Wednesday 29 March 2017

Tribal drums fall silent but it's crowded on moral high ground

Dion Fanning

One of the defining characteristics of the hysteric is that he doesn't realise he is being hysterical. If he did, he would simply calm down.

The Luis Suarez affair has been conducted in that state of utmost agitation that envelops people when they feel they are occupying the moral high ground.

When it was suggested last week that the whole business had been distorted by journalists using it to show how strongly they disapproved of racism, some said this was better than the opposite, namely using it to show how strongly you approved of racism.

The opposite of using the Suarez case to parade your anti-racism credentials is not using the Suarez case to parade your anti-racist credentials.

The opposite is using judgement and perspective, not seeing, like a rabid anti-communist who has just spent a day drinking with Senator Joe McCarthy, the enemy on every corner.

Hunting in a pack and frightened of the scorn of their peers, a number of journalists threw out careless epithets. Last week Suarez was described as 'loathsome' and compared to General Pinochet.

Liverpool and their supporters, taken aback by the manifest unfairness of people not being sympathetic to their position, were equally hysterical.

I would argue that Liverpool's initial defence of Suarez did more than anything else to create the polarised environment which ended last Sunday when Suarez stopped trying to defend his actions.

Evra changing his story initially provided the plausible conspiracy but if he hadn't, there would have been something else to excuse Liverpool's supporters from challenging their own tribalism. The tone was set by the catastrophic mismanagement within the club, the inactivity of the owners and managing director Ian Ayre and the sense that the methods of Kenny Dalglish don't work in a crisis like this.

Since then, the environment they created has grown out of control, becoming something out of Philip Roth if he collaborated with David Mamet and then called in the Farrelly Brothers.

Stupidity and outrage have competed for top billing but it was mainly tribalism, not racism. At times it was ugly and contorted and vicious, but Liverpool fans would have responded similarly if a black player of Suarez's ability had faced a similar charge and they would have shrugged if it had been Stewart Downing, the whitest man on the planet.

So Liverpool and Manchester United battle like Constantinople and Rome, if the early churchmen had also been able to check Twitter to see which prejudices were being fed and which outrages were being committed.

Twitter, Adam Curtis said, 'feeds the rats of the self'. This can be fun and informative but essentially we are engaging in self-obsession.

Twitter allows us to feel we belong too. The ugly racist abuse on the site was sinister but it didn't indicate the return of racism to English football, it gave a voice to people who had, with very good reason, previously been denied one.

Evra was the victim of the racial abuse but Suarez is, however, the one facing the assassination of his character which is out of proportion to all but the most unsympathetic reading of his case. He committed acts of blackguardism that bookended the whole affair -- abuse of a racist nature to begin with and the other, self destructive and enraging. After all, Evra and the FA accepted Suarez was not a racist but as Suarez tries to begin to recover his career, that's the allegation he has to face.

He will be among friends at Anfield today but the coming months will indicate if he can have a viable career in England.

There have been parallels drawn with the rehabilitation of Eric Cantona. Cantona was helped by Nike's marketing campaign which was happy to portray him as an anti-hero.

It's hard to think of an anti-hero who is viewed as a racist apart from Brendan Gleeson's character in The Guard. The success of that film may at least give Suarez hope that anything is possible.

It was suggested that Suarez would have benefited from some counselling and race education, sort of like when Ron Atkinson had race relations explained to him by Darcus Howe.

Suarez has already promised the FA he will never use the word 'black' again on a football pitch, at least in Spanish, so he may be apprehensive about any further cultural assimilation as put forward by the anti-racist but xenophobic-neutral custodians of English football.

Liverpool, of course, should have known when they were beaten. You cannot win an argument in the public arena when it appears that you are protecting a racist.

They weren't helped by Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish may be the only man on earth who would benefit from the bogus exercise known as media training.

He was let down by Suarez last weekend and by whatever passes for the communications department at Liverpool. Whenever he has spoken on these matters he has made things worse not better. Not worse for his natural enemy, the media, not worse for the state of race relations as some pompously seemedto think, but worse for Liverpool.

Managers have often worked at creating a siege mentality but first you need something to defend under siege.

Liverpool found themselves in a position last week in which they had to listen to Alex Ferguson telling them how to run their club. This was the extent of their mess. Alex Ferguson told them they had to get rid of Suarez and Liverpool had to stay silent. Alex Ferguson accused Suarez of betraying the traditions of Liverpool Football Club and Liverpool could do nothing. Ferguson, you sense, would never suggest that Stewart Downing should never play for Liverpool again, no matter how many traditions he betrayed.

If Suarez is forced to leave England, he will have others to blame as well as himself for starting the mess.

In Wag the Dog, scripted by Mamet, Robert De Niro's character assures Dustin Hoffman's that their elaborate campaign to re-elect the president, which included fabricating a conflict with Albania, has been a success. "You brought peace," De Niro says.

"But there was no war," Hoffman replies.

De Niro answers: "All the greater the accomplishment."

English football accomplished much over the past six months. They fought and they now have peace, even if nobody knows what they were fighting for.

dfanning@independent.ie

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