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Turkish Football Fans Unite After Suruc Bombing Amid an Alarming Escalation of Violence

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When an ISIS suicide bomber killed 32 and wounded 104 young men and women in Suruç, Turkey—near the Syrian border—on Monday July, 20 2015 everything changed forever. Some say that it means Turkey has now been sucked into the Syrian violence as a result of the Turkish leadership’s failed policies and thinly veiled support for ISIS in Syria; ten years ago, during the US-led war in Afghanistan, who would have thought that anyone would be able to say that “In many respects, Turkey has provided a safe sanctuary for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, playing a similar role as Pakistan does in support of providing safe haven for the Taliban in Afghanistan.” But the Independent did, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

One Cumhuriyet columnist, Orhan Bursalı, outlines eight reasons why Turkey could become an ISIS state. Again, who would have thought that anyone could say that because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s pro-Sunni sectarian stance—while occupying the highest political positions in the secular Turkish Republic—that Turkey could possibly go this route? Certainly no one would have thought it possible back in 2012, when US President Barack Obama named Mr. Erdoğan one of his top-five friends among world leaders. But Mr. Obama did, and this miscalculation is as great as Mr. Erdoğan’s in following a sectarian foreign policy, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

Now the divide-and-rule policies of the AKP’s 13 year one party rule have brought back a similar political divide to what was seen in 1970s Turkey, where fighting between members of right-wing and left-wing groups killed ten people a day for a decade. But 2015 is not 1980. The world has changed. There can be no military coup to stop the bleeding. The conflict is not confined within the context of the Cold War. The battle is no longer between right-wing Turkish nationalists and left-wing Turkish nationalists. It is between normal religious citizens—some who are supporting the Sunni Islamist militants of ISIS—and various left-leaning Turks—urban intellectuals and students—and Kurds, some liberal and some supporting the terrorists of the PKK—looking for a more inclusive democracy and a move away from divisive politics. But as the conflict rages the divisions get blurred. To see just how complicated the delicate situation is I will present the stories of a seven different Turks who were lost in this heinous attack and its aftermath.

 

Hatice Ezgi Sadet and Polen Ünlü were 20 year-old girls studying in Istanbul and fellow members of the Sosyalist Gençlik Dernekleri Federasyonu (Federation of Socialist Youth Organizations). The living tell a story of the dead that shows two girls who went everywhere together—whether it was to campaign for the HDP in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district or to attend Beşiktaş matches; friends from the stadium attended the funeral services in Beşiktaş jerseys and scarves. They went together to Suruç in order to help build a children’s park in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, instead of to party on the beaches of the Mediterranean like so many other twenty-something girls in Turkey during the summer. Now they lie buried together in the same grave, inseparable forever.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gunun-icinden/polen-ve-ezgi-yan-yana-defnedildiler-890340/

 

Koray Çapoğlu was a thirty-two year old “revolutionary” in the sense that his friends say he always stood up for right in the face of wrong, faithfully attending every protest with the flag of the team he supported, Trabzonspor. The fan group he helped found—Devrimci Trabzonsporlular (Revolutionary Trabzonspor Supporters)—made an announcement following his death noting that though he was bringing toys to Kobane this time, he was in Suruç just as he had been at Gezi, as he had protested the building of a Nuclear Power Plant on the Black Sea coast, as he had remembered the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. These are the same things Beşiktaş’s Carşı group has protested in standing up for right in the face of wrong. Now all that remains are memories of a young man and a photo of his bloodied clenched fist wrapped in the claret and blue of Trabzonspor.

