Grief affliction

The more minute's silences we have the less convincing they sound.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Compassion police

The minute’s silence held at sporting events throughout the country last weekend, in remembrance for the two murdered Cambridge girls, was impeccably observed, we understand. This is no surprise.

In recent years, the number of minute’s silences at games has grown exponentially. Yet whereas some are held to mark an event that has affected the entire nation, most are more distinctly football-related. Last season there was one to honour the death of a referee at a game. This seemed quite appropriate. But I also remember one being held throughout the Nationwide League because a Portsmouth player had broken his leg the week before. Okay, so this may have ended his career, but was a minute’s silence really in order?

It appears that no sphere of public life is immune to our modern culture of grief addiction. If trends continue, we will be asked to pray in silence for someone whose hamster has passed away, or for the bloke in E stand who has lost his watch.

I felt sorry in particular for the two men who entered a pub near Liverpool Street station on Saturday. As the televised midday game between Newcastle and Manchester City was about to kick off, a minute’s silence began. Suddenly, the pub, full of West Ham and Tottenham fans, fell quiet too. The two men who entered a packed yet deadly silent public house looked bemused and a little scared. This is the stuff of anxiety nightmares and TV adverts.

There was not just one, but two occasions of minute’s silence last weekend at Nationwide league games – for games on Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday. As the minute’s silence was announced at Griffin Park for the Monday clash between the Bees (Brentford) and Swindon Town, I mistakenly muttered ‘Oh for Christ’s sake, not again’. A man next to me turned and gave me a suspicious look, asking ‘What did you say?’. I decided to keep quiet rather than argue my case. God knows, I didn’t want to be taken aside by a steward and threatened with ejection for ‘talking’.

Instead I did my duty, spending 60 seconds pondering the metaphysical and anthropomorphic implications of the banner on the Ealing Road terrace that read: ‘Bees against racism.’

That’s a problem with silence inflation – the more minute’s silences we have, the less we take them seriously. Many people I spoke to said that they too were getting fed up with this perverted grief fest, but did not want to speak out lest they feel the wrath of the compassion police.

  • Two tribes go to war

Journalists, politicians and commentators in general are fond of drawing parallels between global ethnic squabbles. The Daily Telegraph devoted its leading article on 27 August to the news that Spain has decided to ban Batasuna, the political wing of the Basque terrorist group, ETA – using it as an example to the British government as to what it should do in Northern Ireland.

Specifically, the newspaper argued, it demonstrates that dealing harshly with terrorist apologists, not talking to them, is the right way forward. ‘Why should Northern Ireland be any different?’, it said. ‘After all, the parallels with the Basque country are striking.’

It is indeed tempting to draw parallels, mainly because the protagonists in ethnic squabbles do so themselves. Sinn Fein has long had strong links with Basque separatists, not to mention Colombian revolutionaries and Palestinian liberationists. Many republican murals in Belfast invoke the theme of the IRA being part of a pan-global revolutionary front against imperialism, racism and capitalism – ‘PLO, IRA, ONE STRUGGLE’, ‘MANDELA, FATHER OF FREEDOM’, ‘NICARAGUA MUST SURVIVE’, and so on.

Loyalists are less apt to draw political parallels in their murals, opting instead for the regulation King Billy On A White Horse, or the less evocative Men In Balaclavas With Lots of Machineguns. In recent months, however, Israeli flags have been spotted in parts of loyalist Belfast, to match the Palestinian ones sported by republicans. This makes sense. Many loyalists admire the tough stance taken by Ariel Sharon’s government, and evangelical Protestants are theologically sympathetic to Zionism. There is also empathy for Israel’s ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ attitude.

Ulster Protestants are part of the international troupe of ethnicities that everyone enjoys mocking or hating. They’re up there with your Serbs, Afrikaners, Hutus, Israelis, Gibraltarians – and in times past – white Rhodesians.

Irish Republicans are there with the kind of people Kevin Costner might make movies about: your indigenous Americans, Tutsis, black Africans, Palestinians, and to a slightly lesser degree today, Croats. These people have been oppressed. They have poetry, evocative art, grief, sorrow, righteousness. Very often they possess a mysterious thing called ‘ancient wisdom’. They are children whose innocence has been robbed from them by evil oppressors.

Meanwhile, the other lot have tradition, boneheadness, racism and bowler hats.

  • But what colour is S/He?

Dr Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, has called on us to recognise God’s more ‘feminine side’, arguing that we must question the notion that the Almighty is necessarily a man. This has prompted the usual debate among Christians over the gender of God.

In these days of institutional racism, I think it far more urgent to ask what ethnic category God belongs to. As His son was clearly a Semite, we can be pretty sure that He is of Middle-Eastern appearance too. Only on the assumption that Jesus was of mixed race can we argue that God is white. One thing is for sure – God isn’t black or east Asian.

This is not the kind of message Christians are likely to want to spread, but this is what happens when you initiate silly debates. It’s a bit like asking: are dragons red or green?

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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