Some Thoughts On Recently Having Had To Report A Crime To The Police
In what seems like one of his, in my opinion, many periodic but consistently buffoonish attempts to raise the spectre of sectarianism, Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland who once claimed that the singing of the 'Hokey Cokey' could be a potential 'hate crime' and whose timing of his criticisms of Hugh Dallas has always, to my mind, seemed deeply suspicious, has now surpassed all his previous efforts and ascended to truly rarified heights of banality and irrelevance.
With bad taste so gross that he brings the Catholic Church in Scotland into disrepute, Mr. Kearney has compared the 'struggle' against bigotry in Scotland with the struggle for civil rights in the United States writing that,
"In much the same way as America's black citizens in an earlier era were urged to straighten their hair and whiten their complexions in order to 'minimise' differences with the white majority, many will surely urge Scottish Catholics to stop sending their children to Catholic schools or making public or overt declarations of faith at any time."
That comment is tripe, and the thinking that has animated it is tripe as well; and that is not an opinion, but a statement of fact. I know it to be a fact because I have recently had cause to make a complaint to Strathclyde Police concerning grossly abusive, grossly threatening, grossly sectarian behaviour directed towards me on the Internet.
On 15th November 2012, I was wrongly named online as being the author of the so-called 'Rangers Tax Case' blog, the recipient of the Orwell Prize for 2012. This caused a storm of abuse to be directed towards me, some of which was of a type that, since the recent case of Her Majesty's Advocate versus Muirhead and McKenzie, could not be ignored. The west of Scotland did not show its best face to the world that day, and people who have not read such things being written about themselves might not perhaps understand the sheer terror they can generate.
I spent four of the next forty-eight hours in one to one meetings with three officers of Strathclyde Police. For the period of two weeks from 18th November, a 'DBR Entry', an internal direction that increased foot patrols be conducted around property that might be at risk, was in place for our home. I felt it necessary to request that an adviser contact the Law Society of Scotland to clarify the security of my professional records, and the degree of relief with which I learned that they are exempt from the operation of both the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act was enormous.
I had many subsequent conversations with both the investigating officer at my local station and another officer from the Football and Antisocial Behaviour Unit, based at Govan Police Office. These two officers could not have been more helpful and solicitous. They are a credit both to Strathclyde Police and to the community it serves, and deserve especial recognition for the sensitivity and tact with which they managed a very disabled, very well-informed, incredibly agitated and incurably talkative complainer. Their investigations resulted in two arrests (no prosecution has been proceeded with by the Procurator Fiscal Service in either case, in one of them on the basis that insufficient evidence was available; a decision that not only beggars belief but also makes one fearful for the right administration of criminal justice in Scotland).
A number of lessons can be drawn from this episode.
The first is that the anonymous author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog, is, in my opinion, a wee bit wanting in character, not the sort of person you might have wanted at your back at Dunkirk. They knew what was being said about me, and could have stopped it either by making it known that I was not them or even by showing a bit of backbone and revealing their true identity, if only to stop abuse being directed towards me. They didn't do either of these things. What they did do was tweet the following smart-assed comment -
Maybe I'm biased, but that doesn't seem like the most principled thing they could have done when somebody who had never even read their blog has been wrongly accused of writing it (at that point I'd never even read it, and I was being accused of writing it! The adjective 'Kafkaesque' doesn't begin to describe this!) It seems that the author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog's taste for disclosure is strictly a one way street.
The second lesson is that you would have thought that the Orwell Prize committee would have been a little more protective of its brand after the Johann Hari fiasco, but they've boobed big style. They awarded a prize for investigative journalism to a blog concerned with a litigation in progress. Maybe they were engaged in a little freelance anthropology, swooning at the sight of the word 'Rangers'. Maybe they just didn't think Rangers would win and didn't factor in that possibility when awarding the prize, considering the quality of the journalism to be more important than the fact that the case it covered was still undecided. The author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog certainly had factored a Rangers victory in the tax case into their planning - as soon as the result in favour of Rangers was announced, they deleted every post on their blog! The Orwell Prize for 2012 was awarded for a piece of investigative journalism which now, less than a year later, no longer exists. It's like one of those debates concerning the nature of essence and being that have consumed the energies of theologians for over two millenia; it was there before, but now it is not there any longer - where is it, and what has it become?
The Orwell Prize wallahs really have to be more careful about who they dish out their award to, in my opinion, for in giving it to the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog they have taken more than a little lustre off the bauble.
