Tag Archives: religious bigotry

Bigotry By Misperception

There is something not quite right in the psychology of individuals who seek out signs of bigotry in others, in order to vent the type of false moral outrage that we have become accustomed to these days.

Particularly when they begin to see manifestations of bigotry in perfectly innocent situations and are no longer able to tell the difference between the largest Island off the coast of Ireland, for example, and the second largest religion in the world (completely misconstrued, of course, as something to be offended by).

What we tend to see is heavily influenced by a mix of subconscious beliefs, attitudes and emotions; it is not uncommon to impose our own expectations of reality onto the naked facts in front of us. We respond to what we think we see, and what we want to see, rather than what actually is the case.

When the background beliefs and attitudes have been built up over the years in what can be described as a tense, embittered and contentious context at best, it is not surprising that our ability to make clear eyed judgements diminishes. Too often we get it wrong.

Part of the problem in Scotland is that this tendency to get it wrong has been exacerbated by the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, recently described by Dundee Sheriff, Davidson, as ‘horribly drafted’ and ‘mince’, and which has succeeded in putting most of us off the scent entirely in terms of what, from a legal perspective, now counts as offensive and what doesn’t.

Be that as it may, we have reached a point where some individuals feel compelled to pounce on any scrap of evidence they can find, or think they can find, in order to promote the idea that there are other groups of individuals with a greater propensity for bigotry than the one to which they belong – ‘shameful…’ and ‘disgraceful…’ are among some of the commonly used epithets.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is partly about trying to balance the books by sharing out the guilt. It is something most of us did as children and many continue to do into adulthood. The mince legislation fits this immature notion of balance like a glove. It also makes it so much more likely that we will point the finger in the wrong direction.

If nothing else, one man’s embarrassing error last Sunday helps to highlight the more general truth that, thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation, it is now part of Scottish football culture that some groups of supporters will try to vilify innocent behaviours, gestures, banners and songs, by throwing their own unchecked belief systems and ugly expectations over the facts.

Rather than help eradicate bigotry at football matches in Scotland, this legislation has actually succeeded in creating an added dimension to the bigotry that already existed, because so many individuals now think that they can see signs of bigotry in places where no such bigotry exists. They themselves become the bigots they claim to despise.

I think bigotry by misperception would appear to be a more serious problem than the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act could ever have anticipated – not least because the hastily written legislation helped nurture this embarrassing problem along.

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Catholic Schools, Religious Discrimination and Racism

There has been another recent burst of interest in the problem of anti-Catholicism in Scottish society.

Opinions vary on how prevalent it is and whether it is in fact a significant problem or not. Some think it is, and believe they have evidence to that effect, whilst many others disagree.

Within the context of these discussions, the existence of state funded Catholic schools has come up again as an important talking point. Questions have been raised as to why they are funded by tax payers’ money at all, and how much of an effect they have on the enduring problem of sectarianism in Scotland.

In discussing these issues, I think it is instructive to look back for a moment, and compare the way in which Catholic schools figured in public debate at the beginning of the 1900’s, around the time of the Education Act (Scotland), and how they figure in similar debates today.

It is instructive in the sense that one of the deepest roots of today’s objections to their existence may be traceable to this earlier period, during which they took a slightly different outward form; a form that could perhaps throw some light on a question I struggled with in an earlier blog – whether sectarianism is a form of racism. The merit of understanding the answer to this question is that it would help shape the type of solutions we ought to be putting forward to eradicate this type of bigotry from society.

The common objection to the existence of Catholic schools today is that they contribute to the problem of sectarianism in Scottish society by breeding a subconscious segregation psychology at an early age based on religious differences, a situation that is made worse in the eyes of the objectors because these schools are funded by the Government.

According to 2010 figures, there were 373 state funded Catholic schools out of a total of 2,722 schools in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s position on Catholic schools is positive and supportive. The view is that they play an important part in our society and parents and pupils should have the choice to attend one if they want to. They also tend to have very high achievement records.

Despite such Government support, in his Cardinal Winning Education Lecture in 2008, Alex Salmond described the general attitude towards Catholic schools in Scotland today as one of grudging acceptance at best, and outright hostility at worst:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Speeches/Speeches/First-Minister/cardwinlecture

It is an attitude that was passionately expressed by Scottish Conservative MSP, John Lamont, during a parliamentary debate on the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill in 2011, in which he said that our education system was effectively the “state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudes”.

In his efforts to draw a direct link between state funded Catholic schools with the problem of sectarianism in Scotland, John Lamont remarked that the resulting “segregation of our young people has brought them up to believe that the two communities should be kept separate”:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-13891033

Prior to the 1872 Education Act, Catholic Schools were mainly set up and paid for by Irish immigrant communities in Scotland. It was a means of teaching Roman Catholic values and instilling a strong sense of moral discipline to those born into these impoverished communities, who may otherwise have missed out on formal education altogether.

After 1872 Catholic Schools were encouraged to integrate into the wider state system. Many decided not to do so out of concern that the values being taught would be of the wrong influence. However, the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act removed this concern by making provisions to fund Catholic State Schools in Scotland. To many sections of Scottish society, this was a controversial move.

