Last week, an as yet unnamed serving soldier died whilst mountain climbing, in a tragic, wasteful death. Doubtless, his family and friends are devastated right now, but they will mourn him in a dignified, and proper, way, and they will lay him to rest.
That’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always been done. Armed forces families live in fear of a call that says their loved ones have been taken away from them. What made this one especially senseless was that the call came whilst he was on leave. It must be dreadful, and my heart goes out to them.
They are currently engulfed in not only grief but in a brief firestorm of media interest. The media interest will fade. It always does. The grief will too, but that will take longer.
Yet in the end, that family will find peace.
According to recent figures, 179 serving soldiers in the UK died whilst on active duty in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the number was even higher, a shocking 444 at last estimate. Every one of those deaths was senseless, and horrific, and every one of the dead came home to a memorial, a funeral, and the families and friends mourned them in a respectful fashion.
Their names will be remembered by all those close to them, yet the rest of the world will go on as before, not recalling names or deeds.
That is the way that goes too. Every soldier who ever put on a uniform knows that if he or she dies the chances are good that it will be in a time and place, and in circumstances, no-one will remember in years to come. Few of the young men and women who choose to join the military do it for the glory.
In June of this year, a former British Army soldier named David Ryding was attacked at a taxi rank in Wirrall, and later died.
His death was shocking, and tragic, and un-necessary.
His local community mourned him, in a dignified way, and he was laid to rest. There was a brief flare of media interest in the aftermath of the event, and then it too faded into time. His name is not burned into our collective consciousness. He and his family were afforded more respect than that.
Sad to say it, but Lee Rigby and his family are not being afforded that kind of respect, because that young man’s man death stirred up something that isn’t part of the natural order here. It stirred up hate. It stirred up anger. It stirred up xenophobia.
As a consequence, Lee Rigby is not being allowed to rest peacefully. He’s been elevated to something other than the young man whose life was tragically, and horribly, taken from him on a London street.
He has become a symbol, one he wouldn’t have wished for.
His image, and his name, have been appropriated by people with an agenda. His memory will forever be linked with those who want to divide us, which is the absolute opposite of what he and those who wear the army uniform are fighting for.
Lee Rigby has become a tool of propaganda, a shield behind which are found some of the most grubby, diabolical and shameful characters in our country today. They have no interest in this young man.
They have no compassion for his family, or the grief they feel. On the surface, they can mask those things, with fake sympathy and expressions of regret, but they don’t do it well, and they do not hide well the real reasons for their “concern.”
Some of those people were out in force at Ibrox yesterday, and their sickening display was all the more abhorrent for the presence of some of Lee Rigby’s family in the stand. For the club itself now stands accused of using the family of the dead man to pursue it’s own distorted agenda, to get onside a lunatic fringe who might otherwise be directing their considerable ire inward.
I will not say they should be ashamed. They won’t be. Yet this cheap, cynical stunt is an outrage that demands a response. They have drifted so far over the line of bad taste here they can no longer even see it. There is nothing “patriotic” about what these people are doing. There is nothing generous or decent in hiding behind a corpse.
At times, the club is a disgrace. Some of its supporters remain mired in hate, no matter how much the rest of the world has moved on.
Lee Rigby’s murder was an appalling, and unsettling, event. No rational person can have watched it without feeling creeping horror. In all my life, I’ve never seen anything quite so disturbing. No words can do justice to those awful television pictures.
Yet I saw other disturbing television pictures later that night, when the gruesome EDL held a rally where they anointed Rigby a martyr in their undeclared war against Islam. The tactic was as depressing as it’s ancient.
Marc Antony used the funeral of Caesar to whip up the Roman mob against the assassins. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party used the murder of a young party activist, Horst Wessel, as a rallying standard against their enemies, to the extent one hack wrote a song for him, which they adopted as the party anthem.
There was not even the slightest pretence from these people that what they were doing was in any way concerned with honouring the dead man.
Like Antony, they were engaged in nothing more than an act of political theatre, standing over his body, holding up his bloody clothes and pointing the finger at those they claimed murdered him. But at least in Antony’s case the people he pointed to were, in fact, the guilty parties.
What the EDL scum did that night was make a sweeping generalisation, elevating the murder from one committed by two psychotic individuals to one committed by a whole section of the population.
In the days that followed, hate crimes against Muslim’s leapt 800%, which was the result these people wanted, the result they’d held their rally for, and we should all be grateful that the body count didn’t rise in direct parallel. They’d have loved that.
I gave you the numbers of the dead in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts earlier in the piece. Not one of those young men, not a single one of the dead, was given the “honour” of near deification by the right of the EDL, and not one of them had their memory stolen and used in the grubby manner in which some sections of the Rangers support have attempted to use Lee Rigby.
