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As Protestors March to Reverse Brexit Vote, Main(lame)stream Media Manipulates Readers by Focusing on Football

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Which Way? Image Courtesy Of: https://briefingsforbrexit.com/where-the-eu-and-ourselves-went-wrong/

 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on London on 20 October 2018 to demand a second referendum on the final Brexit deal, which is scheduled to occur in March 2019. Perhaps in line with the dominant narratives in Western media, football has become a major talking point in the media’s fear-mongering which surrounds Brexit. Most recently, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino (who is, ironically, Argentinian) compared Brexit to “a car crash” and claimed that voters received “manipulated information” during the campaign. With all due respect to Mr. Pochettino, I am forced to ask a simple question: Where did this “manipulated information” come from?

 

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A 16-year Old Saying “Brexit Stole My Future” is the Height of Victimhood. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/brexit-mauricio-pochettino-european-union-britain-tottenham-hotspur-referendum-a8591976.html

 

It is no secret that the media manipulates information in the modern era, but I am afraid that Mr. Pochettino is mistaken when he thinks that pro-Brexit voters were the ones who were manipulated; indeed, most of the media was—and continues to be—extremely biased against the “leave” campaign and voters. A good recent example of this bias is a 4 September 2018 The Telegraph piece written by Tim Wigmore with the emotional title “Why Premier League fears work permit changes after Brexit could make another Leicester miracle impossible”. Now, to any football fan the utter idiocy in this headline should be fairly obvious.

 

It is well known that modern industrial football—especially in the last twenty years—has become increasingly unequal due to its intimate connections with the processes of globalization, characterized by growing interconnectedness, transnational flows of capital and corporations, and the trend towards “open borders”. Similarly, those familiar with the Premier League are also aware that it is one of the world’s most unequal leagues. Therefore, one would rightfully give you a weird look if you were to argue that the Premier League is an “equal” league. Similarly, one would also likely give you an odd look if you were to make the claim that—somehow—Leicester City’s improbable 2015-16 Championship happened because of Britain’s EU membership, as The Telegraph’s headline seems to imply. Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. This is an important distinction to make, and one that Mr. Wigmore seems to miss in his article.

 

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Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. Image Courtesy of: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/09/04/premier-league-fears-work-permit-changes-could-make-another/

 

Mr. Wigmore claims that the Premier League’s great concern is that “Brexit will limit the talent that clubs can access, and so make the league of lower quality, more predictable and less interesting to a global audience”. It seems that this should not be a concern, since the Premier League was never supposed to be for a “global” audience; it is an English League and—therefore—was primarily designed to be played for an English audience. Perhaps this passage would have been more correct if it had said “Brexit will limit the international talent that clubs can access”; the rhetorical jump made in assuming that this would make for a “lower quality” and “less interesting” league is based partially on assumption, and partially on a major underestimation of Britain’s young footballing talent. There is absolutely no guarantee that the young British players—who are often shut out of the top teams due to international competition—are somehow of a lower quality than their international counterparts. Indeed, making this argument in any other context—at least one not referring to the native talent of a white Anglo-Saxon country—could easily be construed as xenophobic or racist. Imagine making the claim that African football cannot survive without access to European (often white) coaches? It likely wouldn’t go down well, yet we—somehow—allow opinion shapers in the media to give us these same biased opinions on other topics without batting an eye.

 

According to Mr. Wigmore, the Premier League fears that “clubs’ ability to recruit from the continent” will be obstructed if the UK were to leave the EU. This would be of little concern to British teams—and the Premier League—if they had faith in their own academies and locally raised players. But, of course, the issue is not as humanist as one focusing on faith in one’s fellow humans; rather, it is about money (as it often tends to be in industrial football). As Mr. Wigmore notes, “the Premier League is increasingly dependent upon foreign broadcasting revenue, [and] becoming more amenable to young foreign talent [is] commercially appealing”. From this comment, we see that the real fear for the Premier League is that international audiences would not be interested in watching XIs made up of players from the British Isles. Yet instead of admitting this very real concern, the author—and the Premier League—instead appeal to emotion through some thinly veiled virtue signaling with this absurd claim: New transfer rules would affect the smallest teams, “so the Premier League’s competitive balance would suffer, entrenching the elite”. I am certain that the vast majority of Premier League fans who have been watching for the last twenty-six years can recognize just how patently false this is. After all, the elite have already been entrenched.

