Dave has taken time off his busy schedule to defend the rights of Tottenham Hotspur fans to call themselves ‘Yids’ if that tickles their fancy.
It’s good to see our political leader occupying himself with the nitty-gritty of football chants, the literary genre in which the British comfortably lead the world. Seems like for Dave no job is too big or too small – to mess up.
For those of you that have more interesting things than football to worry about, Spurs are based in North London where they draw much of their support from the Jewish community. Moreover, Jewish businessmen are heavily represented on the club’s board.
Hence ‘Yids’, which is the Spurs fans’ not-so-affectionate nickname. This is screamed at them by local supporters whenever Spurs play away from home. The screams are usually accompanied by hissing sounds, supposed to represent gas being released into death chambers. Nazi salutes are also quite popular.
In the good Jewish tradition of being able to laugh at themselves, Spurs fans have picked up the nickname and run with it. They now call themselves the ‘Yid Army’, which the Football Association told them they mustn’t do.
The fans objected that they can call themselves whatever they like because it’s impossible to insult oneself. The argument was heading for an impasse, so Dave decided to step in.
“You have to think of the mens rea,” he declared. “Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only if it’s motivated by hate.” I haven’t often heard hate speech motivated by anything other than hate, but let’s allow this solecism to the master of the genre.
Alas, this is about the only genre in which Dave feels comfortable. Anything with subtlety takes him out of his rather shallow depth.
A few points are in order. First, persecuted minorities tend to develop defence mechanisms. One of those is describing themselves by the same hateful names their persecutors use.
This mechanism is often activated in Russia, where Jews have been persecuted and abused in one way or another throughout the country’s history. The most popular term of abuse is the word ‘zhid’ (Yid) and its numerous derivatives, such as ‘zhid porkhatyi’ (dandruffed Yid), ‘zhidovskaya morda’ (Yid snout) and so forth.
Sure enough, as a version of the Stockholm syndrome, Russian Jews often refer to themselves as ‘zhidy’, and they don’t feel offended when another Jew uses the word. So many psychological strands come together in this that one can easily get entangled.
There has to be an element of reaching for social acceptance by identifying with the majority. There’s probably another one of self-mockery. Trying to establish even a stronger bond with other victims of abuse may also come into that. Some self-hatred is also a possibility: if everyone despises me, perhaps I am indeed despicable. Keeping a brave face on is also a credible motive.
Someone afraid of being poisoned by large doses of arsenic may wish to immunise himself by taking regular small doses of the same toxin. This may enable him to survive – by internalising the threat, he’ll defang the poison being administered from outside. But make no mistake – there’s poison involved.
Note also that many American blacks, who too have suffered from abuse for centuries, routinely call one another ‘nigger’. The mechanism is roughly the same, as are its actuators. The difference between the blacks and the Jews is that no American Jew would say ‘nigger’ in polite company, whereas I’ve heard blacks call Jews ‘Yids’ or ‘kikes’ in the street. But that’s a separate subject.
For all such reasons, the word ‘Yid’, whether used by Jews or gentiles, is doubtless offensive, disgustingly so. However, it’s not the only one. The English language offers many ways of insulting people.
For example, centre half John Terry ruined his England career by calling an opponent a ‘f***ing black c***’. Of the three words, only the middle one is usable here in its uncensored form. Yet it was this, the only polite, word that got Terry in trouble. Had he called an opponent on the pitch – or anyone in the street – simply a ‘f***ing c***’, no one would have batted an eyelid.
Such words are undeniably objectionable. Those who call others offensive names aren’t nice. But this doesn’t mean that the state should step in and ban such words. Nor is it even the business of public officials to comment on such matters, one way or the other.
Just as they can’t bomb a foreign country into democracy, they can’t coerce their own people into civilisation. This particular potato is too hot for our simple-minded politicians to handle.
They would be well-advised to ask people to curb their hypersensitivity, rather than encouraging it by taking it too seriously. They won’t of course: their own power grows when they try to change human nature, even when they predictably fail.
But between us boys, the word ‘Yid’, whoever utters it, is venomous. When Jews or other Spurs fans themselves use it, it’s less toxic than when anti-Semitic louts use it. But toxic it remains.