Bigotry has become normalised

18th July 2008 at 01:00
Anti-sectarianism has fallen into a 'black hole' and methods to teach teens about it must be encouraged. Emma Seith reports
Anti-sectarianism has fallen into a 'black hole' and methods to teach teens about it must be encouraged. Emma Seith reports

Schools need to make anti-sectarian messages an explicit part of A Curriculum for Excellence to make pupils more aware of their entrenched bigoted attitudes, according to new research.

A study into sectarianism among 16 to 18-year-olds living in some of the most deprived areas of Glasgow found youngsters regarded sectarian humour as "banter" and did not consider the real meaning of the language they used.

It was found that teenagers frequently used words like "huns", "tims" and "Fenian", but were ignorant of their true meaning. Similarly, they were familiar with songs such as "The Sash", "The Rifles of the IRA", "The Hills of Free Derry" and "Dying Rebel" - usually taught to them by fathers or older brothers - but could not explain the lyrics.

Seldom had their sectarian behaviour been challenged, they revealed. Some spoke about initiatives run by Rangers and Celtic football clubs, such as the Old Firm Alliance, but none referred to input from teachers at school.

The researchers - Ross Deuchar of the University of Strathclyde and Chris Holligan of the University of the West of Scotland - say in Territoriality and Sectarianism in Glasgow: A Qualitative Study: "Participants revealed that they had had little anti-sectarian input in school and this suggests that teachers need to be more proactive at putting sectarianism on the agenda, particularly since A Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland has the teaching of controversial issues, the exploration of social values and fostering of active participation at its core."

A small number of asylum seekers, interviewed among the 40 youngsters who took part in the study, were more aware of sectarian-related crime and bigotry than their Glaswegian counterparts.

"Sectarian language, crime and bigotry may have become so normalised in people's minds that it takes a newcomer to notice that it is there at all," said the researchers.

Conflict between rival housing schemes meant that Rangers and Celtic supporters often came together to form friendships within gangs, said the report.

Some teenagers admitted to being "90-minute bigots", referring to the rivalry they felt during Old Firm football matches. But they felt sectarianism was more prominent among adults - particularly men. The teenagers thought that older generations used sectarian bigotry as a replacement for the "buzz" they had experienced when they were part of gang culture in their youth.

Leaders of the youth organisations believed sectarianism to be on the wane but that racism was increasingly becoming an issue because of the influx of asylum seekers, refugees and Eastern Europeans to Scotland in recent years.

One 16-year-old's response to the study appeared to support fears of growing racism when he said: "It was CatholicsProtestants, but see Muslims ... see nowadays I would love to do one of them somethin' awful ... what are they called, Iraqis and Afghanistans an' people ..."

Despite these findings, the researchers chose to focus on the problem of sectarianism because they felt it was more neglected than racism or gang culture.

While acknowledging there was some good work going on in schools, for example, Glasgow City Council's Sense over Sectarianism programme, Dr Deuchar argued that anti-sectarianism had fallen into a "black hole" since the new government came to power.

"We need to be more consistent and widespread in tackling this," he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Under A Curriculum for Excellence, the draft experiences and outcomes for religious and moral education provide opportunities for pupils to develop respect for the beliefs of others and understand practices which are different from their own."

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