The Mindset of Denial: A Panel of Experts Write
November 27th 2009
I have written fairly often on the subject that passes for sectarianism in Scotland, at times written on football, and occasionally written on both. For some reason, my column yesterday in ‘The Scotsman’ that addressed these subjects, along with racism and homophobia, rankled a range of Rangers opinion who decided to get in contact.
I cannot claim that these half dozen Rangers fans who contacted me are a representative cross-section of the club’s support, but what is interesting is that these fans expressed themselves in a way which was clear, concise and intelligent. And that in a way is what is most troubling. These are not the voices of an uneducated, ignorant baying band of bigots; this cannot be classified, as the otherwise excellent Graham Spiers did the other day, as an ‘underclass’. These are people who are articulate and measured in how they argue and disagree, and how they express the mindset of denial.
Here’s just one Rangers perspective:
Why do people like you continue to peddle myths about the level of sectarianism that exists in Scotland? Moreover, why do you see Rangers FC as the mother lode of all things intolerant and bigoted amidst Scotland’s small-minded parochialism?
Here’s another extract from someone denying the obvious and then stating something I didn’t remotely state – that Rangers are ‘the sole perpetuators’ – when I had singled out both Celtic and Rangers:
You also accuse Rangers supporters of revelling in the “opprobrium and condemnation which comes their way.” This is utter nonsense! Had you taken the time to research this issue before making such a sneering statement, you’d be aware that most Rangers fans are tired and angry at being labelled as the sole perpetrators. Visit any public Rangers forum and you’ll soon realize this.
And then there is an open invitation to that paragon of peace, love and understanding known as Ibrox:
Do yourself a favour and visit Ibrox any Saturday, and you’ll see that this rubbish is largely non-existent these days – that’s if you know where it is! I would even go so far as to say that Ibrox is the least likely ground to find this odious behaviour, unlike other grounds such as: Celtic Park, Easter Road, Tannadice, Fir Park, and many others too numerous to mention.
Several of the Rangers fans took exception to my mentioning Rangers fans, when they reached the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester, chanting ‘Black bastards’ at Asian Rangers fans – that’s when they weren’t rioting – and disputed whether it happened and asking for my evidence. I happen to know one of the Rangers fans who experienced this horrible hatred and racism, and he was shocked, saddened and shaken by it. But then he had been to Ibrox before– to the corporate hospitality – and been thrown by the degree of abuse, venom and hated – sectarian and non-sectarian – in the posh seats from the suits, let alone from the cheap seats.
Here is one such Rangers denier:
Even if the incident occurred, what is the relevance to the fact that the perpetrators were Rangers supporters? Racist behaviour is racist behaviour. I sit in Ibrox every other week, and can confirm that there are several Asian supporters in the same area as myself, and they are treated not differently by anyone there.
Most of the comments keep their tempers under control, but a few let it bubble over, particularly when they are mentioning Celtic or the Catholic Church and the preferential treatment they believe they get. One supporter states that rather than present ‘an impartial view’ I have, like ‘the STUC study into sectarianism in the workforce’, shown that I am ‘biased against the Protestant majority’ and that am motivated by the fact that I ‘wouldn’t want to be upsetting the local diocese’.
Another gets all worked up about the perceived inequities in Scotland I didn’t mention:
Why no mention of Scotland’s real shame of apartheid, education, and successive Scottish governments failure to stand up against the RC church and end this shame once and for all. You want a football related racist incident – why no mention of Celtic fans throwing bananas on the park at Mark Walters old firm debut?
One signs off by saying: ‘Oh, and before you slot me into the inevitable pigeon hole reserved in your mind for the likes of me, know one thing. I’m a Protestant married to a Catholic, who sends his son to a Catholic School.’
In case you still have some thoughts that this is just a bunch of last ditch fanatics, one supporter states:
The whole sectarian (anti-Catholic) debate is strewn with anomalies, and puzzling conundrums. I find it absolutely astounding that highly successful Catholic composers; Catholic MSPs (and Westminster MPs for that matter); highly successful Catholic businessmen; Catholic senior lecturers at our top educational institutions; massively famous Catholic film actors; hugely successful Catholic comedians et al – all Scottish – can bang on about a country that has oppressed them and denied them opportunities that everybody else gets!
What can you make of these comments? That the psychology of the tribal bunker runs deep and can be found across the spectrum of intelligence, from the Neanderthal to the people who can pass in polite circle. This is in a sense obvious, but the degree of denial is still stark and alarming. These are intelligent people who have built elaborate systems of justification and blinkeredness, who either choose not to see hatred and venom at Ibrox (which means they must have a very narrow view of venom: i.e. no one killed again on a Saturday in Ibrox as another day of peace and understanding), or who choose to justify their views via the action of Celtic or Catholics.
Rangers fans have no idea how intimidating, offensive and revolting much of their behaviour comes across to those of us who want to live in a modern, diverse Scotland. That means not being marred in ancient folk myths and traditions about one culture triumphing over another, or questioning the Scottishness of other communities, whether they be Catholic, Asian or otherwise.
One recent incident I experienced of the supposedly liberal, enlightened Scotland clashing with the bigoted part of our nation, was coming back on the train from Inverness and the recent SNP conference. A group of four – women and men – of us at a table were having a varied and stimulating conversation about the nature of the SNP and independence. As our train came into Perth, some Rangers fans got on as they had earlier been playing St Johnstone. They didn’t make their presence felt until after Stirling, but then they took over the carriage. We had songs about ‘killing the Gibraltar Three’, various other songs sung loudly, one ‘supporter’ staring at us as he passed going to the toilet stating ‘we are the Prods’, and another lecture the whole train on how ‘Labour no longer represented the working class’. He was on a roll I thought with such a comment but spoiled it by then bringing in ‘the Pope’ and ‘people of Ulster’.
This all made us reflect a bit on our earlier discussion and the realities of a modern Scotland. No doubt Celtic fans coming back from matches at times engage in similarly offensive, intimidating behaviour. Yet, there is something much worse about the behaviour of some of the Rangers fans.
There is a universal human condition here, of people who oppress, stigmatise and dehumanise others seeing themselves as ‘the victims’ and ‘everybody being out to get them’. I am not saying that everything is rosy with Celtic supporters. The whole Celtic paranoia of thinking large parts of Scotland are mired by anti-Catholicism, and their denial about being part of ‘the Old Firm’ and strangling the Scottish game, are frankly counter-productive and threadbare.
But to those of us outside ‘the Old Firm’ the Rangers lager mentality is something else. It is akin to Israeli settlers who see the powerless Palestinian National Authority as by its very existence posing an existential threat to the state of Israel, or Afrikaneers in the last days of apartheid South Africa. We know that all of these cultures are shaped by the ideas of the oppressor, and isn’t it about time some enlightened Rangers fans, of which there are at least a few, started facing up to their history and traditions, and trying to enter the modern world?