In defence of Ultras Liège’s Red or Dead banner

I’m defending the Ultras-Inferno ’96, the supporters’ club of Standard Liège who made the tifo (banner) with Red or Dead and a decapitated Steven Defour, because no one else is. First of all, I’m not saying the imagery is of good taste, and sure it is chocking, but the outrage over it is out of proportion. Why do people feel the need to make the link with IS? For me it is clear this is a reference to Jason, the main character in the horror film “Friday the 13th” who wears a hockey mask. For some reason the media and public opinion seem so obsessed with the IS decapitations that they see everything in that context.

Another sore spot is Charly Hebdo and the defence of freedom of speech. All I hear is that we have to defend freedom of speech and not give in to “the terrorists”, but the exact opposite is happening. The opinion that is vigorously defended is that at war with (Muslim-)terrorism, anyone that says anything that is felt to threaten that opinion is prosecuted. Returning from the march against the Charly Hebdo killings in Paris, French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala posted a reaction on it on Facebook, ending with “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”. This a merger of the names of magazine Charlie Hebdo and Amedy Coulibaly, the attacker who killed four hostages at the supermarket caused a lot of uproar. Dieudonné explained himself: “You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am no different from Charlie”. He was arrested and could face up to seven years in jail and a €5,000 fine for “incitement of terrorism”.

The most popular politician in Belgium , Bart De Wever, has gotten what he wanted for a while: there are soldiers on the street of Antwerp (and Brussels and other cities) and he wants to keep them there. Europe has felt like a fearful continent to me for a while, especially since I spent some time in South Africa, a country that a lot of European perceive as dangerous, but where I felt people are much less afraid. Europeans are afraid of IS and of terrorism, but the real danger of being killed, possibly even decapitated comes from traffic accidents. In the mean time Belgian police are doing less checks of drunk driving or speeding because they are afraid of being attacked by terrorists.

To come back to the Red or Dead tifo. This is clearly an expression of an opinion. Some people are arguing that the fans were inciting hate, in other words that they were calling to kill Steven Defour. Another common reaction to differentiate it from comics depicting Mohamed is that Dufour is a person and as such this is a personal attack. Who really believes that the fans were calling for violence against the player who they feel is a traitor since he joined the arch-rival club? And Dufour is a public figure, which makes him susceptible to public opinion. One could argue that the perception of a football player by his fans isn’t much different to that of religious people towards their religious figures.

I am not a fan of football at all, but I’ve always thought that if I was to support one club it would be Standard Liège and I would be part of the Ultras-Inferno ’96. They are outspokenly anti-racist and although they don’t want to be political, there sympathies are to the (far) left. The football stadium of Standard Liège, Sclessin, is referred to as the hell because it is always boiling with atmosphere. It is in the middle of a mainly industrial neighbourhood of Liège, although most factories have long closed, the fans are still mainly working class. Steven Defour, who was captain of Standard Liège in 2008 and 2009 when they won the Belgian title and was a hero to the fans. By signing with “the enemy”, R.S.C. Anderlecht, they felt like he stepped on their heart: “We adored you, you have betrayed us, you are no longer welcome here.”

Today the Football Unit in Belgium said they want to ban everyone who participated in making the banner from the stadium from three months to five years and fine them up to five thousand euros. There is even talk of prosecuting all three thousand who helped unrolling the banner although the vast majority had no idea what was on it. The Football Unit was called into life to fight hooliganism, but I find it very hard to see the violence in rolling out a banner. The fear or terrorism is provoking more and more knee-jerk reactions that are far more damaging to our freedom then terrorism could ever be. And frankly it is making me sick.

Red or Dead tifo

Friday the 13t film poster

Friday the 13t film poster

Je suis UI96

Ultras Inferno Antifa - ferveur fidelité

A happy 2015

I didn’t write an overview of 2014, like I did last year for 2013. I didn’t write any not posts recently. I guess I’m too occupied with the future, moving back to South Africa and my beloved Cape Town in 2015. So I’m wishing myself a successful move without too many  bureaucratic or other hickups. And I’m wishing you whatever your soul desires.