 

A cursory look at the history of the Premier League shows that, over the past twenty-six years of the league’s existence, competition has gradually become intra-elite, rather than league wide. Just look at the champions that have come out of the twenty-six years of Premier League football (from 1992 to 2018) as compared to the twenty-six years preceding the Premier League (1965-1992):

 

1992-93 – 2017-18 (26 Seasons):

6 Different Champions

Manchester United (12)

Chelsea (5)

Arsenal (3)

Manchester City (3)

Blackburn Rovers (1)

Leicester City (1)

 

1965-66 – 1991-92 (26 Seasons):

9 Different Champions

Liverpool (12)

Arsenal (3)

Everton (3)

Leeds United (3)

Derby County (2)

Aston Villa (1)

Manchester United (1)

Manchester City (1)

Nottingham Forest (1)

 

It is a fairly obvious fact that the Premier League did not increase the competitiveness of English football’s top tier. Can you imagine Derby County taking the title one year, followed by Aston Villa the next year? If you can’t, then it may become clear that The Telegraph is engaged in a crude form of opinion shaping and manipulation, which goes against Mr. Pochettino’s argument that it was just “leave” voters who were “manipulated”. The entire nature of this debate would, of course, be comical if it were not for the fact that it is harmful to the development of what German sociologist Jurgen Habermas termed “the public sphere”, characterized by free and open discussion of matters of public concern.

 

If we are to be able to realize that transnational unions like the European Union—and the rhetoric of “open borders” and “increased productivity” that go with it—are actually harmful to individuals by subverting democratic practices, open dialogue is essential. Indeed, given that the protestors of 20 October 2018 who have filled London’s streets are actively participating in subverting their own democracy by demanding a second referendum, it is clear that this kind of open dialogue is important now more than ever. It is only by individuals speaking to other individuals—within the public sphere—that elite control over the media and culture can be resisted. But, of course, don’t think you’ll find that in outlets like The Telegraph.

 

It is vital that citizens take back their countries—and their democracies—from transnational oligarchs. Nations are made by and for their citizens, just like football leagues. By participating in the public sphere, individuals might be able to realize this. Otherwise, they will fall into the logic of The Telegraph, which writes that “the Premier League is one of the UK’s most successful exports, televised in 189 of the 193 countries in the United Nations. It has harnessed globalization [sic] to become the envy of every other football league in the world – not so much a domestic league as a transnational one, inspiring deep devotion from Jakarta to Lagos and New York”. The Premier League was not meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Jakarta to Lagos and New York. Rather, it was meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Plymouth to Norwich and Newcastle and give young British footballers the hope that they could, too, don the shirts of their favorite teams. And just like the Premier League, the British government was not meant to take its cues from European Union bureaucrats in Brussels; it was meant to take its cues from citizens in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and across the UK.

 

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A Pro-Brexit Campaigner Saying “We Want Our Country Back” While Looking to Reverse Democracy Must Be the Height of Irony. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-british-public-now-backs-a-second-brexit-referendum-2018-7
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A Footballer’s Response to Turkey’s Referendum Shows The Failure of Europe’s “Multiculturalism” in the Context of Extreme Capitalism

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After the Turkish referendum of 16 April 2017, the plaudits came in from some unexpected sources including U.S. President Donald Trump and dual Turkish/French national footballer Mevlut Erdinc (Erding in Europe). What is notable about both responses is that they show the extent to which “democracy” and “freedom” are relative terms; in the modern world they have become mere words far detached from their actual meanings. I will first discuss Mr. Trump’s response before focusing on Mr. Erdinc’s, in order to show how both responses represent the flaws inherent in what we—in the West—have come to believe “democracy” means.

Following the “YES” victory in the Turkish referendum that paves the way for a constitutional change, U.S. President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the fact that the President is a ceremonial position in Turkish politics, and is technically impartial, was apparently lost on the U.S. leadership). Perhaps recognizing this fact, the U.S. government later backtracked and claimed that the call was not so much congratulatory, rather that it “focused on terrorism”. Regardless of what was discussed, it is likely that the U.S. was truly just “checking in”, so to speak, so as to ensure that Turkey was still on board with Mr. Trump’s war on ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East. While the call may have been a poor decision—and CNN certainly thought it was —Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article makes a useful point:

Erdogan will never do away altogether with democracy: It’s not in his interest. Keeping a semblance of democratic norms can be useful to the ruler; it allows him to refute any charges that he’s a dictator.

 Unfortunately for Ben-Ghiat, whose point here is well taken and one I will expand on further, she (like so much of State media in the United States) loses credibility by following up with this statement:

Trump’s public support for Erdogan is a serious thing: It’s another nail in the coffin of America’s prestige in the world as a beacon (no matter if flawed) of freedom. Trump’s seeking out the favor of Erdogan, like his shameless courting of Putin, should startle Republicans out of their favorite recurring fantasy: that Trump will go “mainstream” and support democratic norms in America and elsewhere.

