Saturday, 29 July 2017

Rejecting militarism, supporting the radical hoops

Green Brigade seat suspensions, Celtic v Rosenborg. 
On the spectrum between high crimes and petty misdemeanors, UEFA's fining of Celtic, and sanctions imposed by the club on its Green Brigade supporters, is shamefully disproportionate, revealing much about the selective ways in which militarist images are viewed and reported.

Much inflated outrage has been preached by the club's directors, and peddled by an eager media, after the displaying of an "illicit" paramilitary-styled banner at a recent match against Northern Ireland side, Linfield. Other club charges against the GB include the lighting of celebratory flares at a previous match against Hearts.

I have a deep disdain for any kind of militarism, particularly the British establishment variety. From Armed Forces Day to Remembrance Day, we're fed a relentless culture of populist militarism, giving legitimacy to the vast crimes and suffering visited by the British state on others across the globe. So, it follows that I'm no great fan, either, of paramilitarist insignia, which only seems to ape that ugly regimentation.

Yet, behind the pictorial balaclavas and dark glasses lies a deeper context of resistance. Tourists visiting the mural walls of Belfast and Derry will find not only images of men with guns, but a longer story on the peaceful demand for civil rights. And it's sobering to think how the hoods and armalites may never have manifested had the British state granted those basic civil and political rights, rather than sending in its own militarist boots.

While Britain's dark interventions proceed around the world, media condemnation of a crude banner shows just how selectively such images and narratives are treated. From the Daily Record and Daily Mail, to the Scottish Sun - yes, the Hillsborough96-denying Sun - the reaction has been, predictably, shrill.

Contrast that with the almost total media silence over this country's murderous militarism and shameless gun-running, disgracefully evident in its current arming of Saudi Arabia, and complicit part in the mass slaughter of civilians in Yemen, a damning truth studiously evaded by the BBC.

As historian Mark Curtis has charted, Britain is presently involved in at least seven illicit/covert wars. It's now the world's second highest arms supplier. That's serious militarism, all whitewashed as a media-approved culture of state violence.

While pyrotechnics, however creative, are never a smart idea inside a football ground, consider the ready denunciation of that small accident-free event at Celtic Park against the explosive spectacle of British bombs falling from the skies across the Middle East, and, again, the almost total media failure to condemn such terror.

Shock and Awe over Iraq, the misery of Mosul, or the obliteration of hospitals in Yemen may all seem far and detached from what's going on at Celtic Park. But the hullabaloo over this banner provides a useful illustration of just what sort of militarism our media find beyond the pale; how even petty gestures at a football match are subjected to media outrage and collective punishment, while 'our' state and its corporate arms merchants go freely about their real, deathly business.  

The Green Brigade are now pilloried by club, media and UEFA. It's a trinity of gross hypocrisy: a board that installed Iraq war criminal John Reid as a past chairman; a Scottish media tainted by its 'succulent lamb' journalism; and a UEFA elite that can wield sanctions over a banner, yet refuse to take action against Israel over its brutal, apartheid treatment of Palestinian footballers.

Unlike all the above entities, the Green Brigade have stood firmly in support of Palestine. In a brilliant act of public awareness, they raised £176,000 for Palestinian causes, in defiance of a UEFA fine for waving Palestinian flags during a match with Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva. Conveniently, the Celtic board, initially inclined to join in condemning the Green Brigade, stood back and enjoyed the worldwide plaudits 'for the club'.

This reflects the board's ongoing dilemma over the Green Brigade: how to dampen their political voice while reaping the financial benefits and fantastic atmosphere they bring to the ground.
In a troubled relationship, the board's decision to suspend nine hundred fans from the GB section looks like another worried shot across their bow. It's unlikely to silence these politically vibrant fans.

As with their support for Palestine, the Green Brigade have been unafraid to take laudable positions over other 'difficult' issues. In 2010, they presented an anti-poppy banner, which declared:

"Your deeds would shame all the devils in hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No blood-stained poppy on our hoops"

To that list may be added, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other lands where Britain has helped shed more blood and unleash further human chaos. Yet, as the Green Brigade found out, dare to highlight and protest such crimes, and expect to be treated as a social deviant.

