A letter to West Ham fans

Updated: June 12, 2007

At the end of the Soccerlens.com represents my vision for what football should be about. It’s not about having people around you who share your views – it’s about being able to share opposing views and discuss football intelligently, without arguments and / or extreme prejudice.

In that sense, Mr Rahman’s article didn’t do SL any justice – it is one-sided and overtly aggressive, not the values I’d like to attribute to soccerlens.com.

The reactions to the article, however, do not fall in that vision either.

To me, racist remarks are equal to any other form of verbal abuse – I am as liable to take offense at being called a terrorist on the basis of my name and perceived identity as I am at having my family insulted.

On several occasions some football fans have told me that the verbal abuse (they call it banter) is part and parcel of modern football and that they embrace it and enjoy it. I agree with this to some extent – there are plenty of chants and songs sung by fans in stadiums that are fun and ARE true banter.

But fans often cross the line without knowing it. This happens rarely, but it happens. For me that’s equal to being racist, because at this point a person has been unfairly targeted and been subjected to verbal abuse beyond the limits of banter.

You might disagree with me. That’s fine.

The reason I’m saying all this is because I’ve got plenty of emails and comments asking me to remove the original offensive article as well as it’s second coming. I agree in principle – as I don’t wish to be associated with such values (of being overly biased and extremely aggressive), I should delete the articles and be done with it.

But the debate quickly spun out of control and for me took a different shape – here we had many West Ham fans asking for legal proceedings against being called racists.

Not only does that smack of self-righteous indignation, it’s also a ridiculously unproportionate response.

In hindsight, if the article hadn’t caused such a extreme reaction, I might have deleted it based on a couple of emails.

Then there were some people who said it would all blow over in a couple of days. I’m sure it will, eventually. But the whole situation does bother me, because it tells me that despite the fact that we have many rational, considerate and tolerant people as football fans, we’re unable to react calmly to someone calling as racists.

Everyone who went through the trouble of proving that they aren’t racist – I’m sure they realise that racism is intolerance and a superiority complex gone bad, and that their intolerance towards the author’s views and their self-righteous superiority doesn’t do much for their claims?

We all get angry – it’s what we do afterwards that counts.

I was angry at the response and wanted to pull the article immediately – I held that anger and decided to deal with the whole thing head on. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about people.

Mr Rahman’s article will be removed – and so will his 2 other articles, as well as the response to his article made by Fifth Column.

This article shall remain as a record, and so will the comments on this article.

If my actions over the past week have offended you, then I hope that you will understand that it was never my intention to hurt anyone.

Hopefully we can all move on and get back to talking about football. Let’s leave the extreme views and reactions – on both sides – behind us.

Thank you for reading.

June 6th, 2007

Update: For the record, I have no knowledge of Mr Rahman publishing a full-article apology – and frankly, I don’t think it’s needed anymore (or that it was needed to begin with – a retraction sufficed). The original article, as well as the two following it, along with all accompanying comments, have been deleted.

Let me start off by saying that I take full responsibility for the events that have transpired since yesterday morning (Tuesday, 5th June 2007) – it was my decision to publish Mr Rahman’s article on Soccerlens.com which resulted in a very strong reaction from the West Ham community on this site and in various forums on the Internet, including Kumb.com.

I do not agree with Mr Rahman’s views as he stated them in his first article on this topic. Yes, there is a minority in every segment of society (including football fans) who openly express racist opinions and even act on them. Slating the whole community for the actions of a select few is tantamount to prejudice and does the exact same thing that one is accusing the other party of.

There have been several issues raised in the last day or so; I’ll address them one by one here, and you are more than welcome to state your opinions in the comments section at the end of this article.

1. The contents of the first article are inaccurate and the tone is racist in nature

I agree with both charges – barring any personal research into the specific incidents mentioned in the first article my opinion is that most fans are merely passionate about their own clubs and do not turn to violence or display prejudiced behavior. As for the second charge, the tone is one of extreme bias and openly uses racist terminology.

It’s not my place to defend the contents of the article – that is Mr Rahman’s prerogative and he has replied to his critics earlier.