Taking the Belgian State and Brussels Police to court

Next week will be the first day of the trial of the Belgian government and the Brussels police, brought by myself and four others preemptively arrested on 29 September 2010, before and during the major European trade union demonstration in Brussels. That day, about 300 people were arrested, present at this demonstration or on their way to it, just because the police found they looked “alternative”.

I was on the way to the demonstration of the No Border Camp at the Tour & Taxis site, along with a group of clowns from the Rebel Clown Army. I joined them, even though I was not dressed as a clown, because there were already reports circulating of arrests on the way to the demonstration, I thought I would be safer in a group. On the platform of subway station Ribaucourt we were surrounded by police, when asked why they answered only “for your own safety.”

The police closed the metro station, apparently because they were afraid their actions could provoke reactions from onlookers in what I overheard some of them call a “problematic neighbourhood”. We were handcuffed with plastic straps and put in a row, our legs spread. On my question why, I was snarled at if I didn’t have anything better to do than to waste police’s time by demonstrating. Followed by comments about my hair and how it stank and I surely never washed it.

In a police bus, we were taken to the police barracks in Etterbeek, where we are put in a large holding cell. There we were anything but alone, these and other cells are overcrowded with people arrested at or on their way to the demonstration, sometimes very harshly. Apparently, the entire block of the demonstration that was billed as being part of the No Border camp was separated from the rest of the rally by plainclothes agents, using batons and pepper spray.

The rest of the day we spend in this cell, and after being administratively processed in other cells. Until around midnight, when the demonstration had already been disbanded for many hours, when we were first required to be photographed and then in a police bus dropped back near Tour & Taxis.

Only in the weeks afterwards it dawned on me that both the police chief and interior minister thought all of this was completely justifiable. Testimonies in the media about physical and mental violence, for instance by Marianne Maeckelbergh, were met by police with the threat of a libel suit. That there were many witnesses, photographs and video seemed of no importance.

That the police can terrorize people on such a large scale, that this appears to be a planned action against the No Border Camp and anyone who the police deemed part of it. That Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom’s answer to a parliamentary question about the police action was that it was “necessary, proportionate and effective.” All these things leave me with no other conclusion than that I live in a police state.

Hence my personal reason to join the lawsuit against the Belgian State and the Brussels police. A legal road that start only now, four years after the facts and will probably drag on for several years, if necessary, to the European level.

Cape Namibia Route

This weeks Wednesday post, is about my hitch hiking adventure to Namibia. You know it’s been an intense trip when you come back and feel like you need some quiet time to process everything, this has been such a trip. Two weeks ago I set off to hitch hike toward Namibia from Cape Town. We cheated a bit accepting a ride from Biánne’s parents to Vrededal, which is already halfway to the Namibian border.

Bianne and me ready to hit the road, at the gas station in Klawer

Ready to hit the road

After spending a day in this Northern part of the Western Cape with a trip to Strandfontein, the game was on and we set off riding our thumb from Ruwe on the N7, the Cape Namibia route. My only experience of hitch hiking being in European, we tried asking drivers for a ride at the gas stations. After two hours of unsuccessfully asking strangers for a ride north and finding that they either (claimed to) have a full ride or going south, back to Cape Town the gas station attendant told us they didn’t allow hitch-hiking. So we joined the people trying to get a ride on the side of the highway.

Highways in South Africa aren’t like the ones in Europe, so cars can actually stop there and this is the way everyone who lifts here does it (didn’t see any other white people try it though). After another 3 hours, one dodgy truck driver asking for a lot of money and refusing the a ride because it was only to the next town, we got in the back of a bakkie for a ride to Vanrynsdorp,  the next town. This is the way to hitch, at least in this part of the country, since almost all our rides where working people who let us jump in the back of their pick-up.

This first ride was the nicest, sitting in the back of an open bakkie (most had a canopy), the wind blowing trough your hair, rolling trough the open landscape of the South African West Coast is pure bless. Two more one hour waits got us, John, giving us a ride to Bitterfontijn where he at his and his “partner” Dawn’s guest house he insisted we stayed the night. This provided him with a good excuse to offer us beers and drink some himself, telling us about his life and how the Lord provides for everything we need. “That is, the Christian god, not the one from Islam”.

