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Football Fans Take Part In Anti-Capitalism Protests in Hamburg Surrounding the G20 Meetings as Absurdities Abound

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Poland ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg set the tone for the absurdities which would follow. Chris Cilliza, an employee for CNN (one of the major news networks guilty of publishing polarizing stories recently) tweeted a report that the Polish First Lady, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, snubbed Mr. Trump’s attempt to shake her hand during the latter’s visit to the Eastern European country. Of course, Mr. Cilliza’s poor excuse for journalism soon turned out to be “fake news”; Ms. Kornhauser-Duda did in fact shake Mr. Trump’s hand, it just did not appear in the four second video Mr. Cilliza Tweeted—perhaps it was a case of premature tweeting–and Polish President Andrzej Duda Tweeted a call to “fight fake news”. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, this event should remind everyone that they must carefully interpret what they see on the internet, lest they get sucked into the alternate reality of one-dimensional thought which is being pushed on the entire world.

 

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Tweets Fly With Abandon..Even When They’re Fake. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4675312/Polish-head-blasts-critics-said-wife-SNUBBED-Trump.html

 

Unfortunately, many people bought the “fake news”, despite Mr. Duda setting the record straight. This might be, of course, because Mr. Duda is derided by media outlets (like The Guardian and CNN) for being “rightwing”. Indeed, the rightwing identity is one that the media loves to paint Poland with. Journalist Christian Davies wrote a damning portrait of Polish football fans in March of 2017, seemingly painting the whole of the country’s fans as “xenophobic white-supremacists”. Mr. Davies’ article explains the situation as such:

 

In the run-up to the Uefa European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Poland’s then Civic Platform-led government (which was headed by Donald Tusk before he became president of the European Council in 2014) clamped down on organised hooliganism. It was feared that violence or instances of racism could disrupt the tournament and damage the country’s reputation abroad.

That provided an opening for far-right and right-wing politicians to adopt the nationalist fans’ cause, portraying them as ordinary patriots enduring harassment from a liberal government hostile to “traditional” cultural values. Their cause has also been adopted by hardliners within the Polish Catholic Church, who share PiS’s [Author’s Note: the acronym for the ruling Law and Justice Party] view that the country’s values and identity are under sustained attack by decadent, Western cosmopolitanism and the racial diversity imposed from above by Brussels.

 

Clearly, Mr. Davies’ sweeping generalizations are an example of bad journalism, similar to fake news. As a scholar of football fan culture, I am left wondering: How many Polish football fans did Mr. Davies actually speak too? My hunch would be that he did not speak to many; after all, the money in journalism comes from stating what people already believe and pandering to the readership, not from challenging existing beliefs and risking the loss of said readership. Is it true that there are xenophobic and racist football fans? Of course it is! Anyone familiar with football fan culture will know that there are more than a few fans that believe in negative ideologies. But this does not mean that all fans are conned by such violent ideologies.

After all, I would say that anything “imposed from above by Brussels”—such as “racial diversity”, to quote from the above article—is something that the citizens of Poland have a right to be miffed about, especially since Poland was once conned by internationalism and multiculturalism imposed from abroad (does anyone remember the Soviet Union!?). If people would like to defend their own countries and cultures from the meaningless mélange of globalization, then I would say they are right to stand up for nationalism. Of course, we don’t know what the football fans really think because Mr. Davies didn’t talk to them, he merely succumbed to the trend of one dimensional thought.

