The Anelka affair, concerning his misguided and completely unnecessary quenelle gesture, after scoring for West Bromwich Albion on 28th December last year. goes on. Zoopla.com to their credit have announced that they are to withdraw their lucrative sponsorship deal with West Brom, as a direct consequence of Anelka’s actions. Belatedly the F.A. have announced that they are going to charge Anelka over the gesture, which predictably Anelka has said he is going to fight. It has also been reported that West Brom will sack Anelka, if he is found guilty of the charge. If that happens, it will probably be the end of Anelka’s rather strange career in England, one punctuated in almost equal measure by brilliance and controversy. No doubt some of you reading this, will remember Anelka helping to spoil your day out at Wembley, as he did mine, scoring one of Arsenal’s goals, fully 16 years ago and not be sorry to see him go.
There may well also be some among you who wonder what all the fuss about the gesture is. At first sight, that could be a quite reasonable view. However, on Sunday afternoon, I attended an event at the Civic Centre in Newcastle, which reminded me of exactly why the Anelka gesture should be taken so seriously. The annual event to comemorate Holocaust Memorial Day was an appropriate tribute to the millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other immocent victims, who died and the lighting of the candles, while a specially commissioned song was performed, was a moving reminder of just why we need to take hatred and prejudice seriously.
After all, since the liberation of Auschwitz on 27th January 1945, which Holocaust Memorial Day marks, there have been other genocides across the world, in Rwanda and Bosnia, in Darfur and Karen State, Burma. The original Holocaust didn’t happen as soon as the Nazis came to power. It began with lies in the newspapers about those seen as outsiders. It began with unscrupulous politicians stoking up hatred in people’s hearts where none had been. And yes, it began with racist salutes and gestures.
In the Northeast we should be very proud of our contribution to the fight against fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many Northeast men fought and dired in the struggle against fascism and racism. My own father, now 94, originally from Lancashire, but settled in Newcastle for 50 years now, fought with the Royal Engineers in the sweltering deserts of North Africa, in the mayhem of the landings in Salerno in Italy and sailed for Normandy on D-Day as part of the group, who assembled the vitally important Mulberry Harbours. Perhaps the most important thing Northeast men did regarding the Holocaust came in April 1945. It was the Soviet Red Army who liberated Auschwitz on 27th January 1945, but it was our own Durham Light Infantry, who liberated Belsen, sadly a month too late to save Anne Frank, who had succumbed to typhus the previous month.
Given this proud record regarding the Holocaust, I was delighted to play a part in the feature in The Journal last Tuesday about the Roma community on Tyneside. The feature highlighted the terrible persecution Roma are still suffering in Eastern Europe and how so many of the Roma living on Tyneside are either working or desperately looking for work. Most importantly, the feature highlighted the positive experience many Roma have had living in Newcastle and Gateshead, how they have found Geordies to be friendly and helpful. It appears that our reputation as a welcoming region still holds, although it is a pity that a small number of racists want to give the vast majority of us a bad name and damage community cohesion and chances of much needed inward investment.
That said, these are hards times for many ordinary Geordies and their own struggles should never be taken lightly. The economic recovery still seems to be only for the wealthy and the powerful. When fighting fascism the vast majority of the British people truly were ‘all in it together’ It was indeed one of our finest moments, especially as barriers between rich and poor began to crumble and a more democratic and fairer society emerged from the carnage in 1945. We seem to have lost some of that sense of fairness since 1979.
It is notable that when Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would re-introduce the 50% top tax rate, hardly the most radical move, the familiar calls of how it would be ‘anti-business’ were heard from the usual suspects. Asking fabulously wealthy people to pay a bit more tax, is surely anti-greed not anti-business. Under this government the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable have paid a far bigger price for the economic crisis than the wealthy who have, as usual, sailed through unscathed. Isn’t it funny how wealthy Britons love to wave the flag and come over all patriotic – when it suits them? You would think they would welcome the chance to pay a bit more tax; they could see it as their patriotic duty.
One thing is ceratin. Difficult economic times for ordinary working classs people can be dangerous times for those who are easily scapregoated. When people are desperate, it is easy to be taken in by false prophets, with dangerous messages. It was the case 80 years ago in Germany and it is still the same today across the world. It is precisely because of this that it is so important that we all remember Holocaust Memorial Day, remember just what petty prejudice and ignorance in newspapers and pubs can lead to and that we stand firm with all our fellow humans. It is also pecisely why the F.A. are correct to take Anelka’s gesture seriously. If he is found innocent then fair enough, but at least he will know better in the future and it will have been a reminder, just as Holocaust Memorial Day is, of why any hint of racism, in football or society, must never be taken lightly.