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Hillsborough, Islamophobia, and How Little the World Has Changed

On anger and justice, and what we owe to each other.

Memorial To Mark 25th Anniversary Of Hillsborough Disaster Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

This week was a hard one, as so many recent weeks have been. Just days before Liverpool were to play Chelsea in a game already charged with Narrative, a group of Chelsea fans were caught on film singing a virulently Islamophobic song at a pub.

It’s not like Chelsea fans (or any other club’s fans) being accused of racism and bigotry is anything new, but as these football fans were singing about Salah being ‘a bomber’, members of the Tory party were discussing strategies to keep Sajid Javid from becoming Prime Minister; the ruling party in India was rolling out statements which made it clear that the results of the world’s largest election could lead to even more anti-Muslim sentiment and violence in the region; and the President of the United States, one of the biggest news networks in the country, and a major tabloid were beginning a focused and dangerous campaign targeting a sitting member of Congress who just happened to be Muslim, Black, and a woman.

The backlash from the Chelsea incident included a lot of people talking about how this was ‘just a few fans’ and an ‘isolated incident’. A lot of people insisted the perpetrators were ‘not real fans’. We’ve already talked about how these things aren’t even remotely true, and how damaging it is to perpetuate these myths.

Football, much like the rest of society, has made an occupation of sorrowfully condemning racism and bigotry when they are at their most egregious and doing absolutely nothing to prevent or stop these or more mundane incidents. Football, much like the rest of society, refuses to acknowledge its role in allowing bigots to feel safe, comfortable, and even thrive.

It’s really difficult to see the lip service paid to condemning Islamophobia against Salah printed on the same pages, and touted by the same voices, that go out of their way to revile everyone that looks like him.

And as the 30th anniversary of Hillsborough neared, all of this felt, in a way very, very familiar.

It’s been 30 years since Hillsborough shocked the footballing world. It’s barely been 7 since a second inquiry finally put to rest the idea that drunk Liverpool fans were to blame for the tragedy of that day. The reports and opinion pieces from several newspapers (not just The S*n) that dominated the narrative for the decades in between placed the blame squarely on ‘fan culture’ and on football hooliganism, and dripped with distaste for the working class folk who largely made up Liverpool’s fanbase.

After the Hillsborough Independent Panel findings were released, apologies began to trickle in from elected officials and the media. Barely any of these apologies acknowledged the roles that they had played in making it incredibly easy for the public to believe that the tragedy was caused by ‘drunken and belligerent’ fans who supposedly ignored and disobeyed police orders. Barely any of these apologies reflected on how their statements about and coverage of the communities destroyed by Tory policies in 70s and 80s had already created easy villains out of the fans who were killed or injured on that day.

A lot of us are going to spend today remembering the 96 Liverpool fans who were killed by gross negligence by the authorities whose job it was to protect them, and to whom exactly we extend the privilege of grief, of humanity, and of respect in death. It’s also important for us to stay angry, to remember why Liverpool Football Club has roared for justice for the 96 for 30 years now, and to make sure that we direct our energy and our outrage towards protecting those amongst us who continue to have their lives and humanity threatened in these difficult times.

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