I’ve been given some cause to think about patriotism lately. At the end of a very successful Olympic games, something I have to admit I was not being overly keen on, given the huge hole in our government budget and knowing full well the money spent on the games when some of our people are being denied benefits just because they are an easy target, I witnessed some blind fury from someone I respected.
This just because we didn’t all kowtow and exclaim what a wonderful closing ceremony it was. I then saw some open bigotry from someone who should know better and who refused to see facts but preferred to live in an angry bubble, scapegoating people because it was easier than agreeing that the government had got their policies sodded up.
It made me deeply uneasy. You see, that sort of “no one argue”, “you are not a patriot if you don’t agree” kind of stuff I saw years ago in South Africa. It was the type of patriotism that sent young white men into a war most of them didn’t want, with young black men who just wanted the freedom to be treated as human beings. It was the type of patriotism that saw kids raised as racists, standing for the national anthem, in defence of the indefensible.
And it is not that I am not proud to be British. I am. We are a small country, faced with some unique challenges. We are essentially four countries in one, some vying for unity and yet when the crunch (or the Olympics) come along … we are completely united. Despite some narrow minded bigots, we have a country where people can still come and work and live good lives.
We have a country which by and large treats people equally. We live with a fairly low crime rate, fairly low gun issues, an economy which, despite the utter battering it has received, is still fairly stable. I live in an area which has always been mixed and happy to be so, and despite the rising tensions of the last few years has stayed pretty safe.
There are things I loathe about the UK but I would loathe them everywhere – the few bigots we have; the fact that we still can’t treat our animals and older people with love and respect, our government which seems hell bent on annihilating certain vulnerable sectors of the population by removing their benefits at a time they need them to most … to name but a few …
However, does that make me unpatriotic? Hell no.
I recall when the Olympic vote was due in. My boss and I did something we never did before or after – we sneaked off to the pub and watched it happen. When the UK were awarded the Olympics on 6 July 2005, we did something else we never did before or after – jumped up, yelled, hugged and kissed each other and I cried.
The next day I cried for different reasons as four madmen blew up a bus and tube trains, killing and injuring over 100 people. My people, the people of my country, murdered and maimed in an insane display of how patriotism and unquestioning belief in a god-given right to hurt others in the name of religion or state can end.
I worked my ass off to keep my staff safe and informed and a service running because it was the right thing to do against a backdrop of not knowing whether I would ever see some of my team again, against a London collapsing in the face of a known and unknown terror.
Which brings me back to my original point – blind patriotism serves no-one well. It is the unstinting belief that you are better than anyone else and god help anyone who disagrees with you. It is nearly always displayed by people who think they lack power, who have to cling to something bigger than themselves in order to feel part of things.
It leads to war, massacres on tube trains, bigotry and paranoia. Far better to celebrate the stuff we do well and work hard to eliminate the things we do badly.
Yell about the change you want to see, be the change you want to see, but please, people, never, ever submit to the unquestioning nationalism that sees you shout at people just because they dare to express an opinion that differs from yours, because they dare to say that a closing ceremony is not as good as the opening one or because they stand up against you making scapegoats out of people with far more limited resources than yourself.
You are on a very slippery slope ..