Tarred With The Same Brush
Following 9/11, Muslims around the world - but particularly those in Western countries - found themselves in a very awkward position. On the one hand, a group of extremists had hijacked planes in the name of Islam and killed thousands in the name of this faith. This, most felt, had to be repudiated.
On the other hand, bigots who didn't really make the distinction between the hijackers and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims were on the attack against the faith as a whole, and security services - some with more justification than others - began paying close and in many cases intrusive attention to what was going on in Muslim communities. This, most felt, had to be resisted.
The challenge was to defend the honour and beliefs of Islam without looking like a sell-out to a culture that viewed it with suspicion if not hostility. To create trust and understanding when feelings were running high; to work to end violence and build trust when loud voices on both sides were bent on raising suspicion and hostility. The road was long and difficult, and in many ways in many countries, the test has been failed over the last six years.
If that situation worries you, then spare a thought today for Italy and its ultras. They're faced with more or less the same problem this week. Most ultras has nothing to do with Sunday's violence. But it was done in their name and in the public imagination it is they who are to blame. As a result, it is most likely they who will pay the price for it.
There's lots not to like about ultras. The connections many of them have with the ultra-right. The repeated acts of lawlessness. The shit mullets and absurd trainers (OK, that's not strictly speaking an ultra thing). But there's lots to admire, too - in particular, the passion, cameraderie and loyalty they display.
Spangly Princess - whose despatches from Rome throughout this affair have been nothing short of brilliant - has had two exceptional posts which I think everyone needs to read before coming to judgment on this affair. The first is about a note posted by a Roma ultra which describes in somewhat lyrical terms the ultra mentality. The second is a moving description of Gabriele Sandri's funeral (pictured above). She notes among other things the extraordinary presence of ultra groups across the country, who stood for hours in the rain to show their solidarity and support for the Sandri family and Laziali generally. As she puts it: you might find that barking mad. But it's hard to see that you could find it objectionable or violent.
The problem, of course, is that not everyone sees it this way. And the ultras - well-drilled in the art of seeing the world in terms of a beleaguered "us" facing a hostile or uncomprehending "them" - are unlikely to make much of an effort to bridge the gap in understanding with a public just looking for someone to blame. Indeed, it's quite possible that they will defend what they see as their turf - le curve - in ways will make people more likely to associate them with violence rather than less.
I can't imagine that ultras are much interested in taking lessons in PR and inter-cultural relations from the Muslim communities of the West. But they should do so nonetheless.
They'll need it.