Sunday, September 10, 2006

Identity...

I just tried to comment upon the latest post on Seany's Blog but my long, sensible and erudite comment was 'swallowed up'and disappeared into the ether. So I'll comment here instead rather than leave a long and tedious comment littering up his excellent blog.
It is a conundrum, regarding the question of British and English identities. As the son of Irish parents and born in London, I regard myself as British. I support England in football and rugby although I do have a great feeling of discomfort when watching Ireland play England in both games. A quiet voice at the back of my mind mutters 'Traitor' whilst I cheer England on. To most people I am white and I speak with an educated London accent. The assumption is that I am English. When I go to Ireland and there is an awareness of my family and history, the general consensus is that I am Irish but I had the misfortune to be born in London. My name gives it away, a very Irish name and the Gaelic version is generally mispronounced by English speakers. When my name is known in England it is often only then that people realise I come from an Irish background.
So what must it be like for a Pakistani or Nigerian born in London and whose parents came over for the very same reasons that my parents did: economic, to earn a living and better themselves. Their colour of skin is the immediate difference between themselves and me. Whereas I may be assumed to be white indigenous English,many people would question whether they were looking at a British person until conversation showed otherwise. Yet there is no real difference between myself and the son of Nigerians or Pakistani's born in this country. Yes, cultural, religious, etc... differences, but we are British and we have the right to call ourselves such.
Are we English? That is a more difficult question to answer, it is fraught with difficulties and is likely to upset the more rightwing Englishmen out there. I am British, I have an English accent and for much of my life I grew up in England. But I do not consider myself English. I have a concept of having an Irish heritage, history and sense of self that is not and cannot be fully English because I feel Irish. I define myself as British with a sense of also being Irish. I suspect the theoretical sons of Nigerians and Pakistanis would do the same.
There is then an impact upon patriotism and for me the 'Last Night at the Proms' is an anachronism, a sense of hanging on to something that is nebulous and changes according to the person and situation. It is a good chance to sing along and wave flags as being British, which all British people can join in if they choose. I believe it was Norman 'On Yer Bike' Tebbit who accused British born Pakistanis of betraying England because they supported Pakistan during a cricket test match. At the time I thought it was an interesting comment to make but that Tebbit had completely misunderstood those Pakistani cricket fans. Of course they will and do support Pakistan. That is their culture, heritage and history...their sense of identity. They may be British and define themselves as such but also as Pakistani. This in one way lies at the root of the debate about Islam and 'The War on Terror'. It cannot be a patriotic 'war' because it is not a war against one country as was the war aginst Germany and the ideology of the nazi's. But by attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, by aggressive language towards Iran and Syria as well as 'ignoring' Lebanon, there must be a sense of Islam and Islamic cultures/ countries under attack. I am by no means an apologist for terrorists nor do I excuse sad, deluded twats using Islam as their excuse to blow people up. Nor do I have any desire to live in an Islamic state or be subject to sharia laws. For those who do desire that, they have a multitude of places to live in from Algeria to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Malaysia. How much freedom is there in those countries to criticise the state or political process there! However I digress and that is another discussion entirely albeit related to this 'un.
To quote Samuel Johnson..."Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".
By that remark he meant politicians and others using patriotism as an excuse for their behaviour and beliefs, generally to mistreat and attack others. i.e. George Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair... Of course there are Islamists who want a Jihad and seek power and to extend their form of Islam into other countries. Just as there are white supremicists, Christian evangelicals, flat earthers and other fundamentalists who want to grab power and take over the world. They are all dangerous but the majority of people want to get on and live their lives in peace.
Patriotism can also be a refuge for easy, simplistic and glib answers to complex problems. i.e. 'All Muslims are dangerous...the French are cheese eating surrender monkeys...the Irish are drunks....Romanians are thieves..etc...'So by extension of Dr.Johnson's statement patriotism can be more than a pride in or celebration of one's country, it too easily becomes nationalism. It is often used by those in power or who seek power as a weapon to attack others who are different. But there is no longer one standard English stereotype these days. there is a multitude of stereotypes which is ever changing, hence my sense of Britishness and not English.
To end with another quote before I diasappear up my own arse with these opinions:
"Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility.
Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill"
Richard Aldington (1931).
So keep up with the 'Last night at the Proms'. It's a celebration of British music and culture for all Brits.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Seany said...

Erm.. yeah, that's what I meant to say. Just kidding - very erudite post.

I guess there's nothing we can do to change the place where we were born, but many of us are lucky to be able to choose where we live. Perhaps patriotism is more about celebrating the culture for which you have the greatest affinity and conversely, it would therefore make more sense for people to find a culture that embraces their preferred way of life rather than complaining about being discriminated against.

Ahem. I can see I'm heading into deep water here. Anyway, I watched the Belfast Last Night of the Proms this morning and it was even better than ours!

3:59 pm  
Blogger delcatto said...

I keep choosing a warm, sunny beach with dusky maidens,cool beers and rum,etc...
They keep throwing me out!

6:26 pm  

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