Copping on? Or just plain copping out?
Published 21/09/2013 | 05:00
What's in a word? Quite a lot, it seems. Even a word as small as 'Yid.'
As you know, the last week has seen an outpouring of acute tummy-button observance about the word after the FA warned Spurs fans that they could be prosecuted for chanting 'Yid Army'.
It seemed a strange target to pick in the ongoing row over racism in football.
After all, Spurs has traditionally been identified as a Jewish club. In fact, there are some Spurs fans who argue that, and the use of the phrase 'Yid Army' goes back as far as the Battle of Cable Street. That was back in the 1930s, when the working class of London united to fight Oswald Mosley's fascist Blackshirts, who were behind the violently anti-Semitic 'Yids Out' campaign of the time.
Such a proudly defiant use of the name is a classic piece of reverse discourse – reclaiming the name in much the same was way as 'nigger' and 'queer' have been reappropriated by some black and gay people.
Well, that's what the Spurs fans say, but their opinions, quite marvellously, don't seem to matter.
Because, as Peter Herbert, of the Society of Black Lawyers, a self-appointed lobby group which demands prosecutions for anything they deem to be offensive, says simply of the fans who insist that it is part of their own identity: "I don't care."
And as the row has rumbled on, embroiling David Cameron, the police, the football 'family' and wider society, one thing seems to have been forgotten – how can you be guilty of inciting racial hatred against yourself?
I know columnists are quick to turn to their well-thumbed copy of 1984 and start to proclaim George Orwell as some kind of secular Nostradamus. But when you find a situation where people are now being threatened by the State simply because of how they choose to identify themselves, then you're sleepwalking into Newspeak.
We have left the information age behind, it seems and replaced it with the indignation age, where people spend their time looking for things to upset, defame and demonise them. Or somebody else.
In fact, it doesn't really matter who the perceived victims are, if there are any at all. Because a whole culture, is out there, encouraging and fostering this belligerent urge to demand that police take action for every aggrieved feeling.
Interestingly, nobody has come forward and made equally serious calls for the prosecution of any rapper who uses the word 'nigger'; and I don't recall anybody wanting to prosecute Gay Times – after all, 'gay' is used by many young people to describe something they think is rubbish.
Offence is in the eye of the beholder, which is the problem.
Because somebody, somewhere, is feeling massively offended by something as you read this. You just know, that right at this very minute, someone is quietly fuming to themselves, muttering darkly that something they don't like shouldn't be allowed.
This leads to the passive view, as one journalist suggested on Sky's Sunday Supplement that: "If one person feels offended then why would you do it?"
Well, the blunt truth is that sometimes that 'one person' is a bloody idiot who wants to impose their will on everybody else and they deserve to be offended, that's why.
But mostly, this sense of offence is used as a political weapon, a way of strangling a debate and criminalising words, regardless of context or intent.
Probably the best example I can remember in Ireland was prompted by a truly ludicrous debate over the word 'junkie.'
I'd written a straightforward piece bemoaning life in the city centre and the junkie hurdles you had to run as you went about your day.
I stressed, repeatedly, that I wasn't talking about people who use drugs. Nor was I talking about drug addicts. What someone does with their own body is their own business, and none of mine. It's when it becomes an excuse for violent behaviour that it becomes a problem for the rest of us.
I was specifically referring to the anger that so many people feel about being terrorised in their own capital.
Cue carefully orchestrated outrage – the use of the word 'junkie' was, apparently, hate speech against an oppressed and disenfranchised minority. It was nothing of the sort, but that didn't matter – the offended had spoken. In the ensuing debate, even when I pointed out that I knew someone who succumbed to addiction and knew only too well the effect it had on families, they weren't prepared to address the arguments that had been raised.
In fact, cynical outrage worked as a very convenient way of moving the goalposts to the point where the criminals were being portrayed as the victims who weren't responsible for their deeds.
As for Spurs fans using the word 'Yid'? Surely it would have been more constructive to warn that any opposition fans found guilty of hissing during a match, in that vile reminder of Auschwitz, would face a lifetime ban.
Yet some even argue that merely by identifying themselves as 'Yid' they invite anti-Semitic abuse such as the gas chamber echo and the recent attacks on fans in Rome and Lyons.
But you don't order Celtic fans not to bring a tricolour to a game in case that will incite Rangers fans to sing about the famine.
Like a lot of comedians who aren't very funny, David Baddiel is a bright guy. He also thinks the word is hateful and suggests it should be banned.
So, Baddiel is a bright, Jewish football fan who is smart enough to explain his objections in a clear and coherent argument that is irrefutable, right?
Well, not really.
Because Baddiel supports Chelsea and the Spurs fans say it doesn't matter that he's Jewish he's still from the wrong, blue tribe and it's still none of his business.
Which surely proves that football trumps religion as the opium of the masses.
If that's not offensive to junkies, of course...