Koray-Çapoğlu

Image Courtesy Of: http://gencgazete.org/koray-gibi-olmak/

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bedeni-bayrakla-ortulu-bordo-mavi-gundem-2090473/

 

The left-wing mainly Turkish students were killed by a fellow Turk from Adiyaman province who had joined ISIS; Şeyh Aburrahman Alagöz. The twenty-year old suicide bomber was studying mechanical engineering at the university, but he was no normal university student. He was neighbors with fellow Adiyaman resident Orhan Gönder who set off two bombs on June 5 2015 in Diyarbakir at a rally for the leftist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), killing 4 and injuring 402, despite the fact that police had—suspiciously—released him from their custody a day before the bombing. Alagöz had taken a break from his studies and was running a teahouse in the center of Adiyaman; the front of his Islam tea house was decorated with passages from the Koran and had an ISIS logo inside, and here he provided a place to recruit young Turks to the terrorist group. During the Kobane events the teahouse closed for a few days; locals say the owner and his patrons had gone to fight for ISIS against Kurdish militants. His teahouse was closed down three months after it opened last October but the Koranic passages remain on the storefront, just as those recruited from this terrorist cell remain anonymous and at large. More than 200 young people from Adiyaman province have left their homes to join ISIS.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/327893/iste_islam_Cay_Ocagi.html

 

But such visions of martyrdom in the name of Islam are not only confined to young males. Seçil T. is a young 18 year-old girl with her life in front of her. On July 8, 2015 she ran away from her home in central Turkey’s Kırşehir province leaving just a note reading “I’m going to Afghanistan of my own accord, I am going to become a Martyr. Don’t worry about me.” She also texted her brother: “I am going to blow myself up and become a martyr. Vallahi victory is Islam’s”. Luckily the Turkish police stepped up their search for this young girl at her family’s behest and she was caught on July 22, 2015 in Hatay Province’s Reyhanlı district on the Syrian Border. But Seçil T.’s story is not unique. Her picture shows her in a headscarf, and some young conservative girls—just like their young male counterparts—have visions of fighting for ISIS in the name of Islam. James Traub, in a book review for the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that “Many of the European “lone wolves” who carry out attacks at home in the name of either ISIS or al Qaeda are . . . bored and alienated young men with giant chips on their shoulders who find in Islam a rationale for their violence.” It is in some ways similar to the young people, male and female, which were willing to risk their lives protesting for liberal democracy in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Young people in the prime years of their lives are lining up to fight for their political ideologies across the political spectrum, a very dangerous development that could be sowing the seeds for a violent civil war in Turkey amidst the global struggle of youth in the face of rising unemployment and frustrations with their governments and lives.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/kendimi-patlatip-sehit-olacagim-890287/?_sgm_campaign=scn_b80427cad0440000&_sgm_source=890287%7Csozcu&_sgm_action=click

 

Some people have noted this sharp rise in violence and can see the writing on the wall. On Wednesday July 22, 2015 two police officers were found dead in their home in Ceylanpınar, killed in their sleep. Terrorists from the Kurdish PKK said the killing was in retaliation for the Suruç bombing because Turkish police officers had been collaborating with ISIS (on July 29, however, the PKK denied responsibility in a strange development). The link between Turkish security forces and ISIS has been posited before, but I personally doubt that these two young men had anything to do with it themselves. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it doesn’t matter, now 25 year old Okan Acar and 24 year old Feyyaz Yumuşak are dead before they could even marry, victims of the failed policies of the country they served.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/sanliurfada-2-polis-sehit-889987/

 

This is just a small sample of the steadily increasing violence that threatens Turkey and the region. In the nine days since the Suruç bombing things have gone from bad to worse and 42 people have died—students, soldiers, generals, and police officers:

20 July: Suruç suicide bombing kills 32 dead and wounds 104.

20 July: Specialist Corporal Müsellim Ünal died in a firefight with PKK militants in Adiyaman.

22 July: Police officers Feyyaz Yumuşak and Okan Acar were murdered in their home in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa.

23 July: Sergeant Yalçın Nane was killed by ISIS militants in an attack in Elbeyli, Kilis. Two other soldiers were wounded.