The same absurdities abound in the form of protests surrounding the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. The protestors say they are fighting “capitalism” and globalization”… yet they are also protesting against leaders like Mr. Trump, who himself espouses an anti-globalism and pro-nationalism point of view! It truly is an absurd situation. To make matters worse, these protestors are actually hurting local businesses. One shopkeeper whose business was destroyed, Cord Wohlke, was quoted by ABC news as saying, “I just don’t know why people would do this … It wasn’t the people who live here. They’ve done about 400,000 euros in damage. This is just criminal, not a protest”. Mr. Wohlke—like so many Hamburg residents—have every right to be upset at the violence, which doesn’t even compute ideologically. If these thugs really wanted to combat globalization they could have supported local businesses, allowing them to benefit from the G20 summit financially. Instead, they chose to destroy the city. It seems to be a dystopia indeed, just not in the manner that Croatian philospher Srecko Horvat thinks it is (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/06/hamburg-protest-g20-dystopian-nightmare-security-disunity-politics . Mr. Horvat calls German leader Angela Merkel a “leader of the free world”, ignoring that she is a globalist through and through! Mr. Horvat criticizes the G20 for implementing the Washington Consensus (perpetuating American control over the global economy) while the Guardian seemingly laments America’s “abdication” of its position as a global power (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/06/g20-summit-could-mark-end-of-us-as-global-leader-but-what-is-next at the same time. It truly does not compute, and this is where football comes into play.

 

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Hamburg is Burning and Football Fans Are Taking Part. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-09/g20-protesters-bringing-violence-to-hamburg-put-locals-off-side/8691894

 

Fittingly, Hamburg is home to St. Pauli FC, a football club known for its left-wing stance. The club is characterized by its ties to underground punk rock music and a staunchly anti-neo Nazi position; these are of course very positive and they have gained the club a cult status among world football fans. I myself find St. Pauli FC to be one of the more interesting clubs in a football scene that is being homogenized by the forces of globalization and extreme capitalism, in the form of industrial football. Unfortunately, I fear that many of the football fans who were involved in the protests—and even the St. Pauli executives, who opened the stadium doors to protestors and allowed them to camp there–are unaware of just how capitalist even an ostensibly anti-capitalist football team can be. It is a relationship that the media—purveyors of fake news and distorted facts—does not want fans to know about.

In the January 2012 issue of the academic journal Soccer & Society (Volume 13, Number 1), scholar Gerald Grigg wrote an interesting article entitled “’Carlsberg don’t make football teams . . . but if they did’: the utopian reporting of FC St Pauli in British Media”. Mr. Grigg provides a great summary of what St. Pauli FC is, while also pointing out that:

 

the real extent of such a group’s [the FC St. Pauli fans] cultural resistance may remain open to question. After all, as a professional football club, FC St Pauli still plays in a high-level organized league, pays professional players and, as a business venture, mirrors many of the same practices exhibited by other teams (Grigg, 2012: 77).

 

Although the team certainly does represent an admirably anti-racist and anti-homophobic stance, Grigg points out that the media also glosses over the less admirable qualities of the team:

 

Specific realities which may question the strength of the nostalgic and alternative picture portrayed in the reporting can also be found within the published articles, but in the main there is something of a ‘glossing over’ of the potential significance of details such as:

Signs that the modern business of football is catching up.

Sponsors [injecting] around 40 million Euro (34.6 million GBP).

They are now moving to new training facilities in 2012. 

Customers queuing up to buy merchandise … which includes toasters, rugby shirts, baby clothes, and ashtrays—all with the familiar skull-and-crossbones logo.

A rebuilding plan that will eventually see the whole stadium modernized.

Many of these facts may well represent the modernizations that occur or have already occurred across major leagues in western Europe and indicate that FC St Pauli may have more in common with their league counterparts, such as Bayern Munich and neighbors Hamburg, than it would first appear. It is interesting that the reporting which comments on such facts massively plays down their potential implications. The Times reports upon the development of the new stadium, but states that when it is completed, ‘it will never be confused with Hamburg’s UEFA five-star venue”. (Grigg, 2012: 78).

