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Our self-flagellation over

the minor issue of

sectarianism

Charles Lewis

Over the past decade or so, I have followed the general debate on sectarianism in Scotland and been particularly intrigued with the current discussion of the issue in the Scottish Review.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised in Glasgow by non-religious English parents whose allegiances lay with Manchester United. However, I became a Rangers supporter, and remain so, despite leaving Scotland to pursue my career in England, Switzerland and the United States. I would like to start by addressing some of the points made by John Kelly (30 August) in his recent contribution to this journal before outlining my views on why the broader debate is languishing in an intellectual cul de sac.

My impression of the dialogue surrounding sectarian bigotry is one of increasing incredulity at some of the positions taken, a prime example of which is John Kelly's attempt to draw a parallel between Irish Republican violence and the British Army's presence in Iraq. No matter what John Kelly asserts, I have difficulty comparing an ad hoc group of armed terrorists such as the IRA with the legally constituted and democratically controlled armed forces of a sovereign country.

I also find it surprising that Mr Kelly is critical of the reception given to British servicemen and women by Rangers supporters when football clubs across Britain welcomed them as part of the 'Help for Heroes' campaign. The exception to this was, of course, Celtic Football Club, some of whose supporters infamously displayed their disdain for Remembrance Sunday with a banner emblazoned with the slogan 'No Bloodstained Poppies On Our Hoops'. When faced with a conflict one disagrees with, the tradition in Britain is to support the troops while condemning the politicians who send them to war. Given that one of those politicians became chairman of Celtic Football Club, I can appreciate that this outlook elicits a certain degree of discomfort for some. But what is truly absurd in Mr Kelly's argument is the attempt to legitimise the IRA in order to excuse offensive chanting by Celtic supporters.

In general terms, I find John Kelly's perspective to be remarkably one-dimensional. He appears to adhere to the theory that Rangers and their supporters are anti-Catholic and anti-Irish; 'ethno-religious bigotry' is the term he coins for this. The problem with theories is that they need facts to support them and this one consequently fails to stand. Rangers have Catholic players, had a Catholic captain and a Catholic manager, all of whom have been met with resounding approval by the vast majority of Rangers supporters.

There is a conspicuous dearth of discussion within the Scottish media based on indicators such as economic success or social exclusion that one might expect if sectarianism were a genuinely serious problem.

Indeed, contrary to popular perception, Rangers signed Catholic players as long ago as the 1890s. Rangers also have a large number of Irish supporters who travel over regularly for games. Surprising though it may seem to some, Rangers supporters really have no interest in the religion of Rangers players whether they be Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish or Catholic. What does concern them is their performance on the field of play.

Mr Kelly’s demand for an apology from Rangers Football Club is very telling. Firstly it implies that sectarianism is, and always has been, a one-way street. It is about apportioning blame while absolving others from any suggestion of fault and it also involves humiliating the apologiser. As one analyses Mr Kelly's argument, whether it be his excuses for the IRA, his failure to hold Celtic to the same standards he expects from Rangers or his demand for an apology, one could be forgiven for thinking that he is more interested in point scoring within the Old Firm rivalry than in a substantive discussion addressing sectarianism.

One striking feature about the wider sectarianism debate is that the core of the 'problem' is commonly portrayed as involving vocal support at football matches. Indeed, in certain cases there appears to be an implicit assumption that this is the cause of religious bigotry, although to my knowledge no evidence has ever been presented to support this theory. I say 'problem' because it is unclear to me that there is a real issue here beyond a few bruised sensibilities. Certainly I accept that songs and chants may be offensive to some but this is true of football songs and chants the world over.

However, bearing in mind the multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-religious make-up of Old Firm teams and the lack of any related hostility from their supporters, then it is justifiable to question whether there is a link between the origins of these songs and the intent with which they are sung today. Rather than demonstrating a deep-rooted 'ethno-religious bigotry', I suggest that they are sung simply because they always have been. Tradition and the 'winding-up' of rivals are far more important factors than ethno-religious hatred.

There is a conspicuous dearth of discussion within the Scottish media based on indicators such as economic success or social exclusion that one might expect if sectarianism were a genuinely serious problem. Indeed, statistics for 'mixed marriages' point to a high degree of social interaction. Given the prevalence with which sectarianism is portrayed as being synonymous with 'anti-Catholicism', the string of Catholic lord provosts of Glasgow and the relatively large number of Catholic MPs suggest the political world is hardly discriminatory, while the existence of a state-funded Catholic school system is a privilege effectively denied to all other groups.

