Just another couple of taps of the keyboard and…there!
The fifty thousandth word of Brian’s Brexit Chronicle! Give or take. It must be about that. I’ve never been very good with numbers, so I haven’t.
Hopefully I’m better with words. If nothing else, writing this has taught me the value of choosing them carefully.
Appropriate wording is an issue which has been vexing me since I came back from Brussels. I told you about how I went out into the urban sprawl into Europe’s “Islamic terror capital” or “capital of Islamic fundamentalism” or whatever the press choose to call it. In doing so I vastly exceeded my word limit and so didn’t say anything about the other suburb I visited. It’s a name many of you will recognise from retroyear: Heysel.
If you’ve heard of Heysel then it’s almost certainly for the wrong reasons. Heysel may be the home of two of Brussels’ most well-known tourist attractions, the Atomium museum and the Mini Europe fun park but unless you are very young, or have successfully managed to hermetically seal yourself off from the reaches of professional football, then the name Heysel will forever be connected with the 1985 stadium disaster.
In case your memory needs refreshing, Heysel stadium was the venue of that year’s European Cup Final between Liverpool FC and Juventus of Turin. Juventus ran out 1-0 winners, not that anybody cared. The match will always be remembered for the clashes between the followers of the opposing clubs during which a dividing wall collapsed and thirty-nine spectators lost their lives.
My memory needs refreshing: I was seven years old at the time. I look at the reports from back then and am struck by how clumsy football terminology can be. “Liverpool supporters charged at Juventus fans” reads one. ” Liverpool fans crossed a fence separating them from…Juventus fans” reads another. There are videos and photographs featuring English yobs and Italian fascists.
Sadly, football journalism hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Outbreaks of violence and crowd disturbances are still attributed to “fans” and “supporters” of the clubs concerned.
These people are nothing of the sort. I know several of them and they display very little in the way of devotion to a team and, just as often, very little interest in the mechanics of the game of football. They are in it for the attention, the machismo and the adrenalin rush that causing trouble gives them.
These people are not fans. Fans get behind the team when the going is bad. True supporters stick with the team win or lose. Football fans look after each other and respect their opponents. Really loyal supporters get behind the club off the pitch; painting stands, selling raffle tickets, making the half time teas.
You don’t read about these people in the news of course, you only hear about the ruffians. Thankfully I know plenty of real fans and true supporters, far more than I know of the rougher sort. As so often in life, the few tarnish the good name of the many.
“Fan” is a libelously misleading description for a person who causes trouble at football matches. “Hooligan” is better, although a touch too glamorous. “Scum of the earth” is entirely apt, “chav” is modern but colloquial and “prole” is curiously appealing despite its antiquity. Not all of these terms are entirely appropriate for the serious press I grant you, but any one of them is more accurate than “fan”.
Start to use a word wrongly too often and it becomes fixed in your vocabulary. Ask a non football lover what they associate with the phrase “football fan” and you will probably find a lot of negative stereotypes that detract from the truth and belittle the positive qualities that true lovers of the game display in abundance.
This often happens. “Brexit” is another good example. It first started out as a joke, a play on the word “Grexit” when it looked like Greece was going to be booted out of the EU’s back door.
Even then it was still used mostly in jest, but over time it mutated into “Brexit” — to describe the then absurd notion that Britain would ever leave the EU — and the name has stuck.
“Use a word three times and it’s yours” goes the theory. In this regard Brexit has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I am digressing. What vexed me while I was on my walk around the less reputable parts of Brussels was the use of the term “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic extremism”.
I beg liberty to risk a clumsy parallel. If the term “football fan” is an inappropriate synonym for “football hooligan” on account of the latter’s tenuous connection to the game of football then might not “Islamic terrorist” be a misleading synonym for “terrorist”?
There is good reason to suggest that terrorism and Islam are incompatible. The Koran has its own version of the “thou shalt not kill” mantra for one thing, and most Muslims condemn the violence perpetrated in their name.
MI5 even concluded that many extremists are not even practicing Muslims in the conventional sense. They do not attend mosques regularly: The Manchester bomber was even thrown out of one. Others drink alcohol and take drugs. Few seem to have an understanding of the fundamental principles of Islam.
The term “Islamic” is redundant in this sense and I propose that we drop it. It brands law-abiding citizens with negative stereotypes and lends legitimacy and justification to unspeakable atrocities.
Terrorism has been everywhere this week. On Monday the news has come through of another terrorist attack in London: A white British male drove a van into a crowd of worshippers outside the Finsbury Park Mosque and at least one person is dead. Negative stereotyping can have deadly consequences.
Meanwhile in my world, Monday’s first lesson started late because a group of protesters hijacked railway lines all around Germany leaving my colleague stuck on a train. This was a protest against the G-20 summit which could quite easily have killed somebody.
Today in Brussels, an ISIS sympathiser from Molenbeek attempted to blow up himself and others with a home-made bomb. He was partially successful in that he is no longer with us. Luckily no one else was injured and so I think he should be given a medal for managing to rid the world of an infidel without causing collateral damage. I can say things like that without offending most people because I have left out a certain adjective you see.
“Terrorism” Theresa might say “means terrorism.” There is no need to add superfluous adjectives.
Fundamentalism is everywhere too. Islam and fundamentalism are often linked together but Christians do it too. It’s just that for some reason we feel disinclined to use the word “Christian” in that context.
I had a copy of Under the Banner of Heaven with me in Belgium by the excellent Jon Krakauer. It tells the (ongoing) story of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a breakaway group of fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy and who have been in trouble with the US authorities for what they like to call “blood atonement” –the murder of perceived sinners.
Add to this multiple accounts of sexual abuse of children — all in the Lord’s name of course — and you get a very dangerous group of people. They would call themselves Christians. The question is: what would the rest of us call them?
It seems wrong to pin the blame on the cast majority of law-abiding Muslims just for the sake of a few ill-chosen words.
We cannot allow our language to pigeonhole our view of our neighbours. If we do, we run the risk of propagating the problem rather than solving it.
The period of negotiation leading up to Britain’s departure from the EU began this week. Michel Barnier, leading the EU team, has already said that his contributions will be in French only. Despite his excellent English, he fears that one false word may lead to catastrophic consequences.
Meanwhile for the British side, David Davis has promised “the row of the summer”.
If that prophecy fulfulls itself and the talks turn nasty, you know who to blame.