Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Football fans need free speech, too
A man has been jailed for singing a song that mocks a religious leader, yet liberty campaigners have said nothing
Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.
So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.
Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’
Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise - the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.
This new illiberal climate has created a situation where football supporters are increasingly viewed as a public-order incident waiting to happen. Tragically, young fans like Connor McGhie are now fair game because those in powerful positions don’t like what they sing. They have been demonised and criminalised for many years, a trend which reached its logical conclusion last year with the introduction by the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communication Act, which made it a criminal offence to shout or sing offensive slogans. The consequence is that to be a Celtic or Rangers fan today is to be watched over, regulated, censored and generally treated like a threat to society. There is no discrimination towards different groups of fans – all are treated equally badly. It was this time last year that I wrote on spiked about a dawn raid on the home of a 17-year-old Celtic fan, who was remanded in custody for allegedly singing a republican song the police objected to. In short, the civil liberties of Celtic and Rangers fans alike are now fair game to be trampled on.
What is also noticeable about the imprisonment of McGhie for singing songs is the response of civil-liberties activists and religious-freedom campaigners. Or rather, the lack of response. There has been complete silence. Where are all those who protested vehemently against the detention of Pussy Riot for making similarly profane statements in a Russian cathedral? Where are all those newspaper editorials howling in rage against the incarceration of this young Rangers fan? Perhaps if he stormed into St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, the spiritual headquarters of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and hurled obscenities at worshippers, he would attract more support.
The other thing that strikes me is how anti-Catholic prejudice seems to be tolerated when it comes from our ‘national treasures’, like Stephen Fry or Richard Dawkins, but not when it comes out of the mouths of football fans. When the pope visited Britain two years ago, liberal campaigners lined up to accuse him of everything from hatred of women to paedophilia. To my knowledge, none of these words were deemed offensive enough to the UK’s Catholic community to prompt arrests or detentions, yet when a Rangers fan shouts of his hatred for the pope, that fan is locked up.
Tolerance, it seems, exists for those safely ensconced in polite society but not for Rangers or Celtic supporters, the great majority of whom are just ordinary working-class guys who love their team and enjoy expressing their passion for 90 minutes a week. True, they are not observing polite dinner-party etiquette when at a football match, and those of a more delicate nature should perhaps avoid Celtic or Rangers games. But part of the ritual of supporting a team is to wind up your rivals and, for some, this involves being raucous and boorish and hurling the occasional insult.
At the time of writing, Connor McGhie has been released on bail pending an appeal. Young men like him need and deserve the support of people who claim to care about free speech and civil liberties. This support should not be reserved for nice, respectable people, and withheld from those deemed less respectable. Despite my fanatical support for Celtic and my deep loathing for Rangers, there are things that cut through football rivalry. The right to shout the slogans we choose during the game is one of them.
Farewell to our warrior nation
Max Hastings on the decline of Britain
The Government is making huge cuts to the Army, Royal Navy and RAF in the mistaken belief that they no longer matter
Thirty years ago, I tramped across a soggy South Atlantic wilderness among 15,000 Royal Marines, paratroopers, Guardsmen and Gurkhas who fought that most surreal of campaigns, the 1982 Falklands war.
It was obvious at the time that Margaret Thatcher's South Atlantic adventure was a last imperial hurrah. But none of us would then have guessed that today, not merely the ships and planes, but the very Armed Forces which fought the war, would be on their way to the scrapyard. Soldiers are being made redundant. I do not mean merely those thousands of men and women who have lately been handed P45s as part of the Coalition Government's defence cuts. Britain's entire Armed Forces are shrinking towards a point where, like Alice's cat, soon only the smile will be left.
This represents a big cultural change. Yet despite all the public's enthusiasm for supporting soldiers through such charities as Help for Heroes, there is no sign that they have noticed the draconian implications of the defence cuts - or if they have, that they much care. Amid disillusionment following perceived military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British people have lost enthusiasm for our traditional role as a warrior nation.
David Cameron's Government is cutting the regular Army to its lowest manpower strength for centuries: 82,000. When the downsizing is complete, more than 20 per cent of our soldiers will have gone. I must confess that I am profoundly sceptical whether it will prove possible to recruit the 30,000 reservists the Defence Secretary promised this week.
Soon, we shall be capable of deploying only a single battlegroup of 7,000-8,000 men for sustained operations overseas. Compare this tiny force to the 35,000 troops deployed in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles in the 1970s, or the 30,000 military personnel sent to the First Gulf War in 1991.