2. Printing the article was a mistake

It’s always hard to admit that you’ve made a mistake – and I think I did make a mistake in allowing that article to be published in its current state. In retrospect I should have investigated the matter further and if at that point Mr Rahman had told me what he says in his response piece, then I should have written an article myself covering the matter.

I underestimated the response – in the last 13-14 months of writing about football on Soccerlens, I’ve read a lot of strong-minded, negative and heavily prejudiced opinions printed in comments, on blogs and in forums. This is not meant as a defense – far from it. For me Mr Rahman’s article was similar to those comments and forum posts – after all, what is worse, saying that all West Ham fans are racists and just plain nasty or an Arsenal fan sending leaving comments on a website and sending emails, all of which discuss his hatred for Muslims and the various methods he has dreamed up to kill me?

I’ve learned to control my reactions to such views and as a result I was perhaps not as enraged by Mr Rahman’s comments as West Ham fans were.

I’ve seen a lot of crap go around – this one should have raised concerns and it did, but not enough. For that I accept the responsibility and more importantly the consequences that will follow.

3. the editor should apologise

For what?

The charge leveled against me and Soccerlens is that I allowed an article laden with prejudiced views to appear on my website. There are several people who have threatened me with legal repercussions if I a) do not offer a public apology to West Ham fans and b) do not retract the article.

This may anger you, but the only charge I consider myself guilty of is that of negligence – a failure to vet the article more thoroughly. For that, I consider that I’ve let down members of the Soccerlens community and I’ve let myself down. To imply that I have something to apologise to West Ham fans all over is, for me, an emotional demand for external confirmation that no, West Ham fans are not racist.

So – are all West Ham fans racist? No. Please do not ask me to defend or apologise for something that is clearly written by another person.

And for those people who think this was a publicity stunt – it’s unfortunate that you think that way, but I assure you that it is not. This whole incident has caused a lot of distress (and taken a considerable amount of my time to resolve) and the gains are very small. I’m not here to court publicity, all I’m trying to do is set the record straight.

4. the author should apologise

That’s up to the author to decide. I’ve asked Mr Rahman to state his case and he did so this morning. However, very few people now believe him because they already distrust him based on his initial article.

5. the article should be retracted

There are 3 reasons why I think the article should not be retracted.

One, despite its contents it is still something that we can learn from, as an example of what blind prejudice is and more importantly, how to react to such accusations.

Two, the article is already up in several places, including the Kumb.com forums. Pulling it down from here protects me from further damage but does not solve the basic problem. Deleting it will not solve the problems we face.

Three, I realise that I made a mistake, and I want to make things better – not by hiding and hoping this will blow over but by using this as a springboard to tackle racist behavior in football.

Several West Ham fans have emailed me threatening me with legal repercussions if the article is not removed. To them, and to anyone else who wishes to press charges, I would say that I hope that by reading this article you may change your mind. My intention was not to harm anyone nor was it to cause emotional distress. However, if you still wish to press charges, I cannot stop you from doing that.

6. the author is a liar

Frankly, I don’t think it matters. The problems we are discussing still exist – by branding the author as a liar and deleting this article and summarily sweeping this matter under the rug may result in a victory for West Ham fans who have defended their honor against charges of racism, but it does nothing to help remove racism from football.

I believe that regardless of the veracity of Mr Rahman’s statements, he would like it for racial profiling and racially-motivated attacks to be stopped. This is a problem that DOES exist, and it’s up to us football fans to stop it. You can easily say that it is a social problem and not one regarding football, but that’s sidestepping the issue. Passions run high in football and it can often be a venting area for extreme behavior – that must be stopped.

7. West Ham fans are not racist / West Ham is not a ‘whitey’ club

This has been answered quite well in the response to Mr Rahman’s article.

8. My personal views on the matter

I have been racially abused on this site, in comments and in emails sent my way. I’ve received death threats, and to top it off, I’ve been called a terrorist more times than I can remember. All of this based on my name – not on my skin color (my friends would tell me I’m whiter than most Pakistanis) or my appearance or dressing (more Western than Pakistani) or beliefs (which people know nothing about).