The presence of prominent Catholic academics in the pages of this journal is indicative of equality in terms of educational opportunities. With the exception of the occasional rant from politicians or clerics against the Act of Settlement, sectarianism invariably seems to revolve around football.

There are occasions where churches merit criticism and we should not

shrink from that for fear of being smeared by the public relations offices

of these churches.

Post-devolution Scotland's apparent obsession with sectarianism comes at a time when churches in general are quietly dying from disinterest. Church attendance is increasingly a ritual adhered to for christenings, marriages and funerals. Otherwise, most people simply cannot be bothered. In 1984, over 250,000 went to see Pope John Paul II in Bellahouston Park; in 2010, barely 60,000 turned up to see Pope Benedict XVI.

Yet, as public interest in religion wanes, sensitivity to perceived sectarianism has taken centre stage. Charities have been created with full-time positions. Newspapers jump on incidents with screaming headlines. Politicians, ever vigilant for the opportunity to attract publicity and votes, make grave pronouncements. The police argue that they need more resources to deal with the problem, while academics, lawyers and journalists promote themselves through various media outlets. All this represents a tremendous mobilisation of resources for a few terrace chants in questionable taste. The suspicion arises that there are some in positions of influence who see sectarianism as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Let us be clear. It is neither bigoted nor sectarian to criticise the policies and practices of the Catholic Church nor those of any other church for that matter. It is one thing to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their intimately held belief; it is quite another to disagree with a church's teachings such as those on birth control. There are occasions where churches merit criticism and we should not shrink from that for fear of being smeared by the public relations offices of these churches.

Can Jack McConnell's melodramatic phrase 'Scotland's shame' be justified when it primarily denotes football tribalism? Might it not be more productive if politicians' and academics' energies were devoted to addressing matters such as state of the economy, poverty and the appalling health record in some parts of the country? Or, if we are serious about violence and anti-social behaviour, why not focus on knife-crime, racial abuse and attacks on partners, which are viewed by the public as far more important concerns? It is time this national self-flagellation over a relatively minor and declining social problem came to an end.

Charles Lewis retired recently after a career mainly spent in the accounting industry – 15 of them as a partner – where he specialised in systems audit and the audit of controls over financial reporting for very large public companies. He currently lives in the USA

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Let us be clear. It is neither bigoted nor sectarian to criticise the policies and practices of the Catholic Church nor those of any other church for that matter. It is one thing to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their intimately held belief; it is quite another to disagree with a church's teachings such as those on birth control.

That bit. As a Rangers fan of no organized faith, how can i possibly hate people of a specific faith? I can however, despise a specific organisation with a history of child rape, the darkest of all evils, and protection of said rapists. Not to mention how much wealth it has, yet continuing to guilt followers into giving them money, and it's 'policies'. But we're Rangers fans, so we're actually the bad guys here - infact it is probably our faults doh

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It just amazes me that the schools are never on Anybodys agenda

The schools thing is a bit of a red herring when you consider that England and Wales have no problems despite there being RC schools. It's a historical problem with it's roots in the mass influx of immigrants, a proportion of whom were loathe to integrate into society and preferred to live in their ghettos, encouraged by their church.

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The schools thing is a bit of a red herring when you consider that England and Wales have no problems despite there being RC schools. It's a historical problem with it's roots in the mass influx of immigrants, a proportion of whom were loathe to integrate into society and preferred to live in their ghettos, encouraged by their church.

Well Bishop Devine said faith schools were "divisive and an enabler of sectarianism"

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Well Bishop Devine said faith schools were "divisive and an enabler of sectarianism"

.....but that it was a price worth paying. The evil bastard was meaning that it enabled sectarianism against the poor wee kaffliks although as has been pointed out there doesn'rt appear to be anything stopping them reaching positions of power. The problem isn't faith schools it's the Scottish/Irish RC church.

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Wonder what the proportion of RC schools to total pupils is in a) West of Scotland and b) England and Wales

I don't know mate, but there are also plenty of C of E schools, indeed my three daughters went to one and none of them have suffered from any form of sectarianism because of it. Devine and his ilk are like witch doctors in that they use fear to keep their followers in line. Fuck them all.

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I don't know mate, but there are also plenty of C of E schools, indeed my three daughters went to one and none of them have suffered from any form of sectarianism because of it. Devine and his ilk are like witch doctors in that they use fear to keep their followers in line. Fuck them all.

