Tag: russia

English football hooliganism: the UK political establishment’s trade-off

By Daniel Margrain

A teargas grenade explodes near an England fan ahead of England's EURO 2016 match in Marseille, France
Violence erupts on the streets of Marseille CREDIT: REUTERS

Almost 18 years ago to the day, the English national football team beat Tunisia 2-0 in the opening game of their World Cup campaign in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille in the south of France. For many, the victory was overshadowed by the violence off the pitch that preceded it. For the last three days running, football hooliganism in Marseille involving England fans has once again dominated the media headlines. Reuters journalist Mitch Phillips described the influx of the first wave of 70,000 England fans on the French port city:

“….the fans wasted no time establishing a foothold in Vieux Port to start three days of drinking and singing ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2016 match against Russia. Noisy and boisterous, bare-chested and full of lager and bravado, they draped the flags around the Queen Victoria “British pub” and roared out their songs of defiance in the time-honored manner of “England Away”, just as they had in the same port-side bars 18 years ago.”

Shortly after the fans had gathered in large numbers in the bars and pubs of the city on Thursday (June 9), scenes of drunken mayhem followed that involved pitched battles, the throwing of bottles and chairs and the chanting of racist abuse. This was preceded by crude displays of jingoism that included the singing of the words “f**k off Europe, we’re all voting out” and “sit down if you hate the French”. The incitement of this kind of hatred in a foreign country is bound up with the notion that these kinds of thugs perceive themselves as superior to their hosts. This in turn forms part of a wider imperialist narrative of entitlement, ownership and control. As one sports writer put it:

“The members of this anti-social faction do not visit a foreign city: they occupy it. They erase the local culture and try to turn the place they are in into a satellite of their own English town or city.”

This view neatly encapsulates why the kind of hooliganism experienced in Marseille cannot be divorced from a wider historical context. Since the mid 20th century, Britain in general – but particularly England – has existed in a post-empire historical setting. The question is, why does hooliganism and loutish behaviour appear to be more of an English trait compared to other nationalities? It seems to me that England, more than many other European societies, finds it difficult to cast off its imperial legacy. When groups of English men gather together in a foreign country there seems to be a reluctance among a large swath of them to relinquish the notion of the concept of empire.

This mentality appears to be underscored by an entrenched nationalism as evidenced by the repeated singing of the national anthem during games, an emphasis on the notion that ‘Britannia rules the waves’ and that football hooligans carry the mantle of this imperial and colonial legacy, ostensibly on behalf of their ruling class overseers. There seems, in other words, to be something deeply embedded within the mindset of English football fans when they gather collectively that transcends the simplistic argument that their hooliganism is an expression of nothing more than drunken and pathologically-driven related violence and thuggery.

This transcendence, I would argue, corresponds to the kind of historical, social and cultural setting described that enables it. Secondly, sport doesn’t exist in a political vacuum. One can see this, for example, in the chants at both club and international level and the England-Germany rivalry which constantly mobilizes ideas about the Second World War. The third broader point is that national sports are a forum and reservoir for jingoistic sentiment in general. What happens is that banal forms of nationalism and jingoistic group-think mentality – expressed through violence and an adherence to political-inspired chanting – is cynically co-opted and reinforced by national states and governments for wider sinister political objectives.

Take the current political climate as an example. The right-wing Brexit elements within the EU debate often echo the xenophobic anti-German and anti-European sentiments of many of those who chanted the anti-French rhetoric outlined above. Football hooliganism is not just an illustration of a few ‘bad eggs’ as is so often depicted in the media, but represents a far wider problem. The reality, in other words, is that football tends to be a vehicle for deep-seated expressions and outpourings of nationalistic narcissism and patriotism.

This is dangerous in another way in as much as these linkages provide a ready pool which governments can then use in order to justify even more sinister foreign policy purposes such as foreign invasions and occupations. The question is though, are the majority of football hooligans aware of the historical and anthropological background described, or is it simply that English men these days don’t generally go to war or fight as part of an organized army but have a lot of testosterone-based pent up aggression that needs to be expelled?

