such sentiment breeds and festers, a cancerous molecule redoubling with every passing year in isolated localities under siege from extremists. Their racism needs documenting. Our freedom depends on it.
You do not need to be Jewish, or a football fan, to know that the two illustrations I set out above are not, or were not, beyond the realms of possibility. In the 1970s, anti-semitism really was rife, not just in football but throughout society. Football, with its already laddish culture of booze and banter, was an easy breeding ground for such acerbic extremist behaviour. Tottenham supporters were easy targets and something had to be done.
In the way that only football fans can, supporters of Spurs turned the anti-Semitic chants and songs on to the racists themselves. It was, and is, a display of sheer genius from the terraces of N17; reserve psychology so impressive that for forty years or so Tottenham Hotspur has imbued a sense of defiance in the face of anti-Semites, taking on the label of ‘yids’ not as a crest of abuse but a badge of honour. Racists cannot sing songs about ‘yids’ if the Jews themselves are referring to their team and their fellow fans as ‘yiddos’.
David Baddiel should understand context and shame on him for miscomprehending it or, worse still, ignoring it. Tottenham Hotspur supporters define themselves as the ‘yid army’ to shut the racists up. While it is no doubt true that some Spurs fans themselves will be idiotic bigots and unaware of why we do this, the vast majority know that this is a club that has spent many years fighting against oppressive supremacists.
It might have started as gallows humour or simply psychosomatic mockery and repartee between rival sets of supporters, but Tottenham’s identification with Jewish terminology and paraphernalia was borne out of a sense of injustice and of needing to find a way to stop the hatred.
The real racists are the ones hissing about gas chambers, or mocking those in turbans, or beating up black people. They are not 36,000 Spurs fans lifting blue-and-white Israeli flags with ‘THFC’ on them, or telling Jermain Defoe he is a ‘yiddo’ because he plays for their beloved team. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it helps create a community, a history, a togetherness.
The irony is that such features, if adopted throughout mainstream society, would help lock the door on racists forever. Bigotry breeds during moments of uncertainty and fear, when the walls of society start to break down, when cracks appear in our socio-economic cohesion. David Cameron may not be explaining ‘the Big Society’ very well, but the underlying motif is right: only through creating a real sense of community on our streets will we be able to treat each other with the understanding, respect and freedom that we all deserve.
Let me be clear. On its own, out of context and away from the stadium, calling someone a ‘yid’ is insulting and offensive. Spurs fans refer to each other by the use of this term not to offend others, but out of a sense of uniqueness through togetherness. It is a complex concept, merging together a small religion’s sense of persecution into a large societal movement, acknowledging our isolation by letting a larger association take on our struggle with us.
This is not about shouting the word ‘yid’ randomly on the street. It is about understanding why Spurs fans use the term, where it comes from and what it means. When you go to the trouble of learning the situation’s nuance, intricacy and history it puts the onus back on David Baddiel to refocus his efforts more appropriately to the situation.
On Wednesday 20 April 2011, Spurs will play Arsenal at White Hart Lane: the North London Derby between the two sides in England with the most Jewish supporters. Baddiel’s video will be shown on the big screens. His virtuous ambition should be applauded. Sadly for all concerned, the strategy and logic to achieve such lofty and respected aims is simplistic.
Important issues deserve intelligent solutions, not lowest-common-denominator philosophy. Jewish football fans deserve better than that; after all, we’ve been fighting this battle for decades. Without David Baddiel, and in our own peculiar way, we seem to be getting somewhere.
Gareth Bale will still be a ‘yiddo’ when he runs over towards the Shelf Side to take a corner.
Spurs will still be the ‘yid army’, not just as a battle cry to fight the opposition on the pitch, but to take on the racists at their own game in the stands.