The issue of sectarianism in Scottish society has once again flared as the Celtic FC manager Neil Lennon, a catholic from the north of Ireland, has been subjected to sustained threats, abuse and physical attacks. Other high-profile public figures and organisations, including the republican group Cairde na hÉireann, have also been targeted by loyalist bigots.
In this year alone, Lennon has been the intended recipient of numerous suspect packages, ranging from bullets to potentially lethal explosives. His home address has been posted on the internet, along with several sinister threats against his and his family’s lives. A number of people were also recently arrested on gun charges after being found close to Celtic FC’s training ground. As a result, Lennon and his partner and child are under constant police protection. This did not stop a spectator at a recent football match from evading security to launch a physical attack on the Irishman.
This is not, however, unique to the current football season – as some sporting and social commentators have sensationally claimed following a number of on-field disputes. In 2008, Lennon was assaulted and knocked unconscious whilst walking in Glasgow’s affluent west end. A number of years previously, he was forced to resign as northern Ireland’s captain after receiving death threats from loyalist paramilitaries. He was, and continues to be, booed and taunted at almost every football ground he attends in Scotland.
Yet the reaction to the latest threats against him in Scotland has been predictably muted. Of course, there has been the inevitable political rhetoric about ‘seeking justice’, and a few tokenistic gestures: a couple of doors have been banged down and the police have investigated a number of Facebook groups – which, although welcome on this occasion, may set a worrying precedent. But the overall issue has been grossly misrepresented by the media, who depict it as simply a religious matter, manifesting itself on the football terraces, between two factions of equal guilt.
As the gutter press, peopled by the nauseating simpletons that pass for Scottish football personalities, claim that Lennon is ‘bringing it on himself’, leading politicians and the respectable media inform us that it is the regretful but ever-present religious divide in society that is responsible for the latest events. This is, quite deliberately, a streamlined falsified account of a multifaceted issue.
By mislabelling a political struggle as a religious one, British imperialism attempts to exonerate itself – its blood-drenched historical and present violations of Irish sovereignty – and to attach blame to, whilst sowing divisions between, sections of the working class. Further, by pretending to attribute equal blame to ‘both sides’ (ie, loyalists and republicans), Britain criminalises the legitimate struggle for Irish reunification, which finds a strong supporting voice within the Irish community in Scotland, and equates it with religious bigotry.
It is not surprising, then, that many in Scotland now apathetically claim it is ‘just a game of football’ and/or that ‘both sides are as bad as each other’. This ignorant account is the direct result of the imperialist media’s prolonged misrepresentation of the Irish republican struggle. The real issue is not rival football supporters or, indeed, religion, but a deep-seated anti-Irish sentiment prevalent throughout Scotland: a country that is home to a considerable population of Irish descent, but which still refuses to recognise Ireland’s right to be united and independent of Britain.
It is only through understanding the way imperialism uses divide-and-rule tactics (in this instance by conditioning the majority Scottish population with loyalism, British nationalism and anti-catholicism) in order to maintain its unjust occupation of Ireland that the campaign against Celtic FC and the suppression of its supporters really makes sense. It is one more example of the way divide-and-rule tactics are used to facilitate imperialism’s continued exploitation of all working people.