Part of that fear is to continually demonise Rangers as the big bad enemy

Control freaks the lot of them

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Our self-flagellation over

the minor issue of

sectarianism

Charles Lewis

Over the past decade or so, I have followed the general debate on sectarianism in Scotland and been particularly intrigued with the current discussion of the issue in the Scottish Review.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised in Glasgow by non-religious English parents whose allegiances lay with Manchester United. However, I became a Rangers supporter, and remain so, despite leaving Scotland to pursue my career in England, Switzerland and the United States. I would like to start by addressing some of the points made by John Kelly (30 August) in his recent contribution to this journal before outlining my views on why the broader debate is languishing in an intellectual cul de sac.

My impression of the dialogue surrounding sectarian bigotry is one of increasing incredulity at some of the positions taken, a prime example of which is John Kelly's attempt to draw a parallel between Irish Republican violence and the British Army's presence in Iraq. No matter what John Kelly asserts, I have difficulty comparing an ad hoc group of armed terrorists such as the IRA with the legally constituted and democratically controlled armed forces of a sovereign country.

I also find it surprising that Mr Kelly is critical of the reception given to British servicemen and women by Rangers supporters when football clubs across Britain welcomed them as part of the 'Help for Heroes' campaign. The exception to this was, of course, Celtic Football Club, some of whose supporters infamously displayed their disdain for Remembrance Sunday with a banner emblazoned with the slogan 'No Bloodstained Poppies On Our Hoops'. When faced with a conflict one disagrees with, the tradition in Britain is to support the troops while condemning the politicians who send them to war. Given that one of those politicians became chairman of Celtic Football Club, I can appreciate that this outlook elicits a certain degree of discomfort for some. But what is truly absurd in Mr Kelly's argument is the attempt to legitimise the IRA in order to excuse offensive chanting by Celtic supporters.

In general terms, I find John Kelly's perspective to be remarkably one-dimensional. He appears to adhere to the theory that Rangers and their supporters are anti-Catholic and anti-Irish; 'ethno-religious bigotry' is the term he coins for this. The problem with theories is that they need facts to support them and this one consequently fails to stand. Rangers have Catholic players, had a Catholic captain and a Catholic manager, all of whom have been met with resounding approval by the vast majority of Rangers supporters.

There is a conspicuous dearth of discussion within the Scottish media based on indicators such as economic success or social exclusion that one might expect if sectarianism were a genuinely serious problem.

Indeed, contrary to popular perception, Rangers signed Catholic players as long ago as the 1890s. Rangers also have a large number of Irish supporters who travel over regularly for games. Surprising though it may seem to some, Rangers supporters really have no interest in the religion of Rangers players whether they be Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish or Catholic. What does concern them is their performance on the field of play.

Mr Kellys demand for an apology from Rangers Football Club is very telling. Firstly it implies that sectarianism is, and always has been, a one-way street. It is about apportioning blame while absolving others from any suggestion of fault and it also involves humiliating the apologiser. As one analyses Mr Kelly's argument, whether it be his excuses for the IRA, his failure to hold Celtic to the same standards he expects from Rangers or his demand for an apology, one could be forgiven for thinking that he is more interested in point scoring within the Old Firm rivalry than in a substantive discussion addressing sectarianism.

One striking feature about the wider sectarianism debate is that the core of the 'problem' is commonly portrayed as involving vocal support at football matches. Indeed, in certain cases there appears to be an implicit assumption that this is the cause of religious bigotry, although to my knowledge no evidence has ever been presented to support this theory. I say 'problem' because it is unclear to me that there is a real issue here beyond a few bruised sensibilities. Certainly I accept that songs and chants may be offensive to some but this is true of football songs and chants the world over.

However, bearing in mind the multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-religious make-up of Old Firm teams and the lack of any related hostility from their supporters, then it is justifiable to question whether there is a link between the origins of these songs and the intent with which they are sung today. Rather than demonstrating a deep-rooted 'ethno-religious bigotry', I suggest that they are sung simply because they always have been. Tradition and the 'winding-up' of rivals are far more important factors than ethno-religious hatred.

There is a conspicuous dearth of discussion within the Scottish media based on indicators such as economic success or social exclusion that one might expect if sectarianism were a genuinely serious problem. Indeed, statistics for 'mixed marriages' point to a high degree of social interaction. Given the prevalence with which sectarianism is portrayed as being synonymous with 'anti-Catholicism', the string of Catholic lord provosts of Glasgow and the relatively large number of Catholic MPs suggest the political world is hardly discriminatory, while the existence of a state-funded Catholic school system is a privilege effectively denied to all other groups.

The presence of prominent Catholic academics in the pages of this journal is indicative of equality in terms of educational opportunities. With the exception of the occasional rant from politicians or clerics against the Act of Settlement, sectarianism invariably seems to revolve around football.

