English nationalism: pride or prejudice?
|June 8, 2012||Posted by Scott Dunn under national|
April 23rd was, as far as business was concerned, just another day. Shoppers floated through the streets of Newcastle as I headed home from submitting a politics paper that morning; I was not aware that my personal views were just about to be so vehemently challenged.
“England for the English,” echoed behind wailing guitars, are the words of forever-controversial Morrissey, front-man of The Smiths, from his song The National Front Disco. This is also, it would seem, the political rhetoric of the English Defence League (EDL), with whom I had a quite unpleasant encounter on that day, St George’s Day.
As it turned out, the EDL were (entirely in their democratic rights) staging a demonstration in my city, in favour of making St George’s Day a national holiday. I was curious as to what they were espousing, as in some ways I am a British nationalist. I take immense pride in this country’s acceptance and tolerance of others and our willingness to help shelter the targeted innocent of the world. I am incredibly proud of the NHS, of our welfare system and that we, to the best of our ability, never leave any person of this earth behind. As such, I was deeply disturbed by two things: a white Celtic cross flag and the speech made by the man holding the megaphone.
The Celtic cross, especially a white cross on a black flag, has long been a symbol of white power. Used by Ku Klux Klan members, Stormfront and many other violent organisations, why would a group who are supposed to be trying to, in their words, “stop the hate of fundamentalist Islam,” be pushing back with race hate? Listening to the man, who was probably in his late 30s, it was clear this had little to do with the lack of a bank holiday. Spouting ill thought-out rants against immigrants, the government and the EU, there was no substance to his words – just an awful lot of venom. The thing that really struck me, however, was the ignorance, specifically referring to St George as “the English-born saint.” Confused over this, I walked over and spoke to one of the members of the demonstration.
I got nothing from the conversation except a threat and the accusation of being “anti-English.” After pointing out that St George was actually Syrian, I was told I was lying. She never once acknowledged anything I said could be true and instead said I was weak and against English people. She claimed “the English will be a minority in their own country soon.” I found it frankly shocking and left. Talking calmly against fanatic nationalism and anger would achieve nothing. I was born in England, to English parents and was told I was against the English?
After walking away, I was left with several burning questions. When did being English have anything to do with your skin colour? When did we, as a nation, become so ignorant of our history? Should we not celebrate the immense diversity that makes us up, and that has made us the country we are? I call on those who would cry “England for the English” and ask them: what does being English mean to you? Because I feel we may be worlds apart in our answers.