Reflecting on the type of objections to Catholic schools around this time suggests that the concern in the early 1900’s was not the fashionably moral one we come across today of claiming that their existence leads to sectarian conditioning in children – the implication being that the existence of Catholic schools aggravates and perpetuates the problem.

Rather it was that their existence was viewed as an unwanted solution to the problem of Irish Catholic immigrants in Scotland – the implication being that Irish Catholics, with allegiance to Papal authority in Rome, were believed to be a menace to Scottish Protestantism and hence a threat to Scottish culture and to the Scottish identity. There was therefore a racist undertone to the debate.

At a meeting of the Scottish Protestant Congress on the 9th October 1923, whose purpose was to discuss the ‘Burden of Roman Catholic Schools’ and the ‘Effects of Irish Immigration’, and which was reported in the following day’s Scotsman newspaper, The Rev. Dr Mackintosh Mackay spoke of the financial burden of Catholic schools on the people of Scotland and the “progress of Romanism” as a direct consequence.

It was deemed “unfair that the education of the land should be crippled in order to maintain the education of children of an alien population”. It was reported that he could not understand the psychology of Scottish members of Parliament in passing the Bill leading to the 1918 Education Act.

At the same meeting, the Rev. Duncan Cameron spoke about ‘Protestantism’ being synonymous with ‘Scottish people’, whereas those who were coming in were faithful and loyal servants of Rome. He was concerned about Scottish people having to give up the ideals and traditions of their fathers and insisted that ‘the Scottish race had a great mission…the safeguarding of Protestantism’.

Therefore, there would appear to have been a strong link between anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice at this time. The concerns about the financial burden of Catholic schools on the state were almost inseparable from concerns about the threat of Irish immigrants and their children posing a threat to Scottish Protestantism and hence the identity of the Scottish race.

How much of this early twentieth century influence still lingers in the Scottish psyche today is an interesting question and it is not altogether easy to answer. But what it clearly highlights is that the problems of religious bigotry and racism are sometimes so closely interlinked that the one cannot be properly understood without reference to the other.

Perhaps the debate about the continued existence of Catholic schools today is entirely innocent. Perhaps it is simply about the financial burden on limited Government funds in a time of economic austerity and the (tenuous) link between Catholic schools and sectarianism.

Or perhaps these are just some of the objections that tend to be given in a time of greater political correctness – and possibly without conscious intent – to mask the deep rooted cultural attitude of rejecting that which is not perceived to be of traditional Scottish stock and everything that entails.

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Why Sectarianism Remains An Enduring Problem Today

It is quite interesting to reflect on certain of our current sociocultural problems – I am thinking particularly about sectarianism in Scotland – by comparing the psychologies of those caught up in the midst of it today, with those who lived through its complex historical origins.

Whilst it is very difficult to work your way inside the emotions, attitudes and thought patterns of individuals living through the difficult circumstances surrounding this problem nowadays, it is even more of a challenge with respect to those living in an entirely different historical period.

But it is interesting because it helps to shed some light on why problems like sectarianism, which should have been confined to the lives and circumstances of a different generation, with different belief systems, still endure today.

We could think of sectarianism, perhaps rather simplistically, as being rooted in the complex mix of religious, sociocultural and political circumstances that have prevailed, to greater or lesser extents, at various points in our history over the past few centuries.

Perhaps at the time, sectarianism was something like a strange type of ‘medicine’ that people believed that they had to take, in order to ward off the perceived threats and spooky ills of the day. It helped secure, and ultimately reinforce, their sense of identity, belonging, purpose and spiritual well-being. But it was a ‘medicine’ that looks more like a poison to most of us today, with very obvious, and totally unacceptable, adverse effects.

There is a very clear sense in which sectarianism would have been actively prescribed by certain unscrupulous, corrupt and very powerful, organisations and authorities, as a potent remedy for tackling some of the perceived threats to the preferred establishment of the day. It was a means of protecting and insulating Scottish Presbyterian Protestantism, for example, from the threat of the ‘superstitions’ of Catholicism and the absolute authority of Rome.

The recipe was celebrated and passed down through subsequent generations, without any thought being given to the fact that the psychology that made sense of it as an antidote to a particular religious and sociocultural malady, was firmly rooted in a historical setting that is wholly incommensurate with how the majority of us want our lives to look and feel today.

But here is the sting: whilst the majority of us want our lives to look and feel a certain way today, because the story we are given is that we inhabit a culturally advanced, socially civilised and morally structured space of reasons that makes this possible, the reality behind the story is somewhat different.

The reality is that the institutional corruption and sociocultural prejudices that tainted our past are still absolutely rife today, albeit appearing in a slightly more sophisticated guise, and with much wider ramifications for our everyday lives.

We may have become more sophisticated in our thinking, but our psychologies are integrated into today’s sociocultural conditions, in much the same way that the psychologies of generations before us were integrated into the conditions that prevailed during their time. And we also have the disadvantage of backward integration through being immersed in our respective generational traditions, with the symbols, stories and songs that keep them alive.