There are occasions where churches merit criticism and we should not

shrink from that for fear of being smeared by the public relations offices

of these churches.

Post-devolution Scotland's apparent obsession with sectarianism comes at a time when churches in general are quietly dying from disinterest. Church attendance is increasingly a ritual adhered to for christenings, marriages and funerals. Otherwise, most people simply cannot be bothered. In 1982, over 250,000 went to see Pope John Paul II in Bellahouston Park; in 2010, barely 60,000 turned up to see Pope Benedict XVI.

Yet, as public interest in religion wanes, sensitivity to perceived sectarianism has taken centre stage. Charities have been created with full-time positions. Newspapers jump on incidents with screaming headlines. Politicians, ever vigilant for the opportunity to attract publicity and votes, make grave pronouncements. The police argue that they need more resources to deal with the problem, while academics, lawyers and journalists promote themselves through various media outlets. All this represents a tremendous mobilisation of resources for a few terrace chants in questionable taste. The suspicion arises that there are some in positions of influence who see sectarianism as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Let us be clear. It is neither bigoted nor sectarian to criticise the policies and practices of the Catholic Church nor those of any other church for that matter. It is one thing to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their intimately held belief; it is quite another to disagree with a church's teachings such as those on birth control. There are occasions where churches merit criticism and we should not shrink from that for fear of being smeared by the public relations offices of these churches.

Can Jack McConnell's melodramatic phrase 'Scotland's shame' be justified when it primarily denotes football tribalism? Might it not be more productive if politicians' and academics' energies were devoted to addressing matters such as state of the economy, poverty and the appalling health record in some parts of the country? Or, if we are serious about violence and anti-social behaviour, why not focus on knife-crime, racial abuse and attacks on partners, which are viewed by the public as far more important concerns? It is time this national self-flagellation over a relatively minor and declining social problem came to an end.

Charles Lewis retired recently after a career mainly spent in the accounting industry 15 of them as a partner where he specialised in systems audit and the audit of controls over financial reporting for very large public companies. He currently lives in the USA

It was 1982 that the Pope was in Bellahouston but apart from that small error(one the Taigs will pick up on)that article makes more sense than any politician or journo in the country.

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An excellent on-line piece which will, sadly, never make it to the mainstream printed press in Scotland, nor will we hear it discussed on BBC Radio Scotland or Radio Clyde, nor would Jackie Tart and her TV crew at the BBC's Reporting Scotland or any of those at 'Newsnicht' Scotland (thanks for that one Covenanter ;)) touch it.

There are too many home truths in there......and they can't handle the truth.

(With apologies to Jack Nicholson in 'A Few Good Men')

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An excellent on-line piece which will, sadly, never make it to the mainstream printed press in Scotland, nor will we hear it discussed on BBC Radio Scotland or Radio Clyde, nor would Jackie Tart and her TV crew at the BBC's Reporting Scotland or any of those at 'Newsnicht' Scotland (thanks for that one Covenanter ;)) touch it.

There are too many home truths in there......and they can't handle the truth.

(With apologies to Jack Nicholson in 'A Few Good Men')

sadly i have to agree with you.but isnt it nice to know that we have people like him prepared to stand up and be counted.for too long we have allowed the "other people"to gain the the moral high ground,perhaps the fight back has started.
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Let us be clear. It is neither bigoted nor sectarian to criticise the policies and practices of the Catholic Church nor those of any other church for that matter. It is one thing to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their intimately held belief; it is quite another to disagree with a church's teachings such as those on birth control.

That bit. As a Rangers fan of no organized faith, how can i possibly hate people of a specific faith? I can however, despise a specific organisation with a history of child rape, the darkest of all evils, and protection of said rapists. Not to mention how much wealth it has, yet continuing to guilt followers into giving them money, and it's 'policies'. But we're Rangers fans, so we're actually the bad guys here - infact it is probably our faults doh

I have to agree wholeheartedly about this particular section. When did the justified and balanced criticism of a religious body become sectarian? I, like millions around the world have been appalled by the countless decades of abuse of thousands by employees of the Catholic church (as well as the equally hideous cover up) but that somehow makes me some form of bigot? My criticism is of the Catholic Church as a body, not Catholics themsleves (who I feel sorry for TBH). For the record, I also scratch my head regarding their stance on contraception and gay issues and find the hypocracy of the Vaticans massed wealth countered against their so called charitable agenda baffling. I am still dumbfounded why the Pope didn't get a harder time in this country during his recent visit.

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