Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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.


Anonymous Tom said...

Very well put, AG. And even more pertinent given the "terrorism" charges levelled by the authorities against the rioters on Sunday.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Dammit! I knew I'd left out an angle...thanks for that!

2:08 AM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Though it is proving somewhat difficult for the terrorism charges to stick. As of now, they only apply to the two Romans said to be "caught in the act" of attacking a police station on videotape; the prosecutors' attempt to extend the charge to two others arrested in connection with the general violence was rejected.

The question of whether the non-violent majority can reclaim the movement from the lunatic fringe is an extremely interesting one, and there have been some developments of note in that regard in recent days.

As you will have read elsewhere, the Atalanta president has promised to close the home Curva for the rest of the year if that is what it takes to get rid of the violent minority. He was supported in that yesterday by Del Neri and the entire first team squad, who signed an open letter stating that they wanted nothing to do with the "violent minority" of "delinquents" who had interupted the match on Sunday. Anyone who has seen clips of prior celebrations involving players like Doni and some of the most notorious Atalanta supporters will understand how significant a shift this would be if it is in fact genuine.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. On the one hand, the fact that the funeral went off yesterday without a single incident appears to have woken the mainstream media up to the fact that their prior tendancy to use ultra and hooligan as exact synonyms doesn't really reflect reality (today's papers are putting the adjective "violent" before ultra to make the distinction, or using other words like "hooligans" or "teppisti"). That idea is being reinforced by the information that continues to leak about the shooting, where we know have three eyewitnesses having seen the cop fire from the hill of debris, and the four Juventini insist that there was never any fight to start with, only the usual verbals.

On the other hand, there has been a notable absence of overt support for Atalanta from other club presidents, a number of whom refuse to admit that their clubs have an issue. The fact that some of those presidents have used the violent fringe for their own purposes (whether those be related to getting rid of a player or manager or assistance in political campaigns that have nothing to do with football), makes the whole context yet more complicated.

7:12 AM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Update of sorts:

The charge against the police officer has just been upgraded to voluntary manslaughter.

And Moratti (the president of Inter) and Galliani (the managing director of Milan) have come out with rather vague statements of support for the Atalanta initiative, apparently shamed into doing so by this morning's papers. Galliani went so far as to say that football desperately needed the help of the political class to solve the problem, which is pretty rich considering who is boss is.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

Grazie mille, Urs. You really should syndicate yourself.

That Galliani quote is really very funny.

The Atalanta case is an interesting one to watch. But will closing the curve really make much difference? Mightn't it be like closing down a red light district - the scene will just move somewhere else?

1:10 PM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

Always glad to help. As you may have seen elsewhere, the translation of the new charge falls somewhere between voluntary manslaughter and second degree murder in the US context; I'm afraid I have no idea what it would be in Canada. As an indication of how different the systems are, it is worth noting that the police officer still has not been taken into custody, as he is not considered a flight risk.

Some of the people who have season tickets in the Curva would no doubt try to buy tickets for other parts of the ground, but it would be very hard to create the same environment anywhere else. It also would be significantly expensive, as the price of a single match ticket is significantly more than 1/19th of a season ticket for the same sector (and they would have to move to more expensive parts of the ground).

If Ruggieri (the president) sticks with his plan, then I would expect protests outside the ground and other attempts to destabilise the situation so as to get him to relent and/or sell the club. The hard core culture at Atalanta is among the most deeply established in the entire country, which is one of the elements that makes it such an interesting experiment.

2:28 PM  
Blogger patcook said...

the loyalty of ultra's is part of the reason why so many of them can justify to themselves the violence they commit. Blended in to a group with scarves and hoodies covering your face it is very easy to justify any sort of behaviour because you can dissolve your responsibility to the rest of the groups.

I would make the distinction between the plight of the Muslim world and the ultra world in that most Muslims would struggle to find any real connection to terrorist, where as most Ultra's probably at least know through someone violent ultra's. Even Spangly Princess said she knew people who knew Sandri.

I think this closeness means there is more responsibility for each other as a group and the fact they will be blamed as perhaps not so abhorrent. I don't understand how you can stand next to a person or people in the stand on Sunday afternoon and enjoy their company and then wash your hands when they go rioting after the game.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous ursus arctos said...

While there is of course a degree in culpability for those who condone violence without speaking out or disassociating themselves from the group committing the violence, I think we need to be very careful about any kind of "three degrees of separation" analysis or tendancy towards a broad theory of collective responsibility for everyone who has stood in a Curva.

Nothing that has come to light to date indicates that Sandri was violent, a fascist, or a member of the Irrudicibili (who have a tendancy to be both, as well as a significant sideline in other criminal enterprises). Nor has anything of note come about the guys in the car with him, despite the frantic attempts of the Arezzo police to find something to pin on them in an attempt to lessen the horror of what happened (so far, their "case" rests on having found a couple of umbrellas, a pocket knife or two, and some rocks; if I had a car, there would almost certainly be an equivalent "arsenal" in the boot/trunk).

Given that, the fact that he stood every two weeks in a stand that holds more than 10,000 people, some of whom have been known to be violent, doesn't make him an accessory in my book. The rivalry between groups in the same curva can at times approach the intensity of the rivalry between supporters of "enemy" clubs; there isn't a single curva in Italy that is homogenous, as indicated by the fact that even tiny ones (like the one at Pro Sesto in C1) have multiple groups, each with its own agenda. And there are a good number of people in each curva who don't belong to any group.

Similarly, there is no way of being certain that all (or even a significant majority) of the people who were engaged in the worst trouble in Rome last Sunday were in fact "ultras"; that is is a shorthand label that has been put on them by the media here.

My own supposition is that they included a number of people that don't have any particular football allegiance, but have a profound hatred for the Italian police (this is not a completely irrational view in all cases) and a propensity for violence. We may focus on football-connected violence, but it isn't the only context in which groups of youngish males have engaged in wanton violence here (or anywhere else). It happens at some political rallies, is sometimes targeted at particular ethnic groups, and can be a regular feature of a night out at certain clubs and discos.

I can't be certain, but I am also pretty sure that the reason that Spangles knows people who knew Sandri has much more to do with his work as a DJ and in the famliy clothing store than his support of Lazio. Romanisti and Laziali ultras tend not to go to each other's birthday parties.

That's longer than I expected, and I really hope that you don't take it as hostile. I just think that it is important to understand that the context here is much more complex than it may appear at first blush.

1:09 PM  
Blogger patcook said...

ursus arctos, i dont take it as hostile at all. I think this is a really interesting topic and i love differing opinions.

4:28 PM  
Blogger patcook said...

and i don't think people should be held accountable in a legal sense, i hope they take responsibility themselves.

Even if all that means is they wear a shirt with an anti-violence slogan to football games or some other form of protest.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Spangly Princess said...

Ursus has left me nothing to say here other than well done.

but Pat is right that there is too much 'loyalty' - those who may within ultra circles have fierce disagreements while maintain some kind of solidarity to the outside world. I think the word we're looking for here really is omertà. There are a lot of people who tacitly permit violence and extortion to continue out of 'loyalty' which is in fact fear.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous arsenalist said...

Totally unrelated but front page has an interview with Jeff Powell, check out the interview. I think he's making a lot of sense about English football.

11:00 PM  

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