Today is St George’s Day. As most people in Britain know, St George is the Patron Saint of England and his flag is also the national flag of England. But George isn’t the exclusive preserve of the English. As a patron saint, he’s rather popular all over Christendom – Georgia (the name’s just a coincidence), Portugal, Malta, Ethiopia and plenty of cities and regions. His status as a soldier saint (rather a contradiction in terms, I would have thought) may explain his popularity. Everyone loves a dashing hero, especially one that goes around slaying dragons and rescuing maidens. Of course, George wasn’t English either. He was born in Roman Judea and his father came from Cappadocia in present day Turkey.
George rose in the ranks to become a member of the Emperor Diocletian’s personal bodyguard but came a cropper when he refused to renounce his faith. George was rather handy with his fists and the Emperor virtually begged him to drop the whole Christian thing (or at least keep quiet about it) but mouthy George wasn’t having it. He was martyred in AD 303, enduring a slow and horrible death.
I’m not much into the trappings of nationalism, though I am quietly patriotic. I have written before that it’s fine to be proud of where you are from, it’s not fine to think you’re a cut above the rest. The English Defence League (EDL) and other right-right nutters have rather hijacked and debased the symbols of English nationhood. Consequently, people like me wouldn’t dream of waving the Flag of St George in the same way that the Irish, Scots and Welsh proudly display their own national emblems.
I’m hoping the EDL thugs will eventually slide back to the bottom of the pond. Their travelling circus of clowns is looking increasingly thin and desperate. I really can’t take seriously those who think that The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the pleasure palace built in oriental style for George IV, is a huge mosque. Oh, the irony. The best way to counter the idiotic is with ridicule because the EDL is ridiculous.
We Are Norwich is a rainbow alliance of political, faith and community groups and individuals who have come together to oppose the presence of the English Defence League (EDL) in the fair city of Norwich. The EDL intends to stomp through the streets tomorrow (10th November 2012) to protest against a decision by the City Council to ban a stall by the Norwich Reformed Church* because of the alleged Islamaphobic nature of one of its leaflets. We are Norwich is planning a peaceful, family-friendly counter-demonstration that celebrates and protects the city’s diversity, multiculturalism and honourable tradition of inclusion. The counter-protest will start at 11am in Chapelfield Gardens. Expect an uplifting party atmosphere. For more information please check the website.
We Are Norwich is a broad church and did not campaign to have the EDL march prohibited. I think this was the right approach. Generally, I’m not in favour of banning this and banning that. It tends to drive things underground and is often counter-productive. As a card-carrying dyed-in-wool liberal, extremists on both sides of the political spectrum tend to leave me frigid, none more so than the EDL, an odious little organisation with obvious links to the British National Party and other Far Right misfits. I don’t particularly want them goose-stepping through this city but I wouldn’t stop them coming either. When an EDL grunt was asked by Chris Goreham on BBC Radio Norfolk’s Breakfast Show what the English Defence League was actually defending England from, the silly young man was unable to provide an answer, any answer, and just rambled on incoherently. A fine example of an education system gone awry, I thought. Conversely, Nick O’Brien, Secretary of We Are Norwich, was able to articulate coalition values with convincing authority and depth. It was just a shame that Nick was abruptly cut off by DJ Chris when he mentioned Hitler. Clearly, Auntie Beeb doesn’t do the Third Reich for breakfast. It might put middle Anglia off their muesli.
I hope events tomorrow pass by without serious incident. We Are Norwich has worked closely with the Police to ensure a loud and lively but peaceful affair. As for the EDL? Who knows. They’re a flaky lot. In a liberal, pluralist society like ours, we must accept that people are entitled to hold different views, no matter how offensive they are. There are lines to be drawn, of course. Preaching hatred is one of them, violence is another. We’ll see what lines get crossed tomorrow.
*The Norwich Reform Church is the only organisation, faith-based or otherwise, to demonstrate against Norwich’s annual pride event. This says a great deal about the package of prejudices these people have adopted to promote their particular nasty brand of hell and damnation Christian love.
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