23 July: Police officer Tansu Aydın was killed in Diyarbakir.

25 July: Gendarme Sergeant Major İsmail Yavuz and Gendarme Specialist Sergeant Mehmet Koçak were killed in Diyarbakir.

26 July: Police officer Muhammet Fatih Sivri was killed during unrest in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood.

27 July: Major Arslan Kulaksız was killed in Malazgirt, Mus. His wife was wounded in the attack.

28 July: Sergeant Ziya Sarpkaya was killed while talking to his father in civilian clothes in Semdinli, Hakkari.

 

The situation is confusing with everyone putting forth different opinions, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. The government seems to want chaos so as to prove that only it can provide security both domestically and regionally; a Cumhuriyet story showed how, over the last fifteen years, as violence increased so too did support for the AKP. By now bombing PKK positions in Syria and restarting the Kurdish-Turkish war of the 1980s and 1990s the AKP is trying to project an image of Kurds as terrorists so as to win back the votes they lost to the Kurdish HDP in the June elections. And, unfortunately, this means the United States may have miscalculated as well.

But what isn’t confusing, what is very clear, is that this needs to stop. The divisive policies of bringing back the left-right fighting of the 1970s, of fomenting Turkish-Kurdish mistrust and bringing back the war of the 1990s, of supporting ISIS on the battlefield as a bulwark against Kurdish gains on the ballot, will not get Turkey anywhere. It only means that more young people will die just so that the AKP can stay in power of a slowly disintegrating nation. It is reassuring that some people can see the dangerous path Turkey is heading down: On July 28, 2015 the fan groups of Turkey’s three biggest football teams came together again, as they did during the Gezi protests. Beşiktaş’s Carşı, Fenerbahçe’s Genç Fenerliler, and Galtasaray’s UltrAslan published a joint declaration on their websites, I have translated it to the best of my abilities and have presented it below in its entirety.

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KAMUOYUNA

Barışın, kardeşliğin, sevginin ve saygının gönüllere hitab eden, birleştirici diline olan inancımız vesilesi ile derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize sonuna kadar inanıyoruz. Beraber ektiğimiz toprağı, beraber içtiğimiz suyu, beraber soluduğumuz havayı bizden sonra gelecek olanlara kirletmeden teslim etmek insanlık borcumuzdur. Bunu başaramadık belki, bari birbirimizi sevelim ve saygı duyalım.

Formalarımızın arkasında hepimizin gizli adı “BARIŞ” yazsın. Hepimizin sponsoru hayat olsun.       

Dünyayı devredeceğimiz çocukların renklerini, seslerini birbirinden ayırmadan o çocukların gözlerine utanmadan bakmak istiyorsak insanlığımızı yeniden hatırlamamız gerekiyor. Medeniyetlere beşiklik yapmış bu toprakların hamurunda şiddet ve ona karşı gelecek kardeşlik ve merhamet duygusunun bu günde var olduğunu biliyoruz. Bize benzemeyenlere ve hayatlarına insan oldukları için saygı duymak zorundayız. Bu aynı zamanda kendimize saygının da bir gereğidir. Dilin bir anlamı da gönüldür. Kalpten kalbe yolun olduğuna inanıyoruz. Dilden ve insandan umudu kesmediğimiz için derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize bu günden yürekten inanıyoruz.

Bu geçici dünyaya insani güzel huylar eşliğinde kırıp dökmeden, kesip biçmeden insana yaraşır, onurlu izler bırakmak istiyoruz.

Taraf olduğumuz yarışmalara, müsabakalara, maçlara olimpiyatlara evet, yenmeye yenilmeye, beraberliğe evet. Ama öldürmeye ve bir insan eliyle ölmeye, “ŞİDDETE” HAYIR.

Bu yüzden çeşitli sebeplerle sürekli olarak haksız ve acımasızca şiddet ve ayrışmaya örnek gösterilen tribüncüler olarak biz söz konusu vatanımızın milletimizin birlik beraberliği, huzur ve güveni olduğu zaman gerisi “TEFERRUAT”tır!