They died in uniform, overseas, making the supreme, the ultimate, sacrifice for their country, yet none of them was the subject of a full on “we will never forget” rallying cry from the hordes at Ibrox.
In 2012, more British soldiers died by suicide than were killed in action. Where is their memorial? Where was the banner in support of those men?
Lee Rigby died after being attacked by mindless thugs on a British street. They may have claimed a political agenda, but Jason Campbell did the same thing, and he too was little more than a low-level loser, a psychopath, who tried to elevate his insanity into something more. David Ryding also died after being attacked on a British street, but I bet there were less than a couple of hundred people at Ibrox on Saturday who even knew his name. Because there was no political gain in trying to make him a martyr. It didn’t suit anyone’s agenda.
Does anyone know who David Collins was? He was a 19 year old serving British Army soldier who was murdered, in Cyprus, by three British Muslims carrying flick knives and knuckle dusters. These guys got high, stalked Collins and his mates, provoked a fight and then murdered him. His killing wasn’t commemorated in flags, banners and posters at Rangers either. No local boozer sponsored a memorial event in his name.
The EDL tried, briefly, to capitalise on it, but they didn’t have the “benefit” of TV cameras at the scene, and as it didn’t happen on the streets of the UK it didn’t have the same shock or propaganda value.
So why Lee Rigby? Why is this young man’s death such a worthy cause for people at Rangers? As good and decent a young man as he might have been (I don’t know him or anything about him really, and I’m betting few Rangers fans do either), what made his death different from those others? Those hundreds of others?
Why is his memory more sacred than theirs? Why is his name the one that rings out in the stands, and is emblazoned on banners?
Some of the people – not all of them, but some of them – have picked him for two reasons, and neither has anything to do with honouring the dead man.
There are links – undeniable and undisputed links – between Rangers and the far right, and everyone knows that full well.
The far right has appropriated the death of Lee Rigby for their own selfish, destructive ends and it would not exactly have shocked me to see banners in the Rangers end bearing his name regardless of other circumstances. There are people in this country who are determined to provoke some kind of major conflict with the Muslim community, and those people will stop at nothing. Some of them watch football, and some of them are Rangers fans. There’s no doubting that at all.
The second reason, and I suspect the one that’s even closer to the truth, is the series of internet rumours being spread about Celtic fans signing a song about the murder. Before I go on, let me go on the record as saying that I believe much of what I’ve heard about those “events” is plainly untrue, but I am not daft and I won’t act that way. It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that there were a couple of drunken idiots in a pub somewhere who thought it might be funny.
If they exist, and doubtless these sort of people do, they are degenerate halfwits, and they don’t need to be dressed in club’s colours to let their fragmented brain cells flare and get them into trouble. They exist on the internet too, and they do, unfortunately, pollute football stands across the land.
They have no natural home anywhere, in civilisation. They are tuned to a different frequency from the rest of us. They don’t live in the same world.
So yes, a couple of drunk lads in a pub, a couple of halfwits probably so out of it on booze and brain-dead enough they think Aaron Seltzer’s movies are the height of comedic art, I can buy that. I can probably see that happening, and of course it is worhty of nothing less than outright condemntation.
What I don’t believe for a minute, what I know for a fact to be an utter falsehood, is that there were dozens, or hundreds, of Celtic fans involved in it, and it has nothing to do with refusing to believe that about “my own people.”
I don’t think there are many people, anywhere, who would stoop so low as that.
Let’s be blunt. A lot of this Lee Rigby nonsense comes down to folk wanting to feel morally superior to other people. Yet there are Enron executives who are morally superior to the kind of people who would sing a song mocking a murder victim.
This goes well beyond “banter”, beyond anti-social behaviour. This is purely and simply inhuman. It degrades those who sing it, as well as those they sing about. It pollutes the airwaves, and it makes the rest of us feel grubby and sick.
Do not think for one second that I am denying these people exist or making any allowances for, or excuses for, their behaviour. They aren’t any. They have none.
Yet as reprehensible as that is, it’s equally reprehensible to invent lies about such things as a means with which to attack other people you don’t like. It is disgusting to create an urban myth which dehumanises others in such a cold blooded manner.
Celtic. The club who’s fans mocked a murder victim. As if every supporter of the club was dancing on his grave. As if the entire institituion can be measured against the behaviour of a few drunken idiots.
This is a depraved way to try to score points.
It pisses on the dead. It disgraces their memory, because it uses that memory as a weapon. There is no honour or decency in doing it.
It corrupts the very idea of those things.
Those banners at Ibrox yesterday, those posters hung around the ground, those “memorials”, they didn’t speak of the dead man with reverence. They spoke of “lest we forget”, as though any one of us who saw those pictures ever could, or would.
