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That headline is an often used Irish colloquialism that means, roughly translated, “because today is an important anniversary”. And what anniversary could be more important as we face the growing threat of rising Fascism across Europe once again.
Apparently the UK government is preparing for the possibility of riots by extreme right wing factions in the event of a second referendum that might result in a reversal of the ill-informed June 2016 decision by 37% of the electorate to take Britain out of the only international organisation that has held the peace between the forces of communism and Fascism for most of my lifetime.
Meanwhile similar movements are on the march in Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria and France. And all are fueled by fear of “the other”, just as was Hitler’s rise to power and the acceptance of the “final solution” – elimination of “the other”.
Not so much a Saturday Sound-Off as a Sunday Sermon!
As gratifying as it was to see so many people marching against Brexit on Saturday, the party was spoiled by the reappearance on our screens of Nigel Farage with his insistent repetition of nonsense about ‘independence’. Behind that insistence is the insidious lie that we are a vassal state to Europe. Try as I might, I cannot understand why so few seem unable see the truth: that Brexit is a betrayal.
A betrayal of our shared geography, our shared history, our shared culture and, above all, our shared values.
If you doubt that the British Isles share geographical space with the rest of Europe consider these facts: Galway is roughly the same distance from Kiev as Seattle is from Miami; Oslo is nearer to Naples than Los Angels is to New York.
The last thousand years of our history are scarred by disputes between kings, and would be kings, both within and across national boundaries. The England we know and love was shaped by the invasion of Normans from across the English Channel, themselves the descendants of Scandinavians who had invaded the British Isles and the area now generally known as France several centuries earlier. Our present Royal Family has German ancestry. The British king most revered by the Irish Unionists was Dutch.
We share with other nations of Europe, too, a history of colonisation. Britain’s might have been the largest empire, but France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands and Germany all established colonies in far flung parts of the world. Arguably that is why the two most recent wars between them spilled over to become World Wars. And why the legacy of those wars, in the Middle East especially, is one of continuing war and suffering.
We share a love of the same music. Make a list of your favourite classical composers and it will inevitably include Germans, at least one French man, a Pole and an Austrian as well as great Britons like Walton, Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Even when it comes to ‘pop’ and rock, the Europeans are in there somewhere, and not just ABBA. The Beatles cut their performing teeth in Hamburg.
Some of our greatest literature comes to us, in translation, from Europe. Les Miserables may be a successful British piece of musical theatre but it began life as a classic of French literature.
But the greatest betrayal, the one that cuts like a red hot knife to the very heart of everything I was brought up to believe, is the betrayal of our shared values.
The idea that every human being deserves respect; that those blessed with good fortune have a duty to share some of that largesse with those less fortunate than themselves; that no-one should be denied access to education, a rewarding job and care in ill health and old age.
The EU embodies those values in its constitution. Freedom of movement, so reviled by some Britons, guarantees the freedom of individuals to live and work and attend an educational institution where they choose. Please note that it does not guarantee access to social welfare. The rules that regulate trade seek to prevent workers and consumers from being ripped off by unscrupulous corporations. The environmental regulations are there in an attempt – admittedly inadequate – to ensure that the world our grand children inherit is not too sullied by our profligacy.
The idea that the nations of Europe, after a millennium and more of conflict, have come together to try to mitigate the harm those conflicts and the colonialism did, an enterprise in which Britain has played no small part, is one of the greatest achievements of my generation.
One of the more fatuous statements of those opposed to #Brexit is “We were great before, we can be great again.”. To which I would say we have spent the last half century and more using our greatness to ensure the adoption of those shared values across the world, through our involvement in the United Nations and the European Union.
It breaks my heart to see so many of my fellow countrymen working to destroy that achievement.
After reading this I know I must check out the author’s website “A Bit About Britain”. If his unbiased approach to history demonstrated in this piece is reflected there then I shall rapidly become a fan.
Thanks to Stevie over at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
- Three quotes for three days.
- Three nominees each day (no repetition).
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Inform the nominees.
For my third and final quote I am going to take another from George Bernard Shaw:
Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. George Bernard Shaw.
I have been unable to find the context for this quotation, but he had this to say on the subject in Misalliance: You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race.
I have no way of knowing what my father believed he was fighting for when he flew nightly bombing raids on German cities, because he never made it back from one of them. I choose to believe it was for a better world rather than merely ‘King and Country’.
England, before World War Two and my birth, was a place I could not have loved in the unquestioning way of a true patriot. Bigotry, homophobia and misanthropy were the order of the day. Sexual harassment was condoned as were capital and corporal punishment, including the judicial use of the latter. The inbred sense of entitlement and superiority felt by the proprietors of the largest empire the world has ever known made Britain, on reflection, not a lot better than the enemy she was fighting.
True, Hitler took the whole notion of the ‘Fatherland’, and the superiority of the fictional race to which he claimed to belong, to its most obscene conclusion. But the seeds for such beliefs are there in the idea that any one country, any one religion, any one ethnicity, is superior to all others.
A better world
We did begin building a better world after the war in which I was born and my father died. The post-war government in Britain created a health service free at the point of use. Internationally the United Nations, NATO and the European Union brought the promise of lasting peace. I hope Frank senior would have approved of my embracing of centre-left politics in the 1980s, and my active involvement in, first, the UK Liberal Party, and then the Liberal Democrats. I was proud to be a member of two local authorities that argued for, and, to the extent they were allowed to, implemented, progressive policies on Education and other council run services.
Under successive governments Britain decriminalised homosexuality and eventually made gay marriage acceptable. Capital and corporal punishment were outlawed, along with sexual harassment and other forms of bullying in schools and workplaces. Women were empowered to follow careers that proved them to be the equals of men – though their pay still lags behind. The established Church allowed women priests and, quite recently female bishops. As I entered my twilight years I really thought we had achieved a lot on the road to that better world.
There was certainly a lot still to do. There were people who saw some or all of these changes as unwelcome. Resistance to measures designed to counter the harmful effects of parallel technological developments remained strong, but our rivers and the air in our cities is much cleaner than it was in my youth. There has even been, in the last year, an international agreement to cut carbon pollution, signed up to by 192 nations.
Symptoms of hate
What has all this to do with patriotism? Quite simply that it makes me proud to be a citizen of a country that has played a key role in all these reforms, sometimes reluctantly, but always making steady progress in what I deem to be the right direction.
Until June 2016.
Suddenly a new Britain has appeared over the horizon. A Britain that echoes all those symptoms of hate that characterised prewar Britain. Overt racism, homophobia, bullying, a belief that Britons are superior to their fellow Europeans who have no business even being here. An indifference to the plight of refugees seeking a better life than they could avail of in poverty stricken and war-torn countries.
I console myself that only 36.4% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and that not all of them did so out of motives of xenophobia. But I am deeply saddened by the attitude of the popular presses whose headlines make me ashamed to be British. If patriotism is the belief that the country of my birth is superior to the rest, it is impossible for me to be a patriot in the circumstance Britain now finds itself in. When I look at Britain, as reflected in its media in the second half of 2016, I truly feel like Robert Heinlein’s ‘stranger in a strange land’.
Rosalien Bachus http://rosalienebacchus.wordpress.com
Asha Seth https://knisha.wordpress.com