KICKING ANTISEMITISM OUT OF FOOTBALL
London Assembly member Murad Qureshi decided to act when he heard antisemitic chants at a top-flight football match
The more you delve into this area the more complicated it gets. Perhaps that is a good thing. Lines blur. Allegiances shift. No chance to be complacent.
This one is about Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly, and though he doesn’t often talk about it, he’s a Muslim. “I don’t like to wear my religion on my sleeve,” he says. There are many like him.
Being an Assembly member has its perks and one such occurred last October when he was invited to a Show Racism the Red Card event at Chelsea’s ground, Stamford Bridge. He’s a Manchester United man himself – Chelsea versus Blackburn would not be his first choice – but he was enjoying the game nonetheless when the chants rang out from the Matthew Harding stand. “We hate Yids” and “He’s only a poor little Yiddo” were the most audible to him. Not nice, and given the rationale for his trip, very unfortunate.
And so Murad raised it with the club. “What’s being done to stamp out this sort of thing?” he asked. “Well, it’s difficult,” replied the head of security. “When they chant, ‘We hate Yids’, they don’t actually mean, ‘We hate Jewish people.’ In fact what they mean is, ‘We hate Tottenham.'” This, said the security chief, is how some Spurs fans refer to themselves. Risible.
Contacted again, this time by the Jewish Chronicle, the club did better. It does, in fact, have a zero-tolerance policy against abusive chanting. And the head of security, it says, doesn’t speak with any authority. But does the policy work in practice, ponders Qureshi. Isn’t football supposed to bring people together? This just injures the spirit.
And as he talks I learn that there is little political advantage to be had from a Muslim politician fighting antisemitism. He has had a couple of supportive emails from Jewish councillors he knows, but nothing, so far, from co-religionists. A few thuggish jibes from Chelsea fans suggesting his time would be better spent fighting Islamist extremists. “My family has been doing that for three generations,” he says, dismissively.
So this is not a popularity thing; that’s heartening. “Either there is a principle here or there isn’t,” he says. And I thought it was complex. Maybe it isn’t.