But whereas many of us have moved on in our attitudes and belief systems, and acknowledge that sectarianism is something that should belong firmly in the past, the brutal reality behind the story is that most of the same basic sociocultural ingredients still exist today that existed then.

Witness the wilful corruption, institutional prejudices and wholly immoral practices of certain journalists, politicians and bankers, for a start. And they are not alone in this respect. The elitist framework that furnishes and protects the lavish lifestyle of certain social groups is the very same framework that creates the context for many of our ugly sociocultural prejudices.

That is what we need to dismantle if we are serious about eradicating sectarianism for good. But that, unfortunately, is never going to happen, and that is why sectarianism remains an enduring problem today.

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‘…take this badge off of me, I can’t use it anymore’

Difficult endings that leave new opportunities in their wake are intrinsically valuable.

Scottish football has been heading towards one of these difficult endings for quite some time now.

One of the main problems with Scottish football today is that it offers very little to appeal to audiences outside of Scotland. In fact, it could be argued that there are days when it offers very little to appeal to any audiences whatsoever. It has been that way for quite some time now.

The standard of our game has failed to develop and improve at the same rate experienced in most other European countries; even in countries smaller than Scotland. But at the moment, this is the least of our problems.

It is impossible to talk about Scottish football without talking about the bitter rivalry between Celtic and Rangers. And sadly, it is impossible to talk about that without getting involved in a discussion about generations of racial bigotry and sectarian hatred.

The long standing rivalry, and at times deeply troubled relationship between these clubs, and everything that is associated with them, tends to be captured by the badge, the ‘old firm’. It is a badge of dishonour. It tarnishes one with the dirty brush that touches up the other.

Not only does it refer to the commercial dominance of Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish game; it is also a complaint about the ugliness of their relationship as it is perceived by the majority of other supporters, and by other people not even remotely interested in football.

Whatever happens in Scottish football over the next few weeks, the outcome of the situation at Rangers Football Club will be a defining moment. Whether we care to admit it, or are ready to accept it, it will be the end of the game in its current format.

It will also be an opportunity to ensure that the ‘old firm’ badge of dishonour is no longer used by rendering it redundant; but that will only happen if Celtic and Rangers are no longer perceived to be inextricably linked for the wrong reasons.

Regardless how Celtic and Rangers supporters view it, the ‘old firm’ badge will only be removed when the sectarian hatred that has ruined Scottish football for generations is dissolved.

But that will only happen when the histories that define these clubs are either reconciled, or removed.

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‘I pity the poor immigrant’

The introduction of new legislation to protect those offended by certain expressions of another person’s religious world view and cultural heritage has proven to be largely unpopular among many people.

When the offensive behaviour at football matches and threatening communications legislation kicks in, the debate about whether it was required in the first place will eventually fizzle out, but its effects will be felt for quite some time.

One such effect is that it has inadvertently created a situation in which some of the individuals most ardently in favour of the legislation have morally positioned themselves dangerously close to the unwanted persona they thought were trying to remove.

This is what I mean –

We have all heard someone say that they are starting to feel like an immigrant in their own country.

Now, more often than not, individuals who make this type of comment are expressing what they believe to be a genuine concern.

For them, it is a genuine concern that their cultural identity has been eroded by too many different nationalities and ethnic groups appearing to have a stronger voice and claim to rights than they are comfortable with.

Underlying this concern is a mangled interpretation of the priority of their rights over the rights of others who have come to live and work in ‘their country’.

It is an interpretation that is often driven by a subconscious belief that the dominance of their cultural identity ought to be guaranteed over any other.

Yet our history was shaped by immigrants and shifting groups of people. It is a mix of stories. It is a mix of different groups of people with different cultural identities. It is a mix of displaced Irish, Italians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, and many more.

The concerns expressed by some people today are the very same ones that many more people have been expressing for hundreds of years.

Discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are woven tightly into the fabric of our society, and always have been, leaving many people feeling psychologically compelled, and others legally forced, to suppress the natural expression of their different cultural identities.

Having to suppress the expression of your cultural identity, because of arrogant and aggressive intolerance shown towards your particular ethnic group, creates a context in which that identity is in danger of becoming redefined in a negative way, both in a self-questioning sense, and also in the growing opinion of the aggressors.

The very act of having to suppress your cultural identity connects it to feelings of resentment and anger, which occasionally spills over into overt behaviour that happens to offend other people, and thus the vicious circle kicks in.

But in addition to dealing with genuine cases of violent and vile behaviour, introducing new legislation specifically aimed at stamping it out ironically feeds the vicious circle of suppression, anger and resentment, and keeps it going round.

Now, to return to the original point about those who feel there is something wrong with groups of people expressing their cultural identity because they find it offensive.

Such individuals are themselves edging dangerously close to the distorted and ugly image they have of the people they want to silence. They are guilty of turning their intolerance into a campaign for legislation against the positive expression of cultural identity and diversity.

Those individuals who say that they are starting to feel like immigrants in their own country probably should be feeling this way.

The country they live in has a different cultural structure and ethnic diversity from the one they feel comfortable living in.

It has always been this way, but rather than embrace this positive diversity, they have tried to enforce its suppression through displays of bitter intolerance and prejudice.

And that is pitiful.

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