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Monday, 9 January 2012

SECTARIANISM.

Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 2012.

On casual examination, it seems that –ism is unpleasant. Fill in the blanks and add your own jokes yourselves. Ice creamism, taken too far, can have appalling consequences. My plan is to publish INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS six weeks after I published Neon Gods brought Down by Swords.
   There’s a story in my uncollected collection concerning sectarianism. Bigotry. I can say little of that story here – for the story is short. And I determined that direct commentary on the tale should not exceed the length of the tale itself. See the book for details when it comes out.
   I can say more on the general topic. What is sectarianism, with special regard paid to the Wild West of Scotland? It appears to have something to do with football. I have no interest in football (no, I’m not a Motherwell supporter, thanks for asking), and, for that reason, find the football angle difficult to fathom. The details are hazy. I suspect the background goes something like this…
   Rangers is a Glasgow football team in blue, whose members would play on blue grass if they could. Rival Celtic (pronounced Seltic, and not Keltic), is a Glasgow football team in green – known as the most famous Irish team in Scottish football.
   The teams are described, collectively, as the Old Firm. Or, translating for the weegies in the audience, Rah Auld Firrrum. Weegies are Glasgwegians. That is to say, inhabitants of Glasgow. Pardon me while I turn into Stanley Baxter. (Google him, or run a search on Parliamo Glasgow.)
   At a distance, and at no distance at all, it is difficult to describe the footballing landscape. Is there a thin veneer of football coating bigotry, or a thin veneer of bigotry coating football? Rangers versus Celtic. One team against another. Protestantism versus Catholicism.
   Is there a difference between Protestantism and Catholicism? Both are versions of the same religion. Christianity. In the Wild West, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. They are sects, and sectarianism is little more than the act of following sects. Or following football teams which act like sects. Can you detect a difference between Protestant and Catholic?
   Yes. At a glance? Oh yes. With the utterance of a phrase? Oh yes indeed. On the streets of Northern Ireland, the matter is determined by courtesy. Man crosses street. Car approaches slowly. Man glances at car. Driver pauses, and signals that man may cross safely. Man crossing street notes Catholicism or Protestantism in the driver. How so?
   If the driver signals by raising two fingers, he grants the Pope’s blessing. A raised hand, however, is the Red Hand of Ulster. That’s a very Irish example. Another is determination of religious persuasion by study of the manner in which a stamp is placed on a letter.
   In Northern Ireland, a man who thumps the stamp into place is Catholic. For he bashes the Queen’s head on that stamp. The Protestant resorts to excesses of saliva in affixing the stamp – licking the Queen’s arse.
   An old piece of ill-humour. Stamps needn’t be licked, now. (While stamps and letters last, in our digital world.) Forget crossing the street, or licking postage stamps. The Scottish example comes in an utterance. Whit skuil did ye go tae?
   Asking which school you went to is another way of asking whether you went to a Protestant school or a Catholic school. In truth, through all the years I’ve pondered this strange question, it always seemed to me that it was simply a way of asking if you went to a Catholic school. The question itself marks the questioner as Protestant. A subtle distinction often lost on the questioner.
   Bigotry is on my mind. Our overpriced parliament passed new legislation against bigotry. Specifically, a framework of anti-bigotry law designed to stamp out bigotry in and around football grounds. I wondered if my fiction would fall foul of this new legislation. Then remembered that, as someone with no interest in football, I could not be charged under the legislation even if someone took offence on reading my short story.
   We may come to call that lack of interest in football the Motherwell Supporter Defence. I am joking, of course. (There are supposed to be two Motherwell supporters, on display at Edinburgh Zoo alongside other rare specimens.) The new legislation does allow for freedom of expression. In short, if I write and publish a story about bigotry and sectarianism, and make comments deemed offensive by some, my right to artistic freedom is not affected.
