Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Reaction Show Racism The Red Card Received

Regarding the reaction Show Racism The Red Card received to Phil Mac Giolla Bhain being photographed with SRTRC.

As publisher of the book, Minority Reporter, by Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, which inspired Show Racism The Red Card to invite him to associate himself with them, I'm compelled to respond to their statement today. 

Although an atheist I was brought up in a Protestant, Rangers-supporting, British Forces family background. The notion that I could ever be, or could ever support anyone who is, anti-Protestant is ridiculous. I am as offended by anti-Protestantism and anti-Britishness as I am by anti-Irishness and anti-Catholism. It is worth noting that the heroic protagonists in Phil’s two recent stage plays were both brought up Rangers supporters. I’ve known Phil for over five years and there isn’t a sectarian bone in his body. Had there been there would have been no association with me.

The vile reaction SRTRC received to its public association with Phil is familiar. It is the same as the reaction The Sun received when they announced serialisation of Phil’s book. Police were obliged to visit the journalist who wrote the puff piece to advise him on the safety of him and his family. Phil regularly gets such threats. The editor of Phil’s book, Angela Haggerty, received the same abuse, to the point that an internet radio show host was jailed for inciting anti-Irish and sectarian hatred against her. This same grouping demanded Angela get sacked from The Sunday Herald when they employed her as a columnist. They succeeded, albeit temporarily.

Many of those providing this reaction appear to be organised, primed to swing into action every time Phil or Angela make traction. Their crime? Being Irish or being of Irish descent and not only refusing to sit at the back of the bus but, in fact, demanding vocally that they should be at the front of the bus. You might be familiar with the term “an uppity n*****r”? That is the objection of most those complaining.

My advice to SRTRC is ask all those objecting to Phil being associated with SRTRC what they have done for SRTRC lately. Have they shown the same determined reaction to people singing about being up to their knees in Fenian blood in The Billy Boy Song, or those singing that the Irish should go home? Because, if the objectors have not been as vocal in their objection to those examples of racism as they have been to perceived offence in Phil’s writing, then you have to ask, if objectivity is truly the priority here, why not? Have these “concerned members of the public” publicly and without fear or favour condemned fans of their club for singing these songs or any other form of racist and sectarian abuse? If not, then SRTRC has to ask them directly why not?  

Every week thousands of people sing these appalling racist and sectarian songs. Where are the “concerned members of the public”  then? More often than not, standing beside someone doing the singing perhaps? Or worse, singing themselves? Can you imagine the reaction in England if thousands sang about being up to their knees in Black people’s blood what society’s reaction would be? Or what the media reaction would be? Would it be ignored the way it is ignored in Scotland? Well, it might be, if Anti-Racist organisations caved in to people who objected to those opposing racism.

If Anti-Racist organisations instantly change their course due to the adverse reaction of “concerned members of the public”, who have a questionable track record of opposing racism or of selectively opposing what they see as racism, then those genuinely affected by racism may well cease to view such Anti-Racism organisations as effective - or even worthwhile.  

Secondly, the manner of SRTRC change of course here (via its statement) was not glorious. SRTRC released a shocking statement heavily referencing Phil but without previously making him aware of the content of this statement, far less seeking to invite any kind of input or right of reply pre-publication. SRTRC hung Phil out to dry. His crime? To positively reply to SRTRC request for an interview. This suggests that SRTRC had no interest in protecting the reputation or the safety of an anti-racist campaigner whom, at their own instigation and initiative, they invited to their project. Having instigated this episode SRTRC had a duty of care to its subject.

Of course not all the objectors were racists, but the racists among them are now empowered. All they had to do was turn up with their torches. The empowerment resulting from SRTRC publicly and hastily disassociating itself from Phil was not factored in by SRTRC, which disappoints because one would think an Anti-Racist organisation would sensitively consider all the implications of its actions.

SRTRC stated they wanted to be objective and avoid “label” usage. An admirable aim. But at what stage then do we call racists racist? Is the word banned? SRTRC would have to change its name were that the case. Having worked substantially in Northern Ireland many months of the year for 20 years I understand perfectly the counter productiveness of inappropriate label usage. I understand how peeling off peripheral support for the hard core of racists is inhibited by insulting that periphery. Rather than peeling them off it instead binds them closer together.  I get that. And the hard core of racists, whom some call the klan, work very, very hard to conflate that peripheral and casual, passive support with themselves. So that, when someone identifies (“labels”) the hard core as racist, they twist that to say “look! they are calling us all racist”, which is untrue. But, by insidiously co-opting the support into the racist core lump, they protect themselves, disguise themselves as “concerned members of the public”, and manage to hide their own racist views from immediate view.  

As a publisher we'll continue to support organisations such as SRTRC, but not uncritically. Now many genuinely concerned members of the public, i.e., those who actually oppose all racism every day as opposed to some who’s very inconsistency on the issue should have instructed SRTRC, will see this change of course by SRTRC as climbing down, or worse, as caving in. That is potentially more damaging than offending those who are at best inconsistent in condemning racism.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Five Years Of Downfall Denial


Its five years today since Downfall - How Rangers FC Self-Destructed was published. Written by Phil McGiolla Bhain, a freelance journalist who’d led the press pack on the Rangers story, the book was subjected to a campaign of abuse. Of course, this had the effect of increasing sales, one of these beautiful karmic responses that the universe delights in handing out.

The campaign against the book included phoning head offices of major book shop chains to complain about the book being stocked – and then denying it. One head office buyer, after having placed pre-publication orders, called me to ask if it was going to be worth the hassle as they’d had complaints. Thankfully the buyer agreed that it was worth it.