Apparently we where just coping with beginners misfortune, since the next day it never took more than 15 minutes to get a ride. The first on got us to Garies (chief town of the Namaqualand) where we ate a good hearty breakfast at die Koperketel, cat lovers who spoiled their felines so much that they where as wide as high and could hardly walk. From there got a lift to the middle of nowhere in Northern Cape but before the scorching heat could take us down we got to a ride to Springbok, arriving in town around noon.

The infamous Springbok Lodge, a long-standing travellers café known for its rude service as well as its impressive mineral collection (Northern Cape being a mining region, mainly diamonds) provided us with lunch and cold beer. After that we located the Caravan Park, outside of town, where John had told us his pall Anton would take good care of us. We found him in the “office”, a thin, tall, man with glasses. In a half an hour monologue he told us all about his 250 cc motorcycle, stop and go’s on the N7, the Caterpillar 5600 with a special water tank. Maybe he had been locked up in this little office not seeing people for too long, maybe the heat that got to his head. Maybe it was growing up in a small mining town, where heavy machinery is the only exciting thing, but we found it hard to make any sense of it all.

We managed to dip into the small pool filled with green water and spent the night camping there. The 150 Rand would turn out to be the only time we had to pay for accommodation on the whole trip. The boereworst and mielies an unknown fellow camper had left in our tent provided us with a breakfast before we hit the road to finally get to Namibia. It took us 50 Rand to get to Noordoewer on the other side of the border, the only time we paid for a ride. When we finally gathered the courage to leave air-conditioned Wimpy, we got our first taste of the Namibian heat. Even in the shade the hot North Western wind would hit you in the face as if you just opened a hot oven.

It turned out to be the owner of Wimpy who gave us a ride to Felix Unite (owned by his brother-in-law). Our possible CouchSurfing host at Aussenkehr was and Wula, who we could ask about a job on the Orange River was out on a river trip. So we ended up chilling by the pool drinking cheap Windhoek and Tafel lager and pitching our tent at the Felix. The next day we heard from Wula that we had just missed the river season and there ws no more work as a river guide until March.

Hiding from the sun under towels  we managed to hitch a ride to Aussenkehr, which turned out to be just a Spar surrounded by straw shacks for seasonal workers, working on the grape orchards. Aimlessly walking we passed the clinic, where it was clear we where a bit lost, white people with backpacks not being a common sight. Luckily Johannes, the friendliest and most gay boy helped us out and offered us to pitch our tent at the Christian Community Centre behind the clinic.

As it turned out Antonie our CouchSurfing host passed by to drop off frozen fish at the community centre and we could spend the night at his air-conditioned guest house next to the Orange River. He managed the Cape Orchard Company, the second largest table grapes producer in the Southern Hemisphere and making up the big farm that is Aussenkehr. The next day some awkwardness occurred as it seemed we were already outstaying our welcome. Antonie dropped us of at the Norotshama River Resort to get a ride out of Aussenkehr from there.

The receptionist told us her manager was driving to Noordoewer at noon and we could probably get a ride with him. Juan, was heading to Felix Unite since he was in desperate need of some time off, his season also ending. Given the choice between trying to find a ride to Keetmanshoop (a very depressing place according to Juan) only to pay for a train or bus towards the coast seemed like the lesser option when he invited us to join him at Felix. Lost of drinks and craziness around the pool, the only sensible place to stay in 47° heat. Literally a truckload of Norwegian girls in luminescent bikinis turned up, braving the mid day sun with their Scandinavian skin. Lots of Jägerbombs with whiskey chasers gave way to dancing and playing pool at a Noordoewer shabeen.

The next day Juan invited us back to Noroshama, where we could stay for free right next to the river. It was too hot to do anything but sit in the pool or in our air-conditioned room, but I could think of worst ways to spend the days I needed to get out of RSA to get another 3 months in the country. After 3 days including a braai at Noroshama’s impressive braaiplek we got a ride back to the border with Wula. The kilometre between the Namibian and RSA border posts we walked and the South African policeman confided in us that he would love to go hitch hiking to one day.