   What I say in the story is said as a commentary on sectarianism and bigotry of all persuasions. I need not fear having my collar felt by the polis. What sort of unsavoury activity occurs at football matches? Ah. You mean on match days. Not just at the match.
   For the supporters of Rangers, every football game is a game against Celtic. Rangers versus Celtic? That’s a game against Celtic. Motherwell versus Celtic? That’s a game against Celtic. Rangers versus Motherwell? That’s a game against Celtic. Germany versus Narnia? That’s a game against Celtic. (Narnia has a great centaur-forward and a cracking centaur-half. You couldn’t have resisted making the joke, so stop groaning.)
   Every game is a game against Celtic. This stokes tension on every single match day. The Celtic supporters see things that way too. A game of Celtic versus a cloned Celtic team would still be a game against Rangers.
   If you think everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, remember this. Every Celtic supporter is Irish on a match day. That level of loyalty to a Scottish team blows the Scottishness away. This stokes tension on every match day.
   I don’t know if Bobby Sands MP ever had a chicken supper. He was one of ten IRA men who starved to death as part of a campaign of prison hunger-strikes. An attempt to turn prisoners into political prisoners. Why mention him here?
   On a match day, you could board a train in the Wild West of Scotland and hear SHE’LL BE COMING ROUND THE MOUNTAIN WHEN SHE COMES. With different words. Typically, you’d face a gang of drunken supporters further up the carriage, chanting, COULD YOU GO A CHICKEN SUPPER, BOBBY SANDS?
   Quite what the fuck this has to do with football is beyond me.
   On a side-note, I feel it important to stress that the likelihood of the train slowing, or coming to a halt for technical reasons, is greatly increased by the presence of drunken singers. A slow train on a wet weekend, with rain pelting sideways off the windows, practically cries out for drunken musical accompaniment. Welcome to the all-singing, no-room-for-dancing, West Coast chorus line.
   Other songs. About famine. Instructing the Irish that it’s time to go home. This is a dig at the Irishness of the Celtic team. The Potato Famine, an event so cataclysmic as to require capitalisation, did not just affect the Irish. However, as they were worst-hit, the disaster came to be known as the Irish Potato Famine.
   In Scotland, the Highlands and Islands were also severely hit by the potato famine. So the famine is too close to home. Yet 1840-era Irish immigration in the wake of the famine is still used as a stick to beat the Celtic supporters with…at a distance just shy of two centuries.
   What of the Celtic side of sectarianism? The other face of a cloudy mirror, reflecting nothing but bigotry in equal measure. Irish Republican Army songs. Usually, though not exclusively, about some brave young broth of a bhoy who took a perfidious English bullet in the heart all in the name of The Cause.
   However, I would add that you’ll still be hanged in some parts of the country for singing about your darling Clementine if you do so with an Irish accent. A song about a miner in the Gold-Rush, lamenting his lost love, seems to have taken on the aura of Irish post-famine politics and a lament for the Old Country the miner had to flee. With another century-plus addition of political and pseudo-political baggage to weigh the song down.
   Yes, Rangers and Celtic supporters need reminding that Celtic is a Scottish team. True, fans of Rangers and Celtic occasionally need reminding that the eleven-man Celtic squad is not the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. There are so many wind-up merchants on both sides that they should start a clockwork toy company. It would do very well.
   Will the new legal framework dampen the tension in religious bigotry? Very hard to say. I’m always inclined to ask how many of these people actually go to church. But then, if I asked which church do you go to, I might be accused of bigotry.
   As for the story. This story that could lead to my arrest if my work is considered outwith the right to freedom of artistic expression? It makes my commentary in this blog seem tame. You’ll just have to read the book to find out more.
   Taking my leave of you, I will caution genteel readers of this blog. The topic under discussion may attract a swarm of vituperative comments. Simply because every football game in Scotland is a game against Rangers/Celtic. (Delete as applicable.)

NEXT BLOG: BREVITY. SUMS IT UP NICELY.

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