 

TO THE PUBLIC

Due to our belief in unifying language appealing to hearts with peace, brotherhood, love, and respect we believe without question that we can make ourselves understood with words. It is our human responsibility to surrender the soil we have plowed together, the water we have drank together, and the air we have breathed together to those that come after us without polluting it. Maybe we didn’t succeed in this, at least let us love and respect one another.

Our secret name, “PEACE”, should be written on the back of our jerseys. Our sponsor should be life.

If we want to look without shame into the eyes of the children we will hand the world over to, without separating their colors and voices from one another, we need to once again remember our humanity. We know that these days violence and, on the other hand, feelings of brotherhood and compassion exist in the essence of this land that formed the cradle of civilization. We have to respect those who are unlike us, and their lives, because they are people. At the same time this is also a requirement for respecting ourselves. One meaning of language is also heart. We believe there is a road from one heart to another. From this day on we believe from our hearts that we can make ourselves understood with words because we haven’t lost hope in language and people.

We want to leave honorable traces worthy of humanity on this ephemeral world in a kind and humane way, without destroying or killing.

Yes to the competitions we are part of.

Yes to the games we are a part of.

Yes to the matches we are a part of.

Yes to the Olympics we are a part of.

Yes to winning. Yes to losing. Yes to tying.

But NO to “VIOLENCE”, no to killing and dying at the hands of human beings.

Because it is us as football supporters who have constantly—for various reasons—been unfairly and mercilessly depicted as examples of violence and division, we say that when our country is secure, peaceful, and united the rest is just “DETAILS”!


Even a casual fan of Turkish and European football knows the deep divisions between the fans of Istanbul’s fierce rivals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t come together when something bigger than football is at stake. All football fans are not violent thugs intent on destroying everything in sight just like not all Muslim Turks are ISIS sympathizers and not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and not all Ataturkists are anti-religion. Such blanket labels on groups of people only serves to further divide them into rival camps making cooperation impossible; one Turkish political commentator put it well when he described the one division that does exist–are you, as a person, one for peace or one for fighting? Answering that question will go a long way toward uniting people and saving human lives, preserving the future of a country, and determining the future of a region.

Remember the words of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when proclaiming the caliphate, “RUSH, O Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis.” ISIS’ Caliphate “constitutes an exercise in nation-building and a viable alternative to the apostate regimes otherwise covering the face of the earth,” according to James Traub in the Wall Street Journal. Clearly ISIS has an ability to appeal to frustrated Sunni Muslims across the Middle East and beyond, uniting them across the imagined boundaries of the imagined states created in the aftermath of the colonial regimes. By using Sunni Islam as the unifying identity they are able to recruit a vast number of members from many different national backgrounds.

If this global culture war is not to become a violent regional war—or worse—then those of us on the side of democracy, peace, and justice—both political and economic—must unite as well. Whether American or Turkish or Kurdish or any other nationality or religion or ethnicity it is important to remember—like the football fans did—one thing: United we stand, divided we fall.

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From Football to Industrial Football to Political Football: The Slow Death of Ankara’s Sekerspor

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On July 1, 2015 a strange new team appeared on the Turkish Football scene. The team is Turanspor, taking their name from “Turan”—a geographic area of central Asia—that also gives the name to Turanism, the pan-Turkish ideology that drives nationalist Turks from the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). Originally it was seen as a political union between all Ural-Altaic language speaking peoples, later it became specifically Turkic as the other Ural-Altaic speakers in Finland, Hungary, Korea, and Japan were seen as too different by the first major Turanian intellectual Ziya Gokalp who wrote in the context of the late Ottoman period. Turanism is a very interesting ideology that deserves more than a just a passing mention and I encourage all readers to further investigate it, as this is an article mainly about football.