I would contend that it’s not necessary for individuals to be conscious of the notion of post-empire and the loss of colonial possessions – what dissident French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan termed jouissance – in order for them to experience excess indicative of societal breakdown achieved as part of a shared group. There are certain settings or locations in which the establishment deem it unacceptable to reach jouissance – mainly within the political sphere. This sphere has increasingly become limited because of the potential threat it poses to the existing class structure that this implies. Instead, jouissance is channeled as a displacement activity at football matches, pubs, nightclubs and bars.

Paradoxically, it’s precisely these kinds of violent outpourings or expulsions of visceral energy that enables civilized society to function. If the collective outward violent expression of mainly young men were to be severely suppressed, football hooligans and others would almost certainly turn their energy inwards which would be even more dangerous as far as its impact on civilized society is concerned. This is because any suppression of ‘orgasmic’ violence would be more radically destabilizing in terms of the potential for the derailment of the functioning of wider society. In other words, any major repression of the ability of hooligans to vent their anger might instead be turned against their bosses and, perhaps more widely, the owners of the means of production itself.

This is, of course, not in any way an attempt to justify the kinds of hooliganism witnessed in Marseille, but to recognize that in a wider symbolic and societal setting, such violence is arguably necessary. Englishmen abroad with their smart phones and apps, set against a context of Cultural Marxism, is an unholy, potent and potentially perilous mix for the establishment to negotiate. Nevertheless, it’s a trade-off that the said establishment is willing, albeit reluctantly, to endure in order that the current political status-quo be maintained.

Endless war, Everlasting peace

By Daniel Margrain

The downing by NATO member, Turkey, of a Russian aircraft on the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015 – the first of its kind since 1952 – brought into sharp focus the complex patchwork of contending geopolitical and strategic allegiances against what is ostensibly a unified military response to ISIS. Turkey’s role in supporting the Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, starkly emphasises the risk of a military escalation to the crisis and the undermining of the current ceasefire.

Turkey’s seemingly schizophrenic relationship to the United States and NATO underscores the former’s reluctance in allowing the latter to use it’s military bases in the east of the country to attack ISIS. Instead, the Turkish government under president Erdogan have used these bases to target the Kurdish PKK. According to the United Nations, 30,000 terrorists from one hundred countries that have landed in Syria have arrived through Turkey and the CIA are overseeing the supply of arms to some of them. Meanwhile, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also supporting Jihadi extremists to the tune of billions of dollars in arms and funds which are being funneled through Turkey.

Since both Russia and Iran are geo-strategically aligned to Syria, it’s in the interests of both countries to ensure that a Russian-friendly regime in Syria remains in power to act as a bullwark against undue US influence in the region. Clearly, given the competing interests of the major powers, and the potential risks of a major resource war between them, it’s an obvious truism that there can be no long-term solution to the conflict that involves a massive escalation of violence. Therefore, the only viable solution to the crisis is a negotiated settlement which the current ceasefire is a potential prelude to.

In addition to the tensions described, is the duplicitous role played by Turkey which has its own narrow anti-Kurdish agenda in the region. The problems are further compounded in that both the Syrian YPG and the Kurdish KPP have mounted effective ground offensives against ISIS while paradoxically both groups remain on the U.S terrorist list. In addition, Hezzbollah and Iran, backed by Russian air power, have also been effective in countering ISIS. But rather than backing these various factions, UK-US policy is predicated – ostensibly at least – on maintaining support for their two partners on the ground – the Iraqi army (which is weak) and the so-called moderate Syrian opposition to Assad and ISIS (which barely exists).

If the allies led by the US government were serious in their intent to obliterate the existential threat they claim ISIS represents, they would be aligning themselves with the first set of fighters mentioned above instead of their powerless and ineffectual “partners”. So given this anomaly, one has to wonder what the key motivating factor guiding US policy in relation to Syria is. The country sits in a region of the world where the US-UK government’s hypocritically covertly support the oppressive actions of some of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes on earth.

The rational answer is that the principle motivation lies not in eradicating ISIS but rather in toppling one of the more relatively tolerant and secular regimes in the region. Indeed, Assad who, just over a decade ago, was wined and dined in the company of British royalty, is currently on the U.S rogue state list primed for regime change. This overriding factor guiding Western policy is the ‘elephant in the room’ to which journalists and commentators within the liberal corporate media, who focus their critique on Assad, tend to overlook.

