Saturday, June 03, 2006


Who's Our Saint?

I seem to be drowning in a sea of St. George's flags. They're everywhere: fluttering from flagpoles, streaming from cars, hanging up in people's windows all over the place. Not that I mind. I have this vague recollection that there might be some sort of football games going on somewhere, and that the flags may have something to do with that.

Mind you, it's always struck me as odd that we take an obscure Middle-Eastern mythological figure with a penchant for killing dragons as our Saint. The Irish seem closer to the mark. At least St. Patrick was a real figure, and had something to do with Ireland. It's no wonder we don't bother to celebrate our Saint's day. We have no idea who he was or why he has anything to do with us.

In fact when anybody talks about St. George’s day to me, bewailing the lack of a holiday, I always point out the same thing. “We already do celebrate our saint’s day,” I say. “The English saint is Robin Hood, and his day is May the 1st.”

Usually people agree with me.

But, what with that, and the D-Day commemorations a year or two back, it started me thinking about patriotism. I had a leaflet from the British National Party through my door, referring to themselves as "The Patriotic Majority" while telling gross lies about asylum seekers. This is not patriotism at all: it is racism hiding behind the patriotic mantle. As far as I am concerned this is the kind of provocative nonsense that gives patriotism a bad name.

It was Dr Johnson who said that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Sometimes, it seems, it can be the last refuge of the moral coward too.

Personally I have nothing against patriotism, if patriotism is defined as love of one's country. I'm not one of those obscure lefties who go around supporting other people's patriotism while denigrating our own. It's always struck me as odd that people on the left are more than happy to defend the right of Iraqi patriots to defend their own country against occupation, while bemoaning the patriotism of the English. In fact it is a good question to ask: what would you do if a foreign power was occupying our country shores right now?

You'd probably do what the Iraqis are doing: that is, you would resist it.

I guess it depends on what, exactly, you are patriotic about. There are many things that the English can be proud of, and some that we ought to be ashamed of. Personally I am proud of the sacrifices made by our troops on D-Day in the fight against Nazism. I am also proud (for all its faults) of our National Health Service. Mostly I am proud of our traditions of tolerance, and of our historical record of offering asylum to those fleeing persecution in their own lands.

I am not proud of our Imperialistic adventures in the past however - conquering the world and claiming its resources as our own - but even this is preferable to our current status as the little bully hiding behind the bigger bully's back, in order to get our cut of the world's wealth.

A while back I found myself being barracked on the street because I had the temerity to ask people to sign a petition against the forced detention of asylum seekers. I was called a string of obscene names, shouted down and insulted by people I can only guess were BNP supporters. Why? Because I believe that vulnerable people looking for asylum in our country should be treated properly, and not locked up.

Even on a purely selfish level this makes sense. By making asylum seekers illegal we are driving them into the arms of unscrupulous employers paying minimal wages, thus driving down our own pay and conditions too.

True patriotism is love of one's country, and love, by definition, is always welcoming, always generous.

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