 

Grigg closes his article with a call for more first-hand studies of FC St. Pauli, to provide a fuller examination of the team in the face of the rather utopian rendering of the team by the media. For scholars of football everywhere, it is certainly a call worth heeding. By studying the absurdities of our time (like the G20 protests and the involvement of football fans in them) we can avoid the traps the mainstream media sets for us by independently analyzing situations. To show just how dangerous these traps can be, I will quote from the Guardian (one of the worst culprits of poor reporting) and present a selection from a recently published piece by an African-American writer who claims that the American flag makes him feel “afraid”:

 

As a black man post-election, I felt even less certain of what threats I might face outside my front door. Should I slow my stride so as not to startle the white woman up ahead? Should I give up my space on the sidewalk to the oncoming white man and his dog? Does my outfit identify me clearly enough as a recreational jogger and not a criminal?

 

This kind of poor reporting is, unfortunately, a clear example of racism. Yet, the author is celebrated—rather than criticized—for judging people based on the color of their skin! It is absurd that someone should be able to get away with clear racism in a mainstream news outlet, but that is the state of the world we live in. It is one dominated by the one-dimensional thought that is pushed through the media, presenting just one side of a multi-dimensional story. Is FC St. Pauli a unique football team, with a unique fan base that takes a positive stand on social issues and combats the negative elements within football fandom? Of course it is! But is it—like any football team—also a business (which also commodifies its own “alternative” image)? Again, of course it is! This is why we need to seek out an accountable media that tell us the whole story, not just part of it. Otherwise we end up with “anti-globalization” mobs protesting nationalism while, at the same time, ruining the livelihoods of their fellow citizens–the local shopkeepers–who are far from the corporatized global elites un-affected by violence in the streets.

 

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Cheers To The FC St. Pauli Fans For Staying Unique. Here Is To Hoping They Can Resist Their Own Commodification! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footballparadise.com/punk-rockers-of-football-a-story-of-pirate-flags-and-the-anti-nazi-st-pauli/
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Troubling Times for Democracy All Over the World: A Few Thoughts from a Marginal Sociologist on the Budding Hobbesian War of All Against All in the Field of Culture and the Threat It Poses to Democracy

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When I wake up in the morning my usual routine consists of a cup of tea and a cursory search of “news” on Google so as to get as varied of a perspective that I can. The very fact that the vast majority of news outlets available to American readers are extremely biased towards either end of the ideological spectrum is concerning in and of itself; this type of polarization does not bode well for the future of “democracy” (in “quotes” because it is, itself, a debatable concept) in the United States, or the coherence of American society.

 

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A Useful Graphic With Which to Navigate the Culture Wars. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-political-bias-media-site/

 

That some news outlets are so questionable (to an unprecedented degree) is extremely worrisome. Yet, sometimes, even the “questionable” outlets can call out other “questionable” outlets in the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in the media field (Bellum omnium contra omnes in the Latin for those readers who, like me,  slaved away studying Latin in high school). The Rightist Breitbart media (rightly) called out the false reporting of “Left” leaning Time Magazine in a very surprising—and sports related—story. Time Magazine Tweeted that Olympian Fencer “Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”, and a subsequent story by  Motto, a Time publication, failed to rescind their earlier statement even though Ms.Muhammad explicately tweeted—four days after her original post—that her detention occurred in December (during previous President Barack Obama’s administration, and not during President Trump’s).

 

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Time Magazine’s Poor Journalism and Why We Should Always Question Media. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/02/14/muslim-american-olympian-claimed-detained-trump-travel-ban-detained-obama/

 

While Breitbart provides a portion of Ms. Muhammad’s interview (where she misleadingly insinuates that she was directly affected by Mr. Trump’s “ban”) The Washington Examiner quotes a customs official who, confirming that she was detained for less than an hour, said “She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before. She wasn’t targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to.” And this is the issue. People have been detained at U.S. airports long before Donald Trump became President. The supposedly “totally random” checks are not all that random—I myself have been detained upon returning to the United States from Turkey and treated extremely disrespectfully by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (this happened under Mr. Obama’s administration, I may add); my only fault was coming from Turkey and being half-Turkish. Clearly, these checks are not so “random” and these are things that the Leftist media would be better served addressing; as I myself have noted before the dystopian nature of American airports is alarming. But to blame it on a specific President—without looking at the bigger picture—is worrisome and brings into question the very existence of an independent media.

