The fall and rise of British patriotism
But perhaps those days are coming to an end. In two recent pieces, one on the BBC and one in The Guardian, there are signs that, as a result of the radical Muslim problem which Britian has discovered in its midst, at least some seem to be having second thoughts about the downgrading of national pride and purpose in Britain, and that they are looking to America as a model to follow.
The first, on the BBC, was just a small hint. Harold Evans, former editor of The Times, The Sunday Times, and head of the Random House publishing company, is set to take over for Alistair Cooke as the BBC’s man to comment on America. (For those Americans who may be unfamiliar with Cooke, his weekly broadcasts from the US on the BBC, called Letter From America, are legendary in Britain, having run from 1946 until his death last year.) In a profile about Evans and his feelings about America, Evans is quoted as saying:
Jonathon Freedland of The Guardian hit the same note yesterday in a much more expansive piece dedicated to the same topic. Freedland notes the lack of a coherent and promoted sense of Britishness, and suggests that perhaps this in part to blame for the seeming lack of national loyalty among some immigrants and first generation Britons, particularly Muslims. Quoting one Aatish Taseer, Freedland says:
"In Britain, we've seen those isolated pools of Muslims in Leeds or Huddersfield who seem to have identified with some crazy mullah. But here they are much more likely to say I am American first and a Muslim second. At least, that's my guess.
"No one is ashamed of being a patriot here, whereas nobody dare be a patriot in England - at least not recently, because they are likely to be hooted out. In Britain, patriotism is thought to be the preserve of right-wing nutters and that's a tragedy in my view."
Noting the fact that the US does not seem to have the same degree of home-grown Islamic radicals as Britain, Freedland sensibly, albeit surprisingly, looks to America as a model:
"Britons themselves were having a hard time believing in Britishness", [Taseer] writes. If you denigrate your own culture you face the risk of newer arrivals looking for one elsewhere."
In this case, says Taseer, an Islamic identity, a sense of kinship not with Britain or Pakistan but with the global brotherhood of Muslims, the Ummah.
But surely the chief reason is the way America approaches newcomers. It does not allow a vacuum where national identity should be, but fills the void with Americanness. Loyalty is instilled constantly - not only at one-off ceremonies - whether it be saluting the flag at school or singing the national anthem at a ballgame…Freedland is not entirely correct here. The US does not insist on both sides of the hyphen. It insists only on the right hand side, and simply allows the left hand side to co-exist with it, although the recent onslaught of identity politics (of which Freedland almost certainly approves) is obviously making it increasingly attractive to be some kind of hyphenated American rather than simply an American.
America works because it emphasises not only diversity but the ties that bind, too. It encourages a hyphenated identity - think Italian-American - but insists on both sides of the hyphen. In Britain, liberals especially have striven so hard to accept that people are Scottish or Jewish or Asian, they may have forgotten that they are also British. For bothness to work, you have to have both.
In any event, Freedland concludes:
This, then, is the challenge. To forge a Britishness which welcomesIt is a big challenge, one that cannot be achieