The Palestinian Flag Problem

Image for The Palestinian Flag Problem

This feels like old ground, mostly because it is. I mean, must we do this every time?

I was watching Fawlty Towers the other week, going through random episodes, and The Germans came on. I’ve seen it 100 times, but there was one thing about it that I realised for the first time ever. The Germans are the nicest hotel guests Basil ever had.

They are almost unbelievably polite, and well mannered. They only get angry when subjected to one ridiculous provocation too many. In contrast, if you remember the show, his sole American guest is a moron and his native guests are a mixture of ignorance, arrogance and meanness. There are very few you don’t feel richly deserve some of Basil’s directed spite.

Not so with the Germans, and that made me think about the arc of the show and what it’s trying to say. Although all the other guests can be rotten sods, Basil is in the hotel business, the apex of the service industry. That kind of attitude goes with the job. It’s his response to it, his cheek, his invective, his sarcasm, that makes matters worse.

There’s no such thing as a terrible guest. There are only terrible hosts.

Is that true?

Clearly it isn’t, but I always thought you made that judgement based on how a person acts once they are over the threshold of your house. If you catch them rifling through the knicker drawer or peeing in the toilet sink they aren’t to be invited back.

Tomorrow night our guests are going to be subjected to a little of the Basil Fawlty treatment, for no reason at all that I can fathom. The message won’t be “don’t mention the war.” The war is the explicit reason for the message, as though every Israeli had blood on their hands, as though there aren’t millions of them fighting the good fight, against the appalling injustices inflicted on their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Those who’ve decided to take their Palestinian flags to the game have mostly claimed to be doing it for the purposes of showing “solidarity” to the people over there, as if they will be tuned to BT Sport on the night, and able to appreciate it. Know what they would appreciate more? A donation to one of the many Palestinian charities, or if you insist on flying a flag perhaps do it outside of their Embassy in London, or if you can’t get there why not do as the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign suggests and picket the Shalom Festival at The Fringe.

Know what the added benefit of that is? It’s tomorrow, so if you go you can give your ticket to Celtic Park to somebody whose primary interest is the future and wellbeing of our club whilst you pursue the clearly far more important business of political activism.

Do I sound harsh?

I don’t actually mean to but tomorrow night, after you’ve insulted our guests and brought UEFA sanctions down on our club, what will you be doing? Congratulating yourself? On what? You didn’t change the world, buddy. You didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the lives of a single living human being except yourself. You took a flag to a football match; that is all. As political gestures go it is weaker than a newly hatched chick.

Not a single Palestinian will be better off for it.

Like a fart in a crowd it might be briefly annoying to those next to you, but it won’t require the evacuation of the stands.

It’s gesture politics of the most ridiculous kind, a bit like those dumb middle class student warriors of yesteryear who’s answer to the awesome question of nuclear weapons was to all lie down in the middle of the road (after making a wee pillow out of their jackets, (turned outside in, of course, “we wouldn’t want them getting all dirty, would we?”) in “simulation” of the holocaust to come. No wonder a whole generation of British politicians still piss themselves laughing to this day at the mere mention of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

I am pro-Palestinian. I have marched. I do boycott. I have given money to their charities.

But like other political causes that one doesn’t belong in a football stadium.

The people who’re coming tomorrow are a football team.

It’s not the Likud Party, and they aren’t driving Eitan APC’s, although I suspect that if they were a whole lot of people who are otherwise planning to bring their flags to the game might well choose to leave them at home instead.

The trouble with a gesture like this is that it boils a matter of enormous weight and significance, a conflict on which the future of our species may yet one day hinge, to one that’s about good and evil and right and wrong, two of the most simplistic concepts ever forced into politics and which have done more harm than good in resolving conflicts like this.

Eventually there will be a peace settlement, and an equitable, honest, solution and when the two sides come together for that the guys who refused to recognise Israel will not be in the room any more than the guys who refused to recognise Palestine will be, or those people will, as the Rev. Ian Paisley was finally forced to, have completely changed the record.

Tomorrow isn’t about solidarity with Palestinians at all. It’s about insulting the guests, and it’s really that simple. Those who are daring UEFA to act, pointing out the hypocrisy of the European governing body on this … I am in your corner. They are full of shit. The idea that our club should be disciplined for fans flying the Palestinian flag is a joke, and a disgrace, and an affront not only to decency, but to the international agencies which recognise the Palestinian state as a reality.

It is morally corrupt and weak for UEFA to condemn that whilst ramming any number of honest-to-God political campaigns down people’s throats. What else is Show Racism The Red Card if not a political campaign? I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, but I know exactly what it is. All this “football is for everyone” stuff is devalued, utterly, when you try to cut certain opinions out of the stands. “Football is for the people we like” would be a far more honest slogan.

The idiots of Police Scotland who are talking about arresting people for it are even less on the side of rational thought here. That this is even being discussed is all the more reason the hateful, shameful assault on free expression the SNP calls the Offensive Behaviour Bill should be interred in the shallow unmarked grave it’s been waiting on since it was passed, all the better for us to go around there and take a great big piss on the headstone.

I’m not even going to join the chorus of people demanding that people leave their flags at home; there are a handful who bring them to every single game and this article isn’t about them or for them at all. They are unimpeachable. Their strength of feeling on this can be seen in the stands every other week.

I’m talking about the guys who only appeared to discover the Palestinian cause since the draw was made, who’ve probably never marched for those people or donated a penny or stuffed an envelope or stood in a demo.

This is their wee moment, though, and they are loving it.

I’m not here to tell even them not to do this.

But I wish they wouldn’t.

What I do want to say to them is “stop pretending this is something it’s not. You’re not changing the world. You’re only insulting our guests, who’ve done nothing wrong, who aren’t manning the razor wire, who aren’t torturing people in the detention centres or driving tanks over houses.”

This is little more than an act of self-indulgence.

They are a football team, like us.

Followed by football supporters, like us.

Your problem is with their country, but not even that … it’s with people in it who refuse to acknowledge the truth, and above all with a group of demented (mostly old) men and women in power there who aren’t even going to be there to see what you do.

The Germans of Fawlty Towers weren’t marching behind Hitler’s armoured columns either.

To be fair to him Basil realised that himself.

He’d had a bump on the head, if you remember.

I wonder sometimes if some of our supporters haven’t had the same.

In Brendan We Trust.

You can now follow The CelticBlog on Twitter at @The_Celtic_Blog

Share this article