The message is plain: Britain has neither the means nor the will any longer to sustain a capability to commit large troop numbers abroad, in support of the national interest. The historic vision of the redcoat - holding the line at Blenheim, Waterloo, Balaclava; defending Rorke's Drift for that peerless movie Zulu; fighting to victory in two world wars and countless colonial ''brushfire'' campaigns - is to be laid to rest.
This momentous decision, with all that it means for our culture and heritage, has been a long time coming. And it raises an important question: what are soldiers for in the 21st century?
For thousands of years, nations required armies to defend their own territories and conquer those of others. From the 18th century, most of our military effort was deployed to secure our burgeoning empire. The public in those days did not love its soldiers as it did its sailors. Everybody knew that Britain recruited its warriors from the dross of society, men incapable of finding any other route to a living than to ''take the King's Shilling''. The Army preserved some respectability chiefly because the aristocracy liked fighting, and sent its younger sons to serve. Lords and honourables were often bereft of brains and unfit for their commands, as Wellington complained. But somehow a raw, brutal, bovine courage common to the leaders and the led, together with a few bright officers, enabled the relatively small regular army to achieve some remarkable things.
The First World War brought a huge expansion of the Army, first by volunteers, latterly by conscription. The same happened in 1939-45, when once again millions of young citizens experienced military life. Even when peace came, the Cold War and residual empire commitments sustained into the 1950s an Army of 750,000. Then, however, it was decided that conscription was more trouble and expense than it was worth. Though a minority of young men fought, most peeled potatoes or blancoed puttees at Aldershot or Rheindahlen. They learnt little that was useful, and the professionals had to devote most of their energies to training them.
The Army that followed in the 1960s and 1970s, volunteers to a man, became the best this country has ever had. But the end of the Cold War brought another radical upheaval. Inevitably, the government seized the opportunity to save money by cutting the Armed Forces. The Royal Navy secured a temporary reprieve thanks to the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falklands. A short, sharp, decisive war enabled the British to show off their superiority over a third-class enemy. The prestige of all the services soared, and victory earned Margaret Thatcher her reputation as a warrior prime minister.
But she soon resumed her pursuit of a ''peace dividend''. Rhine Army's resources and training budgets were cut savagely. For the First Gulf War in 1992, it proved necessary to cannibalise the Army's entire armoured vehicle inventory in Germany to deploy a single weak division in the desert.
The Army was deeply apprehensive about its future when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997. As far as action went, it need not have been.
New Labour's prime minister put British troops in harm's way, in pursuit of his supposed ''moral foreign policy'', more often than any other modern national leader including Mrs Thatcher. There was one important difficulty, however. While Blair was eager to use force to do good deeds in the world, he never wanted to pay the bills. In Iraq and later Afghanistan, British forces found themselves pursuing hugely ambitious objectives with wholly inadequate resources, and humiliatingly dependent on the Americans for equipment.
In the Blair era the Army shrank below 100,000 men, yet again and again accepted tasks that were properly beyond its means. The generals' traditional ''can do'' spirit contributed to grievous embarrassments and failures in Basra and Helmand province. They should have said ''no'' more often.
Today the public still embraces our Army - but as victims, lambs to the slaughter like the Light Brigade at Balaclava. Such an attitude greatly dismays thoughtful soldiers. They know that the Army has lost much of the prestige won by victories of the Falklands era, and the political clout it could wield when most politicians had served in uniform. David Cameron's Coalition sees only that it needs to save money, and soldiers are expensive.
It costs about $2 million a year to keep each American in Afghanistan. Manpower costs account for 40 per cent of Britain's defence spend. The Government is determined to fight no more foreign ground wars, once we escape from Helmand.
This hope or expectation is almost certainly unrealistic. Events have a way of taking charge. Who knows where Cameron, or his successors, may discern a ''moral imperative'', as he did in Libya and chafes also to do in Syria? Downing Street argues that air power and special forces can do the business, without having to commit thousands of troops. Technology may be expensive, but it seems to the politicians to deliver a bigger bang for their buck.
Yet ''boots on the ground'' offer flexibility and a disciplined and available national resource such as no other institution in the land can match. In 2012, the Government would have faced huge embarrassment had it not been able, at a month's notice, to deploy 3,000 soldiers for security at the London Olympics. After 2015, however, there will be pitifully few men for Olympic security or anything else.