The next three days we stayed at the farm Krisjan was taking care of on the South African side of the river. After which he gave us a ride back to Vrededal which took half a day where hitching in the other direction took us three days. Another ride with Biánne’s mom from the gas station in Ruwe where we started our adventure back to Cape Town where the 33°C heat felt refreshing after weeks of plus 40°. Lots of  good times and strong impression only road tripping can give. Cape Town is a good place to come back to, almost feels like coming home.

The value of conflict

Since I’ve pledged to write a new blog post every Wednesday and I’ll be on the road this particular Wednesday, I’ve written this one in advance. I’ll post an update of my adventures in Namibia when I get on-line for long enough. So this one is a bit more general and at the same time very personal.

I was just thinking about conflict and more about how I tend to stay clear of it. I know I’m not the only person who does this, I learned most of my conflict avoiding skills from my family while growing up. We were especially good in not feeling awkward not saying anything to each other for extended periods of time. And in my personal relationships more recently I see this is still my main coping strategy: avoiding saying anything wrong my not saying anything at all.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post, that conflict is sometimes (possibly even most of the time) more valuable than avoiding conflict by not saying anything. A deafening silence is much harsher than a good fight (I am talking fighting with words, not physically or psychological warfare, breaking someone with words). While verbal conflicts are a psychological strain, at least they offer an opening to resolving the base of the conflict, while silence just lingers on and becomes a huge weight that can crush a relationship.

It’s quite a cliché that communication is the most important part of any relationship, but it is also true. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier though for an introvert or anyone who has learnt to cope with stressful situations by going into oneself and not saying anything. I cannot say I know how to get past this, only that I am aware of the problems it poses and trying to work on it, one conflict at a time. Maybe in the future I will be able to give some useful tips if you recognize yourself in what I wrote here. And if you don’t, I hope you think of this next time you just want to talk it out and find the other party is giving you the silent treatment.

The Edge

TEDx Table Mountain was about exploring the edge. It made me think a lot about overcoming fear, coming out of my comfort zone, going into the unknown. Exploring the edge is what I am doing here in South Africa, in Cape Town. It was the love for my Afrikaans meisie, but also the love for travel, for new things and for myself, that gave me the courage to leave my safe European home.

Coming to a new place where you only know one person, without any plan how to make money or stay seven months on a 90 day tourist visa is like stepping over the edge. It is scary, but also exciting. It challenges me to do what I’ve always dreamt of but didn’t have the courage to actually pursuit. So here I am, before me lays an inspiring land and an unknown future, mine to shape.

Carfree Brussels

On days like these I love Brussels. Today was car-free Sunday, which means the whole of Brussels is freed from cars from 9 am till 7 pm. The sad thing is that by 7:15 it’s business as usual. But until then pedestrians, cyclist, skateboarders; Rollerbladers and all other non-motorised traffic have a free reign.

Saw the youngest punk rockers ever at Beursschouwburg: My Dog is Radioactive, a bunch of 10 year olds playing like it’s the only thing they ever did. The crowd loved it and I must say, they are better than a lot of band I’ve seen. So next time I see some mediocre pop-punk I can honestly say I’ve seen 10-year olds play better.

After that I went to Place Rouppe where the death of Semira Adamu was remembered with a few speeches and a concert by Asian Dub Foundation. The concert made me think about Fortress Europe and the hypocrisy around it. I’m glad there is this annual remembrance, because even I tend to forget how fucked up our European migration policies are. Fuck Frontex! Keep banging on the walls of fortress Europe!

To finish the night I went to Bonefooi, where Dans Dans played, a very good band. Don’t know how to describe them so I’ll go with the bio on the Bonefooi website: From garage jazz, psychedelic blues and ecstatic noir soundtracks to spacey rock-‘n-roll: the labels that get thrown at Dans Dans give a pretty good indication of the extent of their eclectic style.

On days like these I’m happy to live in Brussels, where so much is happening and where there’s so much good music. It wont be long until Autumn really sets in and I’ll be very glad to be heading off to South Africa. But for now I’m enjoying this time in the city I was born in and with the people I can truly call my friends.