The president of Turanspor Orhan Kapelman made an announcement via the club’s Facebook page outlining the team’s purpose:

“Sevgili ülküdaşlarım, futbolun siyasallaştığı şu dönemde hangi takımı tutarsanız tutun , ülkücü teknik adamlar ve futbolcularla yeşil sahalarda yüreğini ortaya koyacak bu takım sizlerin takımı olacaktır”

“Dear fellow idealists [ülkucü means idealist, the widespread term for members of the MHP in Turkey], regardless of which team you support during this period where football has become political, this team with idealist coaches and players who will lay their hearts on the green fields will be your team.”

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Image Courtesy Of: https://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turanspor

The formation of this new team has also been seen as a potential rival to the recently formed Osmanlispor (Ottomanspor) who were promoted to the Turkish Super League at the end of last season. Taking over the team formerly run by the Ankara Municipality, Ankara Büyüksehir Belediyespor, Osmanlispor have been seen as a thinly veiled representation of the AKP’s neo-Ottoman visions of regional hegemony on the football field. But what’s even more interesting about the formation of this explicitly political and right wing team is its history.

The team have replaced the old Sekerspor, one of Turkish football’s most historic teams, currently having collected the 41st most points in the history of the Turkish top flight. For a more complete Turkish-language history of the team please see Tribun Dergi, who were kind enough to use some of my photos in their article. Kafcamus has written many articles on Sekerspor since, in many ways, the team’s history is a microcosm of both the history of football and the Turkish political and economic landscape through the years. Sekerspor were originally founded in 1947 as part of the Turkish Sugar Factory; as the game of European football was at its beginnings, the team was originally a source of amusement and recreation for working class factory workers. In 2004 Kafcamus wrote about the day he came to the stadium with friends after a long walk only to hear from police on duty that there was no game and that the club had closed. The sugar plant had been privatized—as has been the case with many formerly state-owned businesses during the AKP rule in its rush to wholeheartedly embrace capitalism—and as such the club was gone, pulling out of the 2004-05 Turkish Second Division B Category. It wasn’t the end, but certainly the beginning of the end.

From that day forward Sekerspor was consumed by the world of industrial football. In 2005-06 a construction firm, K&C Group, bought the club and renamed it Etimesgut Sekerspor with the help from the Etimesgut municipality. At this point many fading Turkish football stars such as Ahmet Dursun and Sergen Yalcin were brought in to bring more attention to the club (and, consequently, the construction firm that had bought the club). In one writer’s words they were becoming “Turkey’s Chelsea”, which was definitely not a good thing in many fan’s eyes. In 2010-11 the club moved to another of Ankara’s districts and became Beypazari Sekerspor, in 2011-12 the club became Akyurt Sekerspor, and in 2012-13 it became Camlidere Sekerspor. Only in 2013-14, when the club could no longer attract sponsorship from an Ankara district’s municipality, did the club revert to its original name. Then, in February of 2014, the club was kicked off of the sugar factory’s grounds since they were unable to pay the rent, even though the sugar factory allegedly had a fund of 60 million Turkish Liras that was supposed to go to the club. The club’s various moves and name changes from 2005 to 2014 were symptomatic of the club’s gradually becoming an advertisement—a business entity—rather than being a sports club. And now, it seems, the club has moved onto being a political advertisement; perhaps it is part of “post-industrial football”?

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Sekerspor Logos Through The Years: Images Courtesy Of: https://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turanspor

Maybe—but it is also part of a larger trend, the extreme politicization of daily life in Turkey. The ultra-nationalists of the MHP have been emboldened by their election success and are looking to make their presence felt everywhere, including on the football field, as a bulwark against any Kurdish success in the wake of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) electoral gains. Ultra-nationalist sentiment in Turkey has risen at an alarming rate following the elections of early June, with MHP members ransacking Thailand’s consulate in Istanbul and assaulting Korean tourists in Istanbul’s main tourist district following alleged mistreatment of ethnically Turkish Uyghurs in Western China. Even the government has gotten involved in this “rally around the flag”; regarding a possible Turkish war with Syria some of the rhetoric has focused on a Turkmen minority and the dangers they are facing. After the elections the AKP-led Turkish government is facing a crisis and, sadly, they see the solution in nationalism. Apparently such sentiments have also stretched to the footballing world, at the expense of one of Turkish football’s oldest teams.

