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.
- Press release from Ultras-Inferno ’96 about the Red or Dead banner (in French)
- BBC Sport – Who, why, how: Defour ‘Red or Dead’ banner explained
- Ultras Inferno, qui sont ils ? | Article sur Shoot Me Again Webzine.