‘Yid Army’ charges should never have been brought

It is good news that charges have been dropped against three Tottenham fans for using the word ‘Yid’. But why was such a case brought in the first place?

It was last September that the FA put out a statement warning Spurs fans that their ‘Yid Army’ chants are likely ‘to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer. Use of the term in a public setting could amount to a criminal offence and leave fans liable to prosecution’. Tottenham fans had also been told to ‘drop the Y-word from their songbook’ by lobby groups such as the Community Security Trust and the Society of Black Lawyers (the latter of which threatened to report the club to the police).

This was a new low for free speech. Here a group is being told that they cannot use a word to describe themselves, a word that is in this context a badge of pride. So the question of ‘offence’ and racism is entirely abstracted from the context and the understandings of the people using the word. It becomes the purview of outsiders and bystanders, who are neither Jewish nor Spurs fans. (After all, ‘Yid’ is a Yiddish word which was only turned into an insult by anti-Semites: the club is reclaiming a Yiddish word.)

This is a step back. For all the attempts to restrict free speech in the past, gays were not told they could not call themselves ‘queer’ (a similar reclaiming of language, from an insult to a badge of pride). There was not an attempt to restrict what people called themselves. Now that line has been crossed.

So yes, it is good that charges have been dropped. But let this be the end of it. If there is no case to be brought, then the police and associated groups should halt immediately their threatening of Spurs fans. It is no business of the Metropolitan police or anyone else to be rewriting fans’ songbooks.

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