“It’s startling to realise that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are ‘we are number two!’”
– David Sedaris
There is something very bewildering – even unsettling – about nationalism, and it is not just that it seems to be present in all countries, even though, by definition, only one thing can qualify as ‘the best’. George Bernard Shaw observed that patriotism is merely the belief that a country is the best in the world, simply because you were born in it. What anybody with nationalistic views seems to lose sight of, however, is that simply stating something as fact does not make it so.
The well documented and much discussed rise of UKIP in recent months and years, as well as the intensifying Independence debate in Scotland, have both got me thinking about nationalism in all its forms. And I have reached the conclusion (my personal one, of course) that nationalism is a dangerous tool, especially when wielded by people small in mind as well as stature. It is a feckless ideology which relies on the unproven (even unprovable) assertion that one flag somehow waves more impressively than all others; that one nationality is somehow superior to any competitors; that ‘we’ are better than ‘them’. H. G. Wells prefers to believe, in contrast, that, “Our true nationality is mankind.” A philosophy which seems alien and revolutionary in our modern world.
Social media is known for becoming the newest and most popular battleground for political discourse and discord. People (including myself, I cannot deny) take to Twitter to vent micro-frustrations with the politics of the day, or flock to Facebook to deliver longer rants about things they have true passion for (incidentally, it’s alleged that others write even write blog-posts for even longer spiels). It was on Facebook just yesterday that I saw some posts from a group called “Britain first”, as some posts had been commented on (critically, I would hope) by friends of mine. So, following my curiosity, I checked this page out. What I saw did not leave me horrified, shocked or appalled. Instead, it left me frustrated. I cannot understand the rise of right-wing groups (or I cannot accept it, one of the two).
"Britain First", in my view, is simply a little foetus in a gang of little boys' clubs which contains the likes of UKIP, the BNP, the English Defence League and the National Front. They are nothing more than right-wing cesspits of lunacy, hiding behind a veil of "patriotism". They exploit our flag, our military and our history for their own warped definition of "pride". Those who serve in the armed forces do not necessarily do so simply to legitimise hateful speech from vitriolic bigots. To exploit their selfless service, and to seize on the murder of Lee Rigby not only as a political point-scorer, but as a political slogan, is utterly nonsensical and shameful. In my humble view, to love your own country is not to forsake all others in the world; it is to honour our country's place in the world so that we might do all that we can to help those both at home and abroad.
I must admit: I am happy to be a child and a citizen of the United Kingdom. But, after giving it some thought, I think that perhaps “proud” is the wrong word; we ought not to be “proud” to be British, but “grateful” instead. It cannot be denied that we have a far better standard of living than many other corners of the globe, but it equally cannot be ignored that we have much work yet to do right here on our own shores, as Britain – just like any nation on any continent – is far from perfect. I said earlier that nationalism is a dangerous tool, and I believe it to be so on all levels: German nationalism in the 1930s had some pretty infamous consequences, Scottish nationalism is causing immense rifts within and between communities, and British nationalism, it would seem, is something of a cause for concern. I am keenly involved in the effort to maintain the Union on these islands, because I believe that by pooling together our ideas, our resources and our wealth, we will all inevitably share in the rewards that such unity can bring. But I would never consider myself a British nationalist.
When I was at the Scottish Labour Conference in March, there was something Johann Lamont said which has stuck with me. She said that pro-independence folks up here have an obstinate belief in “my country, right or wrong,” whereas others believe, “my country, we will right the wrongs.” It is good to be healthily critical of the problems we face as a nation, for it is only then that we have the capacity to search for the solutions, but nationalists will always do either one of two things: become wilfully blind to pressing issues, or scavenge in desperation for somebody else to blame. Usually somebody foreign, or somebody with darker skin, or somebody with a different religion. And that is precisely why so called “nationalist pride” is actually one of our biggest sources of shame.
Consider the following image which was featured on Britain First’s page on April 23rd (a page which has over 207,000 likes, by the way):
We are besieged by an “infestation”, they say? The 2,693 folks who liked it and the 924 who shared it seem to agree. I ask, however, what infestation? Muslims seem to be a great cause of ire for these people, don’t they? But they simply don’t seem to understand (or, more likely, they don’t know) that Britain is home to 2.7 million Muslims – just 4.2% of the population, according to the Office of National Statistics. Their irrational fears that we will somehow become subjected to Sharia law in our courts, and that white people will become a minority before the next decade is out appear to be unfounded and dumbfounding.
Their logo, not surprisingly, features the line, “Rule Britannia,” because, naturally, no nationalist is complete without a stubborn hankering to the past, wishing it were still true today. A message to nationalists: the past is passed. They also urge people to sign up for the “Britain First Defence Force,” even though many of the enemies they claim to fear are non-existent threats in the form of cultural diversity. Anti-immigrant sentiments truly boggle the mind sometimes, especially when you consider that every last one of us, somewhere along the line, can trace ourselves back to immigrant ancestors. Whether your family came here millennia ago when Britain was still joined to Europe, or you stepped off the boat just a few years ago, that shouldn’t matter. But, of course, this is the same ilk of people who look up to the likes of Nigel Farage, the man who frets that 485 million Europeans will be flooding into Britain before you can say, “Go home.”
And this picture isn’t even worth entertaining with a second thought:
Nationalism is a perplexing and poisonous thing. It serves only to divide and deride; it divides people who would, under any other circumstances, get along perfectly as friends and neighbours, and it derides those who are “different.” But Britain should not scramble to shut diversity out, we should strive to welcome its development, as it enriches our culture massively. Britain has always been a small island nation with an outward looking worldview. We used to employ that outwardness to dominate other lands, but, going forward, I see no reason as to why we cannot harness it for the betterment of all. Britain has the capacity to be a force for good in the world.
If only nationalists would channel their abundance of passion and energy into something that was actually constructive and beneficial to society, instead of projecting venomous bile with blind bigotry.
Be mindful: “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.”
By Marc Winsland