Confronting racism

As Christians, and quite simply as human beings, we have a duty to intervene when people behave badly. Society cannot work if nobody says anything when members of our society break our society’s rules. Intervening isn’t easy: no doubt we all hope that somebody else will take the initiative. We secretly hope that some friend or parent or teacher or policeman or securityguard will do what we find difficult to do.

     But there isn’t always somebody there to intervene, so wrongdoers all too often get away with it. Racism is a good example of this. It can easily become acceptable in certain groups to racially abuse foreigners or immigrants, even though the majority of people present might secretly abhor racism. It is one thing thinking it is wrong; it is another thing entirely trying to stop it.  

      Racism and bigotry can take many different forms. In Scotland, for example, there is tremendous rivalry between fans of Glasgow Rangers and Celtic; the former is traditionally suported by Protestants, the latter by Catholics. For decades Rangers never allowed a Catholic to play for them. Thankfully, attitudes have changed for the better in recent years. As usual in cases of religious bigotry, nobody was arguing about the fine points of theology, the issues were identity, and prejudice.

     It was heartwarming to read on the BBC sport pages about how the Israel club Beitar Jerusalem has been dealing with racism. About one fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. Beitar is a club with a violently racist reputation, a club which has never recruited an Arab Muslim player, a club whose most fanatic fans chant ”Death to Arabs” during matches. Their new owner, Moshe Hogeg, refused to let things remain like this. He has a zero tolerance policy towards racism, and has threatened to sue any fan guilty of racist behaviour.

     His tough stance has brought success. The vast majority of fans support his policy and parents have at last felt it safe to bring their children to watch games. The fans have even joyously chanted the name of one of the team’s goal scorers, Ali Mohammed, although Ali Mohammed is admittedly a Christian. They have not signed an Arab Muslim player yet, but the atmosphere has improved so much that it is at least a possiblity.

     This is not just down to one man’s efforts. The thousands of decent fans who behave themselves also deserve credit. But they would probably have remained silent if Hogeg had not openly confronted racism. They were once a silent majority. Now they have found their voice.

Chris Montgomery  

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