She—like many in U.S. mainstream media—misses the point that “democracy”, whether espoused by the U.S. or Europe, is on the ropes (please see the BBC for a detailed explanation of Democracy’s recent failures). Indeed, State media’s Washington Post similarly embarrassed themselves with this line in Daniel W. Drezner’s column:

If it were president Hillary Clinton or president Barack Obama at this moment in time, they probably would have publicly voiced qualms about the referendum while still maintaining a prickly partnership with Ankara.

 Mr. Drezner attempts to qualify his position with this statement:

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

What Mr. Drezner essentially advocates is lying to the American people: in his mind Mr. Obama (or Ms. Clinton) would have publically squawked while privately continuing their work with Turkey. How this is preferable to a leader actually coming out and openly showing (through rhetoric) the problems with America’s pursuit of “democracy” is beyond me; I might not agree with Mr. Trump’s decision to “congratulate” Mr. Erdogan (if that is even what he actually did) but I still prefer it to the fakery that Mr. Drezner seemingly prefers. In order to understand just how deeply the failures of democracy run, however, we need to move beyond Mr. Trump and the United States. After all, the United States does not seem to be as bad as Europe when it comes to contradicting democracy.

Another public figure who praised Mr. Erdogan in the wake of the referendum is Turkish national team footballer Mevlut Erdinc, himself a dual Turkish and French national. In a Tweet Mr. Erdinc says “Before being a footballer I am a normal person; I have a position I have thoughts I am free”. Beside this caption Mr. Erdinc posted a picture of Mr. Erdogan, seated, with the word “Baskan” (Turkish for “President”) written in the font the Godfather movies made famous. That this picture essentially equates the Turkish leader (himself known for corruption) with a mafia leader is a fascinating topic on its own, yet it also goes much deeper—into the issues of mainstream European politics.

 

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A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/04/17/referandum-sonrasinda-mevlut-erdincten-erdogan-icin-baskan-paylasimi-614120/

 

That a sports figure would openly express support for Mr. Erdogan’s government—despite the government’s failure in the field of sport (which has seen a rise in doping related penalties and a 70 percent decrease in attendance for football matches in the top two tiers since the beginning of the Passolig system) —is notable in and of itself. Yet this support is understandable when we recognize that Mr. Erdinc is a “European” Turk, by virtue of his French citizenship.

“European” is in quotation marks because Europe has, in recent years, strayed from what it was known for: free thought and democratic values. The Gatestone Institute wrote a recent piece entitled “Europe: Making itself into the new Afghanistan?”, which underlines the odd way that catering to the sentiments of the Muslim minority actually makes Europe less democratic in the long run; artists self-censor their art while museum directors cancel exhibitions for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. Algerian writer Kamel Daoud puts it well:

Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan.

This comment—which I am sure is controversial to some—underlines the limits of cultural pluralism in Europe (something Stephen Steinberg has noted has limits in the United States, much to the consternation of Sociologists who are threatened by the notion that celebrating difference can be problematic and undemocratic). Unfortunately, sometimes the focus on diversity means that the perceived “difference” of others becomes concretized; the social construction becomes real because society over-emphasizes it. Nowhere is this more evident than modern Europe, as results from the Turkish referendum show.

According to NTV, it was European Turks who all but turned the tide in the referendum. While the general result was a win for “YES” by 51.4% to 48.6%, the result among international voters was 59.5% to 40.6% in favor of “YES”. Among these “YES” votes, the highest percentages came from Western European countries: Germany (63% “YES”); Austria (73% “YES”); Belgium (75% “YES”); Denmark (61% “YES”); France (65% “YES”); Holland (71% “YES”); Norway (57% “YES”). Clearly, international votes were crucial in the referendum, and unstamped votes were counted even in the international voting.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#yurt-disi

 

It should be worrying to Europeans that Turks living within the perceived “liberal” climate of Europe chose to vote “YES”, since it shows the distinct failure of Europe’s “liberal” policies. Clearly, the Turks living in the context of Europe’s cultural pluralism did not internalize the “values” of Europe—freedom of expression and freedom of speech (the same values that are under attack in art galleries and museums which silence artists for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities)—rather they voted to increase the power of a president who aims to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. In effect these “European” Turks—like Mevlut Erdinc—became more, and not less, conservative despite living in Europe. They effectively doubled down on their ethnic identity—itself tied to Islam—in the wake of European othering under the guise of cultural pluralism.

