Pussy Riot 1 – 0 Football Fans

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Just as I publish my book, Snobs Law, which looks at the criminalisation of offensive words in football, we witness the hypocritical way the British ‘cosmopolitan’ elite treats the issue of free speech and free expression with their fawning adoration shown towards Pussy Riot.

Members of the Russian punk band who shouted, swore and acted in an offensive manner in a Moscow cathedral have been imprisoned resulting in worldwide celebrities and the ‘liberal’ press and politicians in the UK denouncing Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian monster. Meanwhile back in the real world of white Scottish working class football fans, very similar behaviour is being newly branded as ‘offensive’ (under the new Offensive Behaviour at Football Act), and the very same cosmopolitan elite can be heard cheering as supporters are arrested and sentences to up to five years in prison.

Putin is a monster – Alex Salmond, the architect of one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in living memory, is named ‘politician of the year’. Go figure! Welcome to the world of cosmopolitan snobbery where the prejudice and hatred of the ‘great unwashed’ is re-emerging with a vengeance.

In Britain we often frown upon Muslim ‘extremists’ who burn books and images they find offensive, and yet our very own ‘book burners’ in the Scottish Parliament use the full force of the law and the police to the same effect against ‘offensive’ football supporters and are celebrated as ‘modern’ and ‘tolerant’. Rare to find today’s elites demanding the censoring of blasphemous words and material we have in its place the new secular religion of anti-racism and in Scotland our very own form of moralising around anti-sectarianism. This new framework for authoritarian laws and police activities is seen by some as a form of political (or linguistic) correctness. It is at the same time built upon the newly constructed model citizen – the thin skinned, chronically offended victim of ‘abuse’, ‘harassment’ and of course ‘offensive’ words.

Tolerance has been reborn in this context to mean the very opposite of what it has historically meant in a democratic society. No longer is it about defending free speech and expression, tolerating (if arguing against) ideas and behaviour you disagree with - but about protecting the fragile new citizen from harmful or intolerant speech. In the process a new form of ‘sectarian’ tell tale is being created and encouraged to rat on their fellow supporters, Twitterers and Facebook ranters, and new petty hatreds and divisions are being cemented across our modern tolerant Scottish society.

The sociologist Slovoj Zizek has observed that today’s ‘absolute’ is the right not to be harassed. But for Zizek there is a problem with this new right (that is increasingly protected in law) and that is that it is creating an increasingly distant form of public life where we are all protected from one another – kept at a distance from one another through the language of ‘respect’. The result is a new form of Nimbyism of the self a modern day emotionally fragile narcissism where we increasingly expect the often stupid or infantile chanting or blogging of people we don’t like to be silenced by the authorities. ‘Arrest him’, shouts the self obsessed individual, ‘because I’M OFFENDED’.

The result is that both old and new sectarians at football grounds, and perhaps most especially the new generation of young football fans, can and are using the new laws to increasingly report one another to the police with the claim that ‘their songs (words, chants, flags, behaviour) are offensive’.

Historically, unlike churches or cathedrals, football grounds have been the very place and space where grown men have enjoyed being crude, rude and offensive towards one another in what is a 90 minute adult pantomime – and helps to make football the beautiful passionate game that it is. Today the words of these chanting and ranting supporters are taken seriously by an immature and nervous elite whose heads are filled with prejudices and anxieties about the imaginary bigoted hordes they see before them.

The myths, prejudices and panics surrounding football need to be exposed as does the increasingly intolerant and illiberal climate being created in a country that could soon be independent but where the freedoms and liberties needed for independent individuals to flourish no longer exist.

[icon class="info"]Stuart Waiton is author of Snobs Law: Criminalising Football Fans in an Age of Intolerance, available from Amazon here.[/icon]

Snob's Law Book