Defence policy should always be rational, so no sensible person will lament the passing of Britain's redcoat tradition merely as a matter of sentiment. But I believe that our national interest and security will suffer from the drastic shrinkage of the Armed Forces. In future, we shall retain - at vast cost - a capacity to pulverise an identified foreign enemy with Trident nuclear missiles, though it is hard to conceive any credible scenario in which we would use them. We shall still have special forces, capable of storming buildings and fighting terrorists. But we shall have lost immense and important capability between the two.
When millions of people put on their Remembrance poppies tomorrow, they will commemorate not only the dead of our past wars, but the looming recession into history of the Armed Forces which have done so much to define our national culture. The politicians are consigning Britain's Army, Navy and RAF to the margin of national experience. As a matter of policy rather than sentiment, this seems a grievous error.
Should Churches Be Used as Polling Places? Atheists & Church-State Separatists Say ‘No’
Church-state separatists — and, in particular, atheists — tend to complain about a wide variety of issues pertaining to religious influence in public life. But what about houses of worship doubling as polling locations, a topic that receives little coverage? While many Americans cast their electoral ballots inside schools and other public buildings, some are also required, should they choose to vote in person, to do so inside of church buildings.
This week, CNN took a look at the issue, recapping some perspectives that highlight the pros and cons associated with allowing (or, in some peoples’ words “forcing”) Americans to cast their votes inside houses of worship. While church-state separatists argue that holding official polling inside of these structures constitutes an improper intermixing of faith and governance, other dismiss such a notion.
On one hand, it could be argued that churches simply aren’t appropriate as polling stations. After all, depending on the denomination, associations with more liberal or conservative ideals may be embraced. One could claim that, even if it is rooted in the subconscience, houses of worship might cause voters to second-guess their views on specific issues at the polls.
Still, those supportive of using churches for this purpose would likely dismiss this view, while also highlighting societal roles that religious institutions have traditionally played. From feeding the poor to serving as places of refuge, American houses of worship have a history of helping those in need and serving as community epicenters for change and the betterment of the public welfare.
If churches are so much a part of society — and the local community — that they regularly feed the poor and assist the downtrodden in times of trouble, why should they not also serve as hubs in the electoral process, these critics might ask.
Considering the policy views and political activity that some churches embrace and engage in, though, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is an opposing voice when it comes to answering whether churches should double as polling places.
Should Churches Be Used as Polling Places? | Elections
People wait outside Mt.Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, DC on November 6, 2012 as Americans headed to the polls Tuesday after a burst of last-minute campaigning by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a nail-biting contest unlikely to heal a deeply polarized nation. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
“All of this church-based political activity makes me uneasy about casting ballots in houses of worship, especially those festooned with political signs,” Lynn wrote in a recent CNN op-ed. “And yet today, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches around the country are being pressed into service as polling places.”
Lynn claims that his group receives regular complaints that churches are used when there is another location — a library, school or community center — that could easily act as a voting locality. Now, the church-state separatist’s concern over influence is certainly an interesting one. After all, consider the Colorado church that served as a polling place this year, while also choosing to leave up its anti-abortion display (an action that captivated headlines).
However, just as concerning as this anecdotal example may be, secular locations also have their problems (i.e. the pro-Obama mural present on the wall at a Philadelphia school). While one could argue that voting in a church may cause individuals to pause and reconsider their views on controversial social issues, wouldn’t voting in a school or library potentially impact voters’ perspective on budgets and funding for these localities (this may be a stretch, but you get the idea).
Australian Labor Party gives up plan for internet censorship
LABOR has abandoned its controversial plan to introduce an internet filter, but is banning all websites related to child abuse. The federal government will use its powers under the Telecommunications Act to block hundreds of child abuse websites already identified by Interpol, Fairfax reports.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said blocking these websites met "community expectations and fulfils the government's commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child abuse material online". "Given this successful outcome, the government has no need to proceed with mandatory filtering legislation," he said.
Kevin Rudd promised to introduce an internet filter when Labor won office at the 2007 election, but it was always a controversial policy. Internet lobbyists argued against censorship and predicted a filter would be ineffective and would slow internet speeds.
Both the coalition and the Greens opposed the plan.
The internet filter would have required Australian internet service providers to block overseas-hosted "refused classification" material as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The list of banned websites would have been based on public complaints to ACMA.
Fairfax said Internet Industry Association chief executive Peter Lee welcomed the decision as "a positive step".
But the Australian Christian Lobby insisted a filter was needed because "it is important to prevent unwanted access to pornography". "We must protect our children from forming unhealthy attitudes towards women and sex," lobby spokeswoman Wendy Francis said.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.