I could, quite easily, resort to personal attacks of my own and contest every such comment. I’ve been called a LOT of names. I personally choose not to retaliate. Why? Because racist comments generally stem from two types of people – assholes who don’t deserve to live and good people who have completely misunderstood the situation / context and are making a mistake.

For the later, they deserve a second chance and I try to engage them in conversation and come to a reasonable compromise. For the former, I choose to ban them from the site until they learn to behave.

If Mr Rahman is being racist, then he is very much in the later category for me (until he proves otherwise). I would like to give him a second chance, and I’d ask you all to hold your anger in check and do the same.

I’m lucky that I do not live in an area where online anger can be translated into real physical violence. I would have let most of the reaction from West Ham fans go if it had not been for the very real possibility that someone could find out where Mr Rahman lived and attack him.

Some readers (ok, many readers) have said that he’s lying – I don’t think that matters. What matters is that my actions – by allowing this article to be published in the first place – may cause real harm. I strongly hope that this situation will not further degrade and that we can come together and put this issue to rest peacefully.

9. Fan reaction

Calling someone racist usually provokes strong emotional reactions. However, the reality is that we are all a little bit prejudiced, whether because of our parents or the society we live in. I found the reaction over the top – because for me, there is so much said online that is completely untrue about individuals that goes unpunished every day that for a large community to vilify Mr Rahman for his comments smacks of double standards.

There’s a lot of self-righteous indignation in the responses to Mr Rahman’s articles – which tends to paint West Ham fans as whiter than white. The problem here is that an extreme action provoked an extreme reaction, and now we have a whole community that is picking out only positive elements from their daily lives.

I’m no one to pass judgment on anyone – but when you go through this whole debate there’s a strong feeling that Mr Rahman is absolutely wrong and that football fans in general and West Ham fans in particular are very tolerant. I don’t think that football fans are that tolerant to begin with, but that’s just me.

Let’s take Mr Rahman out of this equation – the other day there was an article in the Guardian about Graham Poll which can only be politely described as character assassination. Then there was an article in the Sun about Andy Gray, which the target could easily turn around and sue the paper for. Then there’s the over-the-top criticism about Steve McClaren written on countless blogs and forums.

For me, racism is as serious as the lies newspapers print about people every day, but for a multi-ethnic community that has to deal with racism on a daily basis it is a very volatile subject.

If someone had come out and talked about Manchester United fans this way I would have gotten angry as well – I would have swore at the author and gotten quite angry with him.

However, I think that at the end of the day, I would a) not have attacked him physically and b) not take the attack personally – i.e. not consider this as a finger pointing towards me and calling me racist.

The article touched a raw nerve and provoked a reaction I’ve never seen before from football fans. It has been a learning, eye-opening experience and it’s also an opportunity for us to resolve these racial issues in football through discussion.

Abuse – racial or personal – is unacceptable in football. Getting worked up over racist comments but then saying that insulting someone’s mother is acceptable is hypocritical. It’s abuse of a different kind, and just because you’re not coming off as racist does not mean that you’re wrong.

I’d ask everyone who reads this AND is attends football games regularly to notice the level of abuse handed out to opposition fans and players. Maybe you would then take a second to consider how you’d react if it was you personally who were being insulted (the same way many of you took Mr Rahman’s comments personally).

I’d be surprised if a lot of you are ok with being called cunts to your faces – it may be part and parcel of today’s football but that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable.

10. What’s Next?

Will Mr Rahman write for Soccerlens again? I don’t know actually – I try to look at the content and not at the person, so if what he writes is considered acceptable by me then yes, I’ll publish it.

On the other hand, I can assure you that I have no intention of publishing any articles in the future that contain racist remarks, and I will be more diligent in factually verifying articles. I take Soccerlens very seriously and I do not want to do something that will tarnish its image.

Should I distance myself from Mr Rahman, or rebuke him publicly for what he has written? That would be the easy choice and would win me acceptance – but the hard reality is that I allowed that article to be published in the first place and I cannot in good conscience turn my back on what I did earlier. The best I can do now is to ensure that in future, this does not happen.

To everyone who took the time to read this, thank you for your time. I have turned off comments on all three previous articles – please make your comments here.

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