Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Widening and shifting the goalposts

A long, long time ago I put up this post:
According to this BBC poll:

"Thinking about your nationality, to what extent do you feel British?"

73% of "Whites" answered "Completely/ A lot",

77% of Sikhs answered "Completely/ A lot"

Almost two/thirds of "Asians", as a whole, answered the same way.

I reckoned at the time that, all things considered, it was pretty good news.

I’ve just finished reading Yahya Birt’s article here, which deals more specifically with how Muslims in the United Kingdom feel about their national identity:
It is now a commonplace to observe that “Britishness” and “Muslimness” have become polarised: by seeking definitions against “the Muslim threat”, “true” Britishness, it is felt, can be retrieved.

Yet the evidence shows the opposite: most of Britain’s ethnic groups emphasize both religious and national identities together, a trend most noticeable among Muslim Britons. Polling usually confirms that Muslims are comfortable in being Muslim and British, antagonism only arising when slanted questioning asks respondents to choose one over the other.

The last point is an important one and is one which is not limited to simply how Muslims and their Britishness is being regarded; the goal of Celtic and English nationalism appears presently to be the same narrowing of our choice of identity- in their nil-sum arena, we can’t be English/Irish/Scottish/Welsh and British and in the modern, globalised interconnected and cosmopolitan world such restrictions of choice, whether on the grounds of religion or national identity, are outdated and parochial. If Unionism is to succeed in its ultimate goal, it must firstly stop and reverse this present narrowing of the goalposts.

And after Byrne’s cack-handed attempts last week, Birt’s ideas on how we should look at our collective Britishness, whilst a bit short on specifics, also make much sense:
A better approach, perhaps, is to commit to an open-ended conversation about how to define what we Britons have in common, as well as seeing in cultural diversity a source of wisdom, and an opportunity to expand the wellsprings of our collective imaginations. The distinctive contribution of Muslims to national self-understanding will be but one strand among many. With all the suspicion levelled at Muslims today, it takes intellectual and moral courage to remain creative and self-aware enough to ponder our shared future while retaining a sense of faithful integrity.

"Britishness" really does not need to be defined in the way which Labour and elements of the media are attempting to do; such definitions necessarily narrow and limit and so play directly into the hands of the various nationalists. Best of all that we think of and promote it as an ever-changing mosaac, one comprising of a multitude of creeds, cultures, ethnicities and identities; one which ”in our global age” is informed by "“rooted cosmopolitanism”, a principled looking out at the challenges and opportunities of the world from our home, while never losing a sense of who or where we are."

*Via Our Kingdom*


Hen Ferchetan said...

Interesting point, but a flawed comparison. Muslim and Britishness are two totally different thing - a nationality and a religion.

Welsh/English/Scottish/Irish and British are all nationalities. While some are happy with the idea of having both nationalities, others see the former as their "true" nationality and the latter as their legal nationality (i.e. passport) hence the expression "British by law, Welsh by the grace of God".

O'Neill said...


Where I saw the comparison is the creeping attempt to force it into an "either or" question.

You recognise the possibility of people feeling both British and English/Irish etc...there are plenty within the various nationalist movements that are not prepared to be so generous.

wildgoose said...

I am English.

According to the British State though, I am British.

It is vainly trying to simultaneously suppress the idea of Englishness whilst at the same time comprehensively discriminating against me and mine because we are not Scottish, nor Welsh, nor fact because we are English.

In 1997 I was proudly British - and a proud Yorkshireman. I never even thought about the English aspect.

I am now English - and this fact wasn't so much chosen by me as thrust in my face.

Talk of multiple identities is all well and good. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are allowed multiple identities and can vote for both a devolved Parliament for one identity and the British Parliament for another.

We English are deliberately, specifically and openly denied any such options. We can't choose to be English and British, we have to choose one or the other.

I am English.

That is my choice.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Surely to be british, one must live in Britain?

O'Neill said...

Surely to be british, one must live in Britain?

To alter Wellington’s quote a touch

"A horse being born outside a stable is still a horse."

In more concrete legal terms, the UK Citizenship Act of 1983 and the Belfast Agreement set out the rights of people in Northern Ireland to claim both British citizenship and identity.

O'Neill said...


I am English.

That is my choice

Which you're entitled to and I'm arguing against the limitation of choice eg in the nupcoming Scottish Census form.

BTW, how did the speech go at the LD conference?

The Aberdonian said...

I always thought Wellington said

"Being born in a stable does not necesarry make one a horse"

Maybe I am wrong.

I believed he said in context of him being born in Ireland and being taunted by elements of English society for being Irish. He was insinuating that being of English stock made him English wherever he was born and raised.

Interestingly, Kitchener, who was born County Kerry of English parents was quite happy for recruitment purposes to say he was Irish. Hence the WWI recruiting poster saying "Irishmen - the greatest fighting of men of our Empire are Irish" - with pictures of Kitchener, Roberts (born in India and hardly set foot on the Emerald Isle) and two-three others on the poster.

(If being born in a stable made one a horse then it would be a pretty poor outlook for Christians. The twelve disciples would be named Dobbin, etc)

Hen Ferchetan said...

O'Neill - it works the other way just as often. On numerous forms I find the options as "British" "Irish" "Other" and find myself having to tick other.

In the last census the options were "british" "Scottish" "Irish" or "Other" - how does that make ANY sense to a Welshman or Englishman?

wildgoose said...

The LD Fringe went as well as I could expect, but not as well as I could hope. (Interestingly it was Scottish Lib Dems that were probably the most receptive).

I'll e-mail you a transcript of my speech.

O'Neill said...

I always thought Wellington said

"Being born in a stable does not necesarry make one a horse"

He did, that why I said I was altering it a touch in my comment;)