People who reject the poppy aren't doing so out of disrespect for those fallen in wars, but in rejection of establishment militarism and the sanitising of Britain's warmongering. That's a valid act of political conscience, as was the Green Brigade's statement. But so, too, did Celtic, as a club, partake in a clear political act by choosing to wear the poppy on their shirts. It's all political.

As the Green Brigade assert, you can't leave politics at the turnstile: "Politics is life. Politics has always been part of football and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise." 

Complementing its anti-sectarian leftism, the Green Brigade's anti-Unionism has also found common cause with the movement for Scottish radical independence - the GB "support a 32-county Irish Socialist Republic and an Independent Scottish Socialist Republic". All of which assumes new political significance following the recent ugly Tory-DUP  alignment.

In similar spirit, the Green Brigade have expressed admirable support for refugees, highlighted anti-racism issues, and organised mass food bank collections for Glasgow's poor. No corporate displays. No corporate logos. Just statements of political solidarity and social empathy. How many other sets of fans are taking those kind of bold and compassionate positions?

While commending the Green Brigade's "amazing" support, manager Brendan Rodgers insists that "the political element is not acceptable" inside Celtic Park, and that "Celtic is a football club, nothing else."

He's mistaken on both counts. It's a social and cultural institution. Those values and identities may have evolved. But Celtic's founding mission to serve the poor of Glasgow's east end, notably its destitute Irish Catholic community, lives on as a progressive narrative within the Celtic fan base.

Such values have certainly been undermined by scandalous board appointees like John Reid and Conservative peer Lord Ian Livingston, who caused a threatened walkout by fans in 2015 after backing Tory austerity cuts. 10,000 supporters signed a petition demanding his removal, a call ignored by the board after Chairman Ian Bankier defended him. In May 2017, Livingston announced that he was stepping down to concentrate on his other corporate duties.

The Green Brigade are resisting a board that's seeking to emasculate Celtic's primary political history, and shroud it in corporate branding. The club's hierarchy insist there's no place for 'irresponsible' imagery inside football grounds. Meanwhile, much more insidious corporate messages abound.

Celtic feature Dafabet on their shirt fronts. That's a direct advert for corporate gambling. What 'exemplary' message does that send out to young fans? While Brendan Rodgers has urged players to beware the pitfalls of gambling, club officials consider Dafabet 'responsible' sponsorship. Did they think for a moment of the families, predominantly poor, torn apart by gambling addiction; the breakups, suicides and despair? Did they reflect on how betting shops are taking over high streets, or how firms like Dafabet are enticing vulnerable people online? From Dafabet shirts to the William Hill Scottish Cup: when did corporate-serving directors and governors ever stop to think about these kind of social messages?

It's all part of the mass corporate invasion of sport. Grounds named after airlines, trophies and leagues prefixed by banks and shark loan companies. Flashing, seizure-inducing advertising now surrounds pitches, distracting from the actual play. It's amazing to think that almost no one even blinks at this naked corporate indoctrination.

And, of course, the same goes for alcohol sponsorship. Ironically, Celtic were also threatened with UEFA censure after substitute players wore kit featuring the Magners alcohol logo. This is the extent of UEFA's concern: the protection of corporate rights, rather than the right of protection from corporate images.

That imposition of corporate ideology is also a political act, again, one the Green Brigade have challenged in their denunciation of anti-union and sweatshop firms like Nike and Coca-Cola.
Whatever elite directors or ruling bodies demand, football grounds and other sporting venues are, indeed, appropriate places for alternative political expression.

In a field of establishment compliance and corporate conformity, it's gratifying to see the Green Brigade's left idealism, political provocations and iconoclastic displays. Other Celtic fans are entitled to their political views. Few among the Green Brigade would claim to speak for all supporters or the club. But the GB should also be free to express their own particular viewpoints, in their own unique style, without censure from a conservative board or the opprobrium of other fans.

In an age of mass social media, radical resistance to dominant propaganda - neoliberal, corporate, militarist - is taking new, and more significant, cultural forms. As a popular platform helping to highlight state villainy, resist corporate hegemony, and stand up for oppressed people, the inventive displays and political voice of the Green Brigade are to be supported.