The FA and the Y-word

Last month the governing body of the US National Football League considered banning the use of the N-word on the field, on pain of a penalty. Several black players criticised the suggestion, including the Superbowl-winning cornerback Richard Sherman. ‘It’s a pretty common word in the locker room… But once a white person says it, it’s a derogatory term.’ Banning it ‘would be almost racist’, Sherman said, as it would discriminate against black players who used it between themselves.

The organisation Kick It Out, which campaigns against discrimination in English football, is holding a debate in Manchester tonight on the Y-word. Since the early 1980s, at least, some supporters of Tottenham Hotspur have referred to themselves as ‘yids’. The nickname, if it can be called that, is supposed to have been adopted as a defence mechanism, a way of positively embracing the perceived Jewish identity of the club, and throwing it back in the faces of opposition fans, some of whom targeted Spurs with anti-semitic songs. Most Spurs fans, including many who use the word to describe themselves, are not Jewish. More »

Rwanda, Twenty Years On

Twenty years ago, on 6 April 1994, the aircraft carrying Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyrien Ntaryarima, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi respectively, was shot down near Kigali airport as they returned from peace talks in Tanzania. Both died, along with others on board. In the following months between 800,000 and one million Rwandans were murdered; as a central Africa co-ordinator for Amnesty at the time, I remember it all too clearly, not least the wilful flannel deployed during April and May by the Clinton presidency and his secretary of state Madeleine Albright to dodge using the action-triggering term ‘genocide’. More »

The Hidden Paw

A cluster of nine cases of tuberculosis in cats in Newbury at the end of 2012 and early 2013 spread to their human owners, causing serious lung disease in two of them and infection without disease in another two. Unsurprisingly, when the results of the investigation were published, it became a top news story. It would have been an even bigger one if it hadn’t had to compete with Ebola in Guinea.

TB in domestic cats is not new. More »

Property Owning Democracy

The phrase ‘property owning democracy’, on which the popular conservatism of the 20th century rested, and with it a vision of the good society, was coined by the Scottish Unionist Noel Skelton in a quartet of articles for the Spectator entitled ‘Constructive Conservatism’, written in the spring of 1923. The previous November’s general election had seen more candidates from the Labour party elected to House of Commons than Asquith’s Liberals and Lloyd George’s National Liberals combined. For Skelton, the Fourth Reform Act of 1918, which massively extended the vote, and that electoral turnover – which was to prove terminal for the Liberals – meant that politics, and the Tories, could not proceed as before. It was only a matter of time before the forces of democratic socialism might challenge for a majority in the House of Commons.

To stave off the threat, Skelton hoped that the Tories might come to accommodate progressive attitudes on such issues as housing and pensions, and in so doing steal much of Labour’s thunder. ‘Reform so that you may preserve,’ as Macaulay had put it. No surprise then that Anthony Eden repeated Skelton’s words at the 1946 Conservative Party conference, in the shadow of the unexpected defeat of Churchill’s government the previous year. What had been an intellectual exercise two decades previously was now imperative in ensuring the return to power of the Conservative party.

Addressing a meeting of Saga customers last week – whose average age will have been about the same as the average member of the Conservative party (68) – David Cameron spoke of how he would like to increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million. More »

Bahraini Oil, American Water

The Bahrain Grand Prix is this weekend. Since 2011 the ruling elite, propped up by the best mercenaries that oil money can buy, have systematically hollowed out one of the Gulf’s most robust civil societies. In response to urgent calls for democracy and popular protests three years ago by tens of thousands of people, the al-Khalifa family and their backers in Riyadh have violently oppressed their way to survival. More »

In the Smog

In mid-March, on the weekend that France played Ireland at the Stade de France (the reason I was in Paris), the city authorities made public transport free. This was because of the air pollution, which was bad despite the skies that were clear and blue. The mayor had hoped that Parisians would give up on their cars and travel instead by Metro, tram or bus. I don’t know Paris well enough to guess whether there were fewer cars that weekend or not, but the streets on those ideal spring days didn’t seem any less packed with traffic. Still, there’s nothing like the idea of free transport – the thought you could go anywhere, despite there being people to see, and places to be, such as the Stade de France at five.

You wonder what would happen were Boris Johnson to consider the same thing, what with the London air, like the air over much of Southern England today, spiked with Saharan dust. More »

Tremors

There’s a video online purportedly of the moment last night’s earthquake struck northern Chile. We’re in a small flat, maybe in Iquique. Women scream, a man keeps saying ‘It’ll pass, it’ll pass,’ as the mobile phone, presumably held by a heartless teenager, sways through rooms where everything is bouncing and falling off the walls. The noise is deafening. That’s what scared me most during my first quake, the huge one (magnitude 9.5) in Chile in 1960. I was too small to understand till much later how deadly it was. Apart from the racket – imagine every single object in the house coming to life, banging, sliding, rattling, creaking, and often crashing down – it was rather fun: tiles flying off the roof, the swimming pool slopping from side to side, the cook on her knees, imploring the Virgin at the top of her voice. More »

The Pathetic Fallacy in Politics

A hallucination, or maybe the nearest thing in politics to the pathetic fallacy: you come back after two weeks to a country where there’s just been an election – the extreme right has made a fair showing – and at once you read changes into the landscape. From the window of the train, ramshackle, low-income farmsteads that you’ve passed a hundred times take on a forbidding quality: there are voters in there, along with the livestock. The moribund hotel at the station where you’re waiting half an hour for a local connection now looks like it was requisitioned long ago as an HQ by sinister people who’ve been plotting for years, right under your nose. How come you never noticed? More »

Worse than Mussolini

Not quite like a statue of Hitler or Stalin, but not unlike that, either

Not quite like a statue of Hitler or Stalin, but not unlike that, either

Out over the Toison d’Or the old bastard glooms. Shovel-bearded, he sits astride his mount, his 1000-yard gaze intent on the main chance. The socle bears his name, his regnal dates, and the legend ‘PATRIA MEMOR’: a stern summons to remembrance. As usual, though, with such biddings, the true call is for selective forgetting.

It calls Belgians to remember the patrimony bequeathed by King Leopold II with riches milked from the empire in the Congo. In fact, to label Leopold’s venture ‘imperialist’ is, if anything, flattering. More »

Istanbul Votes

Istanbul’s mayoral election is tomorrow. I wonder if rescheduling it for two month’s time would make a difference. I have a hunch that it might: 27 May marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the Gezi Park demonstrations, and the results of the election will in part reflect the way people here feel about last year’s protests.

My walk to the polling station will take me past Gezi, which is now a refuge for dozens of homeless Syrians. The continuing existence of the park is itself a triumph for the protesters. Had the proposed shopping mall been built there, the refugees would almost certainly not be allowed inside. There is a reason people want to preserve public spaces. More »

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