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They Don’t Make Shirts–Or Clubs–Like they Used To. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.tribundergi.com/haber/dunya-tersine-donse-sekerspor

 

What the Confederate Flag Really Means To Some Football Fans

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On June 22 2015 Adam Taylor of the Washington Post wrote an article entitled “Why do Italian soccer fans and other foreigners fly the Confederate flag?”. In it the author ties the furious debate over the Confederate flag’s role in American society to the wider world by using a topic I am very close too—international soccer. The Confederate flag is, indeed, a complicated issue; to some it represents “a source of Southern pride and heritage, as well as a remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle” while to others it is “a divisive and violent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups.” So is it history or is it hate?

Mr. Taylor’s article seems to lean towards the latter and a Canadian high school student who labeled the flag as “racist” is quoted. Why a Canadian is quoted in a piece about US Politics I do not know. When explaining the Confederate flag’s presence in European football stadia Mr. Taylor also notes that:

 

“[M]any can’t claim ignorance when it comes to the flag’s connotations of racism and slavery. In fact, it’s likely that for a few Napoli soccer fans – in particular the hardcore “ultras” often at the center of match-day violence – it is just another reason to fly the flag of the Confederacy. Racist and anti-Semitic chants are alarmingly common all across Europe, and fans from clubs like Spain’s Real Madrid and France’s Olympique de Marseille have also been spotted flying the flag.”

 

Unfortunately this matter deserved more than a passing paragraph labeling the flag’s usage by soccer fans as just racism and hatred given that the article’s title is directly about soccer. Such a simple and superficial look at the subject only serves to mask real cultural and political issues that go beyond American (or European) racism which are being overlooked by many media outlets including—in this case—the Washington Post.

The author would have been better served doing research into the subject in the vein of what he writes in the context of Napoli, a football team from southern Italy:

 

“In southern Italy, for example, it appears some see a historical parallel at work, pointing toward their own absorption into the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 and the perceived economic and political problems since then.

In ‘Nations Divided,’ a 2002 book by historian Don Harrison Doyle, the author recalls the explanation given to him by an Italian colleague for the southern Italian embrace of Confederate symbols. ‘We too are a defeated people,’ an unnamed professor of American literature in Naples told Doyle. “Once we were a rich and independent country, and then they came from the North and conquered us and took our wealth and power away to Rome.”

 

This is closer to the truth. While it is true that some right wing fans of European football teams—particularly in eastern Europe where there are many instances of anti-Semitism and racist chants in stadiums—fly the Confederate flag due to its racist connotations; Swastikas are much more prevalent than Confederate flags in terraces where right wing fans are in the majority. Most other fans fly the Confederate flag for more innocuous reasons. In fact, these are the same reasons many Americans in the south fly the Confederate flag: It is a sign of local identity and local pride in the face of perceived domination—both political and economic—from a distant center located in a different geographic (and sometimes economic) region.

Take the Civil War as an example. Many argue that the US Civil War was fought over slavery; that interpretation is just the tip of the iceberg, even if the Washington Post will shame you by labeling you a racist if you might think otherwise. The Civil War can also be seen as a colonial war: The Industrial North, with its superior manufacturing capability and economic base (in 1840 71 percent of the nation’s railroads and 87 percent of the nations banks were in the North) had to control the South as it was the country’s agricultural center. By 1860 90 percent of the United State’s manufacturing output came from the North; the North produced 17 times more cotton than the south, 3,200 firearms were produced in the North for every 100 produced in the South, and just 40 percent of the Northern population were involved in agriculture at a time when 84 percent of the Southern population was. In order to continue receiving raw materials like cotton to support the North’s industrial revolution the South could never be allowed to secede—it would have crippled the United State’s economy. Now the internal colonialism interpretation of the Civil War has also popped up recently in order to explain Ferguson and the racial divide in the US, but such interpretations still fall flat for me in the face of the economic truths of the matter. To explain social issues using the simple term of “racism” ignores real problems and only serves to divide societies further.