In my mornings I also focus on Turkish news. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the news coming from the two countries has—surprisingly—become more and more similar! Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2015 more than 33,000 employees have been dismissed by the Turkish Ministry of Education; on 7 Februrary 2015 it was announced that more than 4,400 civil servants—including police and 330 academics—have been purged in the crackdown following the attempted putsch. Even Turkish diplomats are fearing for their lives in this authoritarian climate. The Turkish state is exercising its power to the fullest extent; emphasizing a Weberian “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. Interestingly, the situation is not very different in the United States and it is something that should be worrisome for those concerned about the state of democracy worldwide.

In the United States there seems to be a power struggle between the intelligence agencies and President Trump (no doubt if it happened elsewhere it would be covered with a much more critical eye by the U.S. state media). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence officials are withholding information from the President of the United States; this is clearly worrisome, since it would seem—to anyone—that this would hinder any good faith attempt for Mr. Trump to actually do the job that he was democratically elected to do. I put it in italics to emphasize a point that, clearly, many in the U.S. seem to not understand. One such pundit, Bill Kristol, went so far as to say “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state”. For the uninitiated, “The ‘deep state’ is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies”. Any of those familiar with Turkish politics will know how dangerous the deep state is for democracy, and it is something that I have mentioned before.

 

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The Insulting Words Of a Woefully Uninformed Man Who Has Only Lived The Privileged Life of the United States. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/15/bill-kristol-backs-deep-state-president-trump-republican-government/

 

While the dismissal of Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may not be the worst thing in the world (according to the Economist who are known for their sober analyses; please see here and here) , it does raise other questions—but not the type The Economist raises. Surprisingly, it was Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake who provided a useful analysis:

[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s “lie” to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up […]

It’s very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do […]

[A]ll these allegations are at this point unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

 

These words—particularly the bolded portions—should deeply upset any American who cares for the semblance of “democracy” that they currently enjoy. Regardless of one’s political position, one should be concerned when a state begins to attack its citizens for doing nothing that is actually illegal (especially after rumors have come from both the “Right” and the “Left” that former President Mr. Obama is planning a “challenge” to Mr. Trump). Were Mr. Flynn’s actions questionable? Sure. But they were not illegal. And when the state’s intelligence agencies—ostensibly neutral—begin to undermine an elected government it is a slippery slope. Rather than celebrate these attacks on an elected government Americans would do well to realize that they risk surrendering their own “democracy”—with their own hands—to a nebulous, anonymous, and (most alarmingly) unelected group of individuals in the intelligence community. As alarming as Mr. Trump may be for some people, he is still—ostensibly—at least accountable to the people. That is something that cannot be said for the “deep state”, and this may be one of the biggest threats to democracy in American history (in the same way the totalitarian ideology of globalization represents a threat to democracy worldwide: just look to Turkey for an example).

Live by the Sword, Die By the Sword: Globalization, Sports, and Media in Turkey

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Given the recent geopolitical events in Turkey and the wider Middle East, it is no wonder that Turkey is swiftly being seen as a “dangerous” destination. After the United States ordered the families of Consulate staff to leave Istanbul, UEFA made a statement to reassure Manchester United fans ahead of the team’s visit to Istanbul. The Express reported that UEFA told Sky Sports: “Whilst there is no information that the threat to US citizens in Turkey also extends to UK citizens, UEFA has today sought the necessary security guarantees from the Turkish Football Federation and the local public authorities regarding the visit of Manchester United and their supporters to Istanbul.” The Manchester Evening News also reported that United fans visiting Istanbul for the match would be given an armed police escort to and from the stadium. The letter sent to fans read “Manchester United advise all fans to remain in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul ahead of kick-off, where a security bus service available to catch outside the Dolmabahce Mosque will run to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium. The hour-long journey will be under armed police guard”. Never mind that Taksim square would be the last place I would want to be in Istanbul in terms of safety, but then again I’m not sure that Manchester United’s staff has any real knowledge of Istanbul—other than, of course, that it is “dangerous”. After all, another UK sports figure, golfer Rory Mcllroy, pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open golf tournament on 31 October 2016 citing security figures. Once again, I am not sure that Mr. Mcllroy has a deep knowledge of Turkey—or really any other place, for that matter—either; he also pulled out of the Olympics due to fear over the Zika virus.