Another retail manager told of visitors to his chain’s stores berating staff for having the cheek to stock the book. Some visitors went as far as to move the book from its Number One spot in stores, hiding it near cookery. Others, presumably in a fit of pique, scrunched books up to make them unsellable.
Of course, these instances were all denied as having happened. It’s one thing to do these things, but at least have the courage of your convictions. Don’t then deny it happened.

The Sun newspaper, who I’d approached on serialisation on another book (Ciaran McAirt’s The McGurk’s Bar Bombing) rebuffed that effort and instead stated that they wanted to serialise another book we’d published the same month, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s Downfall book. The deal was done and a very fair and decent piece on Phil and his book appeared. However, it’s appearance produced an astonishing reaction. I was new to Twitter and was following reaction on various feeds. The first I learned that The Sun was scrapping the serialisation half way through its agreed run was on Twitter when a Sun employee stated that this was the case.

Another Sun employee told me privately that the switchboard “melted” when the reaction from some Rangers fans came in. Weirdly, months later when I discussed this with a Sun employee, I was told “there was no big reaction”. No reaction? Really? What about that switchboard “melting?” It was “exaggerated”. Why the change of facts here? Again, have the courage of your convictions. Don’t deny it happened.

Some gifted People took the trouble to review the book – before it was even finished being written. Now, that was conscientious. You have to wonder why such prescience on their part precluded them from foreseeing the demise of their club.

One chap who did foresee that demise, and who indeed warned all and sundry publicly in his contemporaneous blog, wasn’t much thanked - or even believed. Thankfully he (Phil) was believed by many when he wrote Downfall – How Rangers FC Self-Destructed.  So much so that the book reached Number 8 in Amazon UK’s overall book chart, despite concern for me among some Rangers fans who claimed I had thousands, piled high, unsold in my garage. Not only did I not have any in my garage, I didn’t even have a garage.

I then received calls from a seemingly nice chap in Belfast who claimed he was working as a buyer for Bargain Books in that neat little town. I played along, as the caller was obviously unaware that I had worked very closely with Bargain Books in Belfast since 1996, publishing several books with them under their Lagan Books imprint and supplying their stores with literally thousands of books, both full price books and bargain books, for years. I knew the owners very well. Indeed, they were personal friends of the finest and most loyal kind. I knew who the key store managers were. This gentleman caller, friendly as he was, had clearly nothing to do with Bargain Books Belfast. He seemed to think I’d want to sell the book at a dirt cheap price. What was this charming chap’s game? He seemed determined to even have me say the words “I’ll supply Bargain Books with Downfall” for some reason. It all made sense later when it was apparent he was taping the calls. The project, such as it was, was to discredit the book by suggesting it was such a terrible, unwanted item that weeks after publication I was eager to offload it at a loss. Impersonation, taping calls, quite a lot of trouble to go…

Despite being a Scottish Bestseller in many key Scottish book outlets from Waterstones to WHS and others the Scottish media took their lead from The Sun and collectively shat their pants. Only one SMSM chap reviewed the book. The rest either decided that the only book on the greatest sporting scandal in Scottish sports history wasn’t worthy of a second glance or they didn’t think it was
 “worth the hassle”. In case you think “shat its pants” is hyperbole, ask yourself how you’d describe a media which one day had uniform headlines across the board along the lines of “Rangers, 1872-2012, RIP”, and then airbrushes all reference to those headlines from their current narrative. No attempt at any expansion, any “we were wrong” - just a desperate wish for all their readers to lobotomise themselves to the point they don’t remember such headlines or where they wonder if they dreamed them.

That hassle was documented in Alex Thompson’s piece for Channel 4 where several Scottish commentators related the grief they got for commenting in any negative way on the club that was Rangers. The editor of the book, Sunday Herald columnist, Angela Haggerty, received disgraceful sectarian abuse. You know the kind? That’s right, the kind we have to keep reminding certain commentators that is NOT “banter”, and is NOT “funny”. Replace the work “Taig” with the word “black” just in case you had any doubt about just how offensive, not to say illegal, such “banter” is. So illegal in fact that one perpetrator, who hosted an internet radio show spewing out threatening bigotry, was tried and convicted in a Scottish court of sectarian hatred and was sentenced to 6 months in jail.

Sadly, it was not just many in SMSM who were keen to dismiss the sectarianism that some involved in the book were subjected to. Despite the complaint being made about the radio show, and it’s shocking vitriolic bigotry jeopardising the safety of our book’s editor, it wasn’t until Alex Thompson‘s Channel 4 piece on what Angela endured that the police seemed to take the complaint seriously. The world outside Glasgow was on now the case, apparently. Glasgow had to wake up to the fact that what many thought was “banter” that had been “asked for” was actually a crime.

Since publication of Downfall five years ago, the very Downfall itself has been erased from the history, as related by SMSM at least. Reference to Rangers now being bereft of life is censored on both main Radio football shows. No debate even allowed. It’s like Soviet-style collective hysteria, as if the mention of a fact will bring civilisation crashing down. Sure, they obliquely refer to the “relegation” of “Rangers” to the fourth division. But the Downfall, the Self-Destruction, is denied with more fervour year on year. Doubtless some scribe will claim to have covered The Downfall, but unless they mean Downfall in the Python-esque it has ceased to be sense as opposed to the pining for the fjords sense, then they have missed the point. That’s a set-back, not a Downfall. Thankfully, at least one book exists on the subject to keep us right.