The widely accepted narrative is that the catalyst for the “civil war” in Syria is one in which Assad is said to have massacred peaceful demonstrators. This is equated with the events that characterized the Arab Spring in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Both interpretations amount to a serious misreading of the situation. Following the initial outbreak of violence in Daraa, a small border town with Jordan on March 17-18, 2011, professor Michel Chossudovsky recounted the events:

“The protest movement had all the appearances of a staged event involving covert support to Islamic terrorists by Mossad and/or Western intelligence….Government sources pointed to the role of radical Salafist groups (supported by Israel)…In chorus, the Western media described the events in Daraa as a protest movement against Bashar Al Assad.”

Chossudovsky cited Israeli and Lebanese sources in support of his claims. These sources reported on the killing of seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in addition to the torching of the Baath Party Headquarters and courthouse. Chossudovsky commented:

“These news reports of the events in Daraa confirmed that from the very outset this was not a ‘peaceful protest’ as claimed by the Western media….What was clear… is that many of the demonstrators were not demonstrators but terrorists involved in premeditated acts of killing and arson…The title of the Israeli news report summarized what happened: Syria: Seven Police Killed, Buildings Torched in Protest.”

This account was subsequently confirmed five months later by Israeli intelligence sources who claimed that from the outset Islamist “freedom fighters” were supported, trained and equipped by NATO and Turkey’s high command (DEBKAfile, NATO to give rebels anti-tank weapons, August 14, 2011). Media Lens quoted Jeremy Salt, associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University, Ankara, who added some background:

“Since the Soviet-Afghan war, Western intelligence agencies as well as Israel’s Mossad have consistently used various Islamic terrorist organizations as “intelligence assets”. Both Washington and its indefectible British ally have provided covert support to “Islamic terrorists” in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya, etc. as a means to triggering ethnic strife, sectarian violence and political instability… The ultimate objective of the Syria protest movement, through media lies and fabrications, is to create divisions within Syrian society as well as justify an eventual “humanitarian intervention”.’

In another article, journalist John Pilger quoted the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas who last year revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC,“I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The cementing of US hegemony in the region (and beyond), with the backing of its principle European ally, is hardly a secret. In fact, it dates back to at least the the Clinton era when the concept of American supremicism and exceptionalism were coined as the prelude to the setting up by the neoconservative pressure group of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). This document provided the ideological justification for the bolstering of America’s nuclear first strike capability.

Leading neoconservatives have conceded that the perpetuation of American supremacy, as opposed to defending the country, is what this capability is designed to achieve. Lawrence Kaplan, for example, admitted that missile defence is a tool for global US dominance. The purpose of the PNAC is to provide an overview of US defence strategy from a world-historical perspective within the context of a decade of supposed US neglect.

This perspective led the neoconservatives within the Bush, and later Obama regimes, to conclude the opening, and subsequent extension, of windows of opportunity with which to demonstrate America’s military superiority. In the same vein as the PNAC, the accompanying war manifesto, The National Security Strategy begins with the affirmation,“The United States possesses unprecedented- and unequalled – strength and influence in the world.” It concludes with the warning,“Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in the hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States.”

A key section warns:

“We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of great power competition. Several potential great powers are now in the midst of internal transition – most importantly Russia, India and China.” 

Reaffirming that the war on terror was just the beginning for the United States, George Bush in his State of Union address on 29 January, 2002, named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as “an axis of evil”. Secretary of State, John Bolton, subsequently extended the net to include Libya, Cuba and Syria. The ‘war on terrorism’ also provided the US with an opportunity to establish a string of military bases in Central Asia.

The reality is that regime change in Syria and elsewhere is predicated on the paradoxical concept of eternal warfare as the precursor to the creation of an everlasting peace borne out of a wilderness wrought of chaos and destruction. Specifically, the definitive article, the New American Century, is about shaping the world for the next hundred years according to the interests and values of American capitalism.

In 2001 when George Bush declared the ‘war on terror’, Al-Qaeda was confined to a small tribal area in north west Afghanistan. Now, thanks largely to the attempt at the imposition of American capitalist democracy delivered at the point of gun, so-called Islamist terrorism has spread worldwide.