This is just one example of how “democracy”, as it is known it in the West, can be subverted. As Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute points out, “Turks Vote[d] To Give Away Their Democracy”. Mr. Bekdil points out that the voters chose to support a party that has purged thousands: 

According to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu:

  • 47,155 people have been jailed since the coup attempt on July 15;
  • 113,260 people have also been detained;
  • 41,499 people have been released with condition of judicial control and 23,861 people have been released without any condition; 863 other suspects remain at large;
  • 10,732 of those who have been arrested are police officers, while 168 military generals and 7,463 military officers have been jailed as of April 2, 2017;
  • 2,575 judges and prosecutors

 

The fact that “democracy” has supported such undemocratic policies may be astounding, yet it shouldn’t be. Mr. Erdogan, in his bid to ingratiate himself to the “West” in order to continue the inflow of capital in the context of neoliberalism, has celebrated his response to the 15 July 2016 Coup attempt as being in the name of “Democracy”. This obsession with the word—and not the practice—of democracy has manifested itself in many ways: A new “Martyrs and Democracy” museum is opening in Ankara to remember victims of the failed coup of 15 July 2016. and the island of Yassidada—where former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hung, among other political figures—has also become “Democracy and Freedom Island”. The AKP even moved to authorize construction on the island (and increased the amount of construction allowed after the referendum), turning the former prison island into a tourist resort, since it is one of the few unspoiled spots of land available for development. These are just small examples of how the ideas of Western liberalism are being used to support decidedly illiberal policies; it is a failure of “the West” to separate “neoliberalism” from “liberalism”.

 

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The “Original” Yassiada. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/infamous-istanbul-island-home-to-menderes-trial-renamed-democracy-and-freedom-island.aspx?pageID=238&nID=57571&NewsCatID=341

 

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Yassiada Now. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/ekonomi/yassiada-daha-da-beton-olacak-1803736/

 

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The Name Change Is Complete on Google Maps. Image Courtesy of Google Maps.

 

Unfortunately, this trend—of putting capital before community—looks set to continue. The European Union has looked to “reset ties with Turkey”, in the eyes of The Wall Street Journal, perhaps seeking a return to the status quo ante. Regardless of what happens, it is clear that the European brand of liberal pluralism has failed. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess, but it would behoove all of us to realize that “democracy” has become just a word, used in certain contexts in order to receive certain returns in political and material terms. In effect, the concept of “democracy” itself has become commodified; it has become something to be bought and sold in intellectual and political circles, like so much else in the age of extreme capitalism.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/illustration/turkey-flag-map-with-business-man-shouting-royalty-free-illustration/585516128

 

Polish Football Fan Shot by Police: The Rising Tension Between Law Enforcement and Citizens Around the World

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On Saturday May 2 a tragic incident occurred at a fourth tier football match in Poland which only served to underscore the fact that, increasingly, police force is being used the world over to an alarming degree—it is not just happening in the United States. At a match between Concordia Knurów and Ruch Radzionkow a fan was shot and killed by a rubber bullet when a group of Concordia supporters entered the pitch, reportedly to attack the away section housing Ruch fans. Emergency first aid on the side of the field failed to resuscitate the victim. Additionally, rioting broke out around the hospital the victim was taken to resulting in non-life threatening injuries to fourteen policemen and many arrests. One report called it “total chaos in town” with molotov cocktails and tear gas used when ultras from the Slask region came to the small town of Knurow and joined in the rioting.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/3460-news-polish-supporter-shot-and-killed-by-police.html

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/3463-riots-in-knurow-after-police-killed-footballfan.html

Sad events like these show that rising violence in societies will be met by consequent actions by police forces. Although this seems to be an accident stemming from an inadequate number of police at the match (in the videos only a handful are seen), it is still worth analyzing in the context of an alarming growth of tensions between citizens and law enforcement all over the world. It is also worth noting that the event occurred almost one year to the day that a security guard lit a fan on fire at a match between Slask Wroclaw and Zaglebie Lubin on April 28 2014.

 

Polish football is no stranger to controversy. In January of 2014 there was an investigation into rising anti-Semitism at Polish football matches. Polish football writer Michal Zachodny explains that the problem “comes from the fact that most of the ultras groups and hooligans are connecting themselves to far-right movements which they take and explain as patriotic.” Thus these fans might not necesarily be anti-Semitic themselves, it is just that their clubs have had these chants as part of their history.

According to many commentators these nationalist far right movements have risen steadily Europe due to the continent’s ongoing financial crisis. But The Economist adds an important point: “Concerns over national culture, identity and a way of life matter more than material worries.” As many might know, many football teams—whether their roots are Jewish or working class or something else—were founded as representations of ethnic identities, class identities, and many others. When that identity is threatened, their fans—like so much of the general populace—will react. And as long as the potential for violent reactions remain it seems police will be prepared to react in kind.