The third lesson is the utterly hateful nature of many Scottish football forums, those 'safe areas for casual hatred'. While most people aspire to live in a fair and just world, in the west of Scotland we have to settle for a slightly lower bar and aspire to merely living in a sane one. While reading some of these forums, you come to realise the eternal wisdom preached by that secular prophet James Thurber in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. There really are people out there leading fully formed, vividly real lives of the mind in which they're warriors of the UVF, or the INLA, or whatever, all the while holding down normal jobs, appearing to be fully integrated members of societies with wives, homes and children - and they're conducting these parallel lives on iPads and smartphones, some of the most sophisticated software ever written used for no purpose higher than abusing their neighbours! Stone Age New Guinean highlanders would feel embarrassed at being in the presence of such uncivilised behaviour.
The Scottish football forum is a phenomenon that will continue to yield research material for Ph.D's in sociology from now to 'til Kingdom come. You have to wonder whether some part of it is a need for male company wherever it is to be found. You have to wonder whether, in some sense, it's a reaction to some of them maybe being as terrified of their wives as Walter Mitty was of his; now and then, they just have to go somewhere they matter.
Yet more sinisterly and, if correct, sadly, you have to wonder whether these forums are a grimly useful variable in the west of Scotland's black calculus - do they provide a safety valve for the release of the hatred some people just can't seem to help feeling for their neighbours, thus perhaps minimising the risk of actual one on one violence? Does the act of 'blackening' some 'bheast' (sic) online get it out of your system for a while, and lessen the likelihood of you actually going out and killing someone? That not particularly cheerful thought occurred to me while reading what was being written about me and then reflecting upon how long it seems to have been since what could reasonably be described as a sectarian murder has actually been committed here.
And if that is the case, would any government that might talk tough about combatting sectarianism actually be serious about doing so when these forums ensure that steam that might otherwise be let off on the streets is let off on the sofa instead? I don't think so.
Which leads me to the fourth lesson, which is that for all practical purposes Scotland's anti-sectarianism legislation is decorative legislation, the legal equivalent of your grandmother's best china, laws for display rather than daily use, brochure laws enacted so that it can be said that we have them rather than that they ever be enforced. This is not mere sour grapes - Strathclyde Police officers devoted what seems to me to have been a significant degree of manpower into this matter, manpower that could have been deployed elsewhere. For that effort to have result in two arrests and for no action then to be taken suggests to me that the Procurator Fiscal Service does not wish to see anti-sectarianism cases in court. I can't think why.
The fifth lesson is that whatever divides Protestant from Catholic in Scotland has got to go; and if that means the end of separate Catholic schools, then they should go. Catholics were Catholics before there were Catholic schools. They will be Catholics without Catholic schools.
Having been through all this, I'm going to take a radically different approach to combatting sectarianism - I forgive everyone who has posted a threatening or sectarian remark about me online. I forgive the people who called for violence to be done to me. I forgive the people who defamed me. I forgive them all. I have no vested interest in seeing sectarianism thrive. I want it gone from our common home forever, and I can't call myself a Christian if I don't forgive you, so I forgive you all. Go and live your lives in peace, love your neighbour as you love yourself, and stay off those bloody forums.
And because I forgive them, and because I want the west of Scotland to be a better place than it is, it makes me incredibly angry that Peter Kearney has compared what happens here with what happened during the civil rights struggle. I've not written about this before now because, you know, let sleeping dogs lie and all that - but the analogy made by the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland is in such bad taste, is so inappropriate, that it cannot go unanswered; and the best answer to stupidity is experience.
In Montgomery, the police held Martin Luther King incommunicado; in Glasgow, the police give you an incident number for online sectarianism when you haven't even seen the relevant remarks yourself yet. At Birmingham, Bull Connor and his police set attack dogs on demonstrators; in Glasgow, the police call you at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, their busiest night of the week, just to make sure you're all right. That Strathclyde Police is utterly committed to the enforcement of Scotland's anti-sectarianism laws is, in my experience, beyond any doubt. Whether the same can be said of everyone else in the system is another matter.
In this context, I will not have it suggested that Scotland's police, and Strathclyde Police in particular, are dilatory in their investigation of sectarian offences, a suggestion which, in my opinion, has been implied by Peter Kearney, probably thoughtlessly and probably carelessly, in his equation of what happens here with the experiences of those who engaged in the civil rights movement in the United States. As a churchgoing Catholic, I really have to wonder what kind of supervision and direction Mr. Kearney receives during the course of his working day. It doesn't seem to be enough.