 

Mr. Taylor’s article cites France’s Olympique Marseille as one of the teams that fly Confederate flags in the stadium out of hate. But Marseille’s ultras, Commando Ultras, are a left wing group. Alongside the Confederate flag one can also see images of Che Guevara, and their fans have also hung banners that read “Marseille is anti-fascist” and “Love Marseille Hate Racism”. Please note the Che Guevara image on the “South Winners” banner: Being “southern” is a huge part of the Marseille fans’ identity.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/index.php?s=03c052ddcebea9d571a0727a1ae09964&showtopic=4518&st=8393

The ultra group Apei Rotan of PAS Giannena, a team from Southern Greece, are leftist as well and they also display the Confederate flag alongside Che Guevara’s image.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/index.php?showtopic=4518&st=8382O.

And the fans of Lokomotiv Plovdiv in Bulgaria—a railway worker’s team formed during the communist era—also display the Confederate flag during matches.

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Image Courtesy Of:http://hooliganstv.com/lokomotiv-plovdiv-botev-plovdiv-28-10-2014-pyro-and-fights-in-plovdiv/.

1. FC Nuremburg, from southern Germany, fly a Confederate flag at matches because of their identity as a team hailing from the south of the country; since Nuremburg was the site of the Nazi trials they are especially sensitive to any kind of racist displays in the stadium and their fans are apolitical.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/index.php?s=03c052ddcebea9d571a0727a1ae09964&showtopic=4518&st=8393

Despite coming from leftist and apolitical backgrounds some teams display the Confederate flag at matches. It is because, to many fans, the Confederate flag’s image represents things that go far beyond the simple “racist” image that is—unfortunately—underlined. In the United States the populace is sharply divided over what the Confederate Flag means yet mainstream media won’t hesitate to make a hero out of someone who lowers the flag. Blindly championing the removal of a symbol related to a nation’s history is a slippery slope, and it is when the divisions between what is seen as wrong and right get blurred is when societies only get further divided. By labeling one flag simply and solely as a racist symbol cheapens debate and doesn’t do much in the way of unifying people, it just harshens people’s views of one another irreconcilably; maybe five percent of those who support the Confederate flag do it out of hatred, and even that may be a generous estimate.

For so many others—especially football fans—it means much more. For Napoli fans it is a protest against southern Italy’s domination by northern Italy. For Marseille’s fans it is a sign of the “southern” identity of the country’s second city against the richer northern capital city of Paris. For Lokomotiv Plovdiv’s fans it is a representation of the country’s second city, Plovdiv, in the face of economic and political dominance from the country’s capital of Sofia. A kind of provincial pride is in place, perhaps. And for PAS Giannena and 1. FC Nuremburg the flag simply reflects the teams’ identities as representing southern cities.

The global North/South divide between rich and poor is also manifested in countries whose two major cities are often separated by very different economic conditions. Thus the Confederate flag should be seen in some contexts as a sign of respect for local identity in the national periphery and as a form of protest against—and reminder of—the homogenizing, conquering, identity put forth by the national center. The attacks on the Confederate flag by some professors and graduate students labeling it only as a sign of hate not only erase history, but also cover over real economic and social problems that are common to all people—black and white, American and European, football fan and non-football fan—by making those that disagree racist, bigoted, “others”. And that is the kind of simplistic division and fascistic thought process that cannot bring people together in the long term; life—like football—is much more complicated than that.