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We must never forget what fascism is

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Have we forgotten what fascism is?

It’s not very often that I go ballistic over something written in my own paper, but I did so Saturday when I read Jerrad Peters’ soccer column defending the right of Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio to be a fascist, and denouncing his critics for being childish, shrill, paranoid ideologues.

Sunderland is a working class city in England’s northeast, full of left wing labour types who belong to unions and some of whose families have toiled in the mines and shipyards. Yes, they’re my people.

Sunderland is one of 20 teams in English Premier League soccer, the English equivalent of having a team in the National Hockey League, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the manager of an EPL team in a depressed industrial city such as Sunderland would be the face of that city.

Di Canio is a longtime self-avowed fascist, he bears a tattoo of Benito Mussolini, and as a player, once gave the fascist salute to the crowd while standing on a professional soccer field. After his hiring hit the fan, Sunderland management issued a written statement that di Canio had renounced his views, but as Peters said, everyone knows that was ownership putting a gun to the man's head.

The people of Sunderland met di Canio's appointment with outrage.

Peters says di Canio has every right to be a fascist, says it has nothing to do with managing a soccer team, and says soccer should be separate from politics.

In democratic countries, in countries which thanks to the outcome of the Second World War are not under the thumb of fascism, di Canio has the right to be a fascist and hold fascist views. We’ve had our Zundels and our Keegstras, and it’s a price of freedom for all of us that such people can hold the views they do. They can live and work among us.

What they do with their beliefs is another matter, as Zundel and Keegstra and others learned. Whom people choose to hire as the face of an entire city, with all that that conveys in status and legitimacy, is entirely another matter.

Would an NHL team name an avowed Nazi as its head coach? Would a Major League Baseball team appoint a member of the Ku Klux Klan as its manager?

The people of Sunderland do not want di Canio to be the face of their community.

Fascism is not politics. Politics is NDP, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Democrat, Republican, Labour.

Fascism is the antithesis of democracy. Fascism is repressive, it is violent, it is xenophobic, it is racist, it is militaristic, it is imperialistic, it is war on its own people.

Fascism almost destroyed the world in the 1940s. Mussolini was a monster, Hitler’s closest ally.

Should a man who holds such views, who openly admires such a reviled historical figure, be the face of a city which holds his beliefs abhorrent?

Do the people of Sunderland have the right to be outraged? Absolutely.

It is ludicrous to suggest that being a member of the Durham Miners Association is the equivalent on the left of being a fascist on the right.

It is just as ludicrous to say that left wing ideology is as likely to cause violence in the stands as is right wing ideology — fascism is not right wing ideology. European soccer is plagued with often-violent vile racism directed at black and other minority players by neo-Nazi thugs.

Young people who read the WFP soccer column and now wonder what’s wrong with the people of Sunderland, talk to your social studies teacher. It’s time for all of us to have a refresher on fascism.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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