For too many, they were about keeping a memory alive, but not the memory of the dead man or his life, but of the myth that surrounds songs that may or may not have been sung in a pub. Some of those people are not about remembering a life, but about keeping alive the circumstances of his death, and that’s not the same thing.
Before I go on, let me clearly state this does not apply to every Rangers fan who applauded that banner, or passed it around the ground. Almost all of us had the same visceral, sickened reaction to those pictures on TV, and it is right that we should focus more on the victim than we do on the killers. To do otherwise would be to give them what they want. I think it is right that, for once, the importance of the dead is elevated, and I am certain many at Ibrox feel the same way.
Yet I know some of those same people feel a profound sense of disquiet over the way in which this individual solider, of hundreds, has been turned into an Ibrox poster boy.They know full well the things that make his case different, and they are wary of the way in which some amongst their ranks are using his name.
Taken at their most literal, those banners and posters can be seen an open entreaty to hate. In the context of that section of the support which has allied itself to those determined to use this man’s memory to justify some kind of race war, they are a promise of some future revenge.
As such, they do not belong in a civilised society, far less a football stadium.
They are not gestures of respect but rallying calls to thought processes every bit as dangerous, and extreme, as those which motivated the men who committed this horrendous murder.
I have rarely been as appalled as I was yesterday when I saw a picture of the crass posters hung around Ibrox, bearing a dead man’s image, a half threat, the badges of Rangers and the name of a pub. They reminded me in a way of those garish images I saw in a newspaper, of a man who had chosen to celebrate the recent passage of the same-sex marriage laws by parading in a London street in a red leotard waving a three foot pink inflatable cock with yellow stars on it.
They were cheap, nasty and devalued the memory of the man.
There are some who will say I am reading more into those banners and posters than I should, but this insults our collective intelligence when no other member of the armed forces out of all those hundreds has been treated to a display like this.
The people who made those banners might just be stupid enough to have missed the inference, but I am going to give them more credit (if that’s the word) than that. Because it would take someone lacking any intelligence at all not to have seen it, and sure as Hell someone around them would have drawn their attention to the possibility of it being misread. It wasn’t misread.
I have no doubt in my mind that I’ve read them exactly as intended.
There is value to the idea that these things give comfort to the family, and that is something no-one should overlook. Yet I wonder at how many messages of “support” on the family Facebook page, or the Twitter feed, were nothing more than shameless attempts to publicise the myth? How many times at Ibrox, yesterday, did the family have to listen to some drunk yahoo lean over them and mouth something about those “terrorist loving bastards” at Celtic?
That has nothing to do with paying respect to their son.
At first they would have been puzzled by this, then possibly angry. Now I would guess they are weary, and fed up, with all of it. They would probably rather their son was allowed to go the way of all the others who have died in uniform, and for the “grief” to once more be the province of family and friends.
They will have realised there is more to some of this than that. They will, on some level, know their son’s name is being used to do great harm.
Yet something like this was always going to happen at Ibrox.
The way in which this club has decided to set itself up as some kind of voice of the troops, the way they’ve embraced militarism, and the glorification of war, is eerie and unsettling, and grown, in part, of a desire to embarrass Celtic over the now annual Poppy fest. Born of cheap point scoring, it was a matter of time before some section of the support found a way to truly plumb the depths.
It’s especially ironic that this week, in the House of Commons, the political face of this country changed with one of the most unexpected votes in my living memory. Our parliamentarians, scarred by the memory of sending British soldiers off to die on the basis of lies, decided that it would not allow the government of the day a blank cheque with which to set the machine of war in motion all over again.
No more of our young men and women will be put in harms way, to give political cover to those who lack the imagination to build a better world. We have safeguarded the lives of our soldiers, by refusing to send them to die needlessly.
It was a breathtaking repudiation of the last 10 years, a moment I think this country will look back on with pride in times to come, a moment when we stopped embracing the horror of conflict and turned away from it instead.
At Ibrox, yesterday, the club’s militaristic tendency met in perfect sync with the outriders of hate who have yet to learn that lesson. As per usual, these people are so far behind the rest of us you almost feel sorry for them.
Almost. The memory of Lee Rigby deserves better than this shabby, grubby point scoring. It deserves more than to be chiselled onto a monument of hate.
Shame on those who would use it as such. To those Rangers fans who do truly care about this young man, and the sacrifice he made, I say it’s time to let it go. It’s time to put this one aside, and let his family move on. There are ways to pay your respects that don’t involve such public displays.
In the end, this might very well not have been intended to give succour to the haters, but that is what it does, and what it will continue to do. You ought to realise this and let this young man rest in peace.
His death, like all death, was, when stripped of all the politics and PR, a tragedy.
It would be a greater tragedy to let those things define it.
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