I do not, of course, blame either the Manchester United club or Mr. Mcllroy for their fears. The fact that Turkey has become so unstable in recent years is directly tied to globalization; the conflict in Syria has spread across the Middle East, fomented by backers in Russia, Europe, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf. While Turkish society (and by extension, sports) embrace globalization for its economic benefits, the country itself—in the context of geopolitical reality—falls victim to the globalization of conflict. The state can live by the sword of globalization but must also be prepared to die by the sword of globalization.

The third axis of this kind of globalization—that one that exacerbates the fear portion—is, of course, the media. The stories written tend to increase, rather than decrease, misconceptions about the country and disseminate them to the global media. For starters, none of the three British papers cited even know what the capital of Turkey is:

30 October 2016-Manchester Evening News: “Istanbul has a history of football violence. The capital was recently the centre of an attempted military coup in Turkey.”

31 October 2016-The Express: “But UEFA are concerned that recent terrorist attacks in the Turkish capital and a failed military coup could affect safety of travelling fans.”

1 November 2016-The Mirror: “English football has a troubled relationship with the Turkish capital – two Leeds fans were stabbed to death before the Uefa Cup semi-final in 2000.”

The capital, of course, is Ankara, so to expect neutral or objective reporting from outlets with such amateurish editing standards may be asking too much. And that is without even getting into the content. The Manchester Daily news, in back to back sentences, links “football violence” to an attempted military coup. This, of course, is misleading to the reader. (Never mind, also, that they believe a city can be the “centre” of an attempted military coup; a city could be the “focus” of an attempted military coup, but probably not a “centre” of one). The Mirror, taking a different approach, links Istanbul to hooligan violence in 2000 with no context at all. The Express provided the content that is nearest to anything remotely objective.

As a humorous anecdote, The Mirror added a story about Manchester United’s 1993 visit to Istanbul for their tie with Fenerbahce’s arch-rivals, Galatasaray. United famously crashed out after the tie, but it remains in football-fan folklore as the “Midnight Express” of football. Thankfully, the Mirror added Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor to their piece, writing “Even hardman boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested ‘the police were even more frightening than the fans’, though he did add he’d seen worse at a Glasgow wedding”. Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor aside, the point here is twofold. The first point is that Turkey’s rise (driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), has been characterized by an unquestioning desire to support and join the global capitalist system and neo-liberal economics. The country lived by the sword when foreign capital came streaming in, they began dying by the sword when the Syrian civil war (which the government, along with a number of other external actors, exacerbated) began to spill over the border. The second point is that global media is rarely neutral; the supposedly benevolent journalist is rarely interested in telling the full truth. Rather, they tell the “truth” that pays the bills—and that money tends to come from those who (again) benefit from the global capitalist system.

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Cantona Escorted Off the Pitch (Top); United Are Welcomed To “Hell” at the Old Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993 (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-bryan-robson-istanbul-9173277

 

Author’s Note: As I publish this, Turkey is experiencing the latest repercussions of the globalization of conflict I mentioned above. A blast has hit police headquarters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, after 11 pro-Kurdish MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained. At the time of writing internet services–which represent the globalized world–such as WhatsApp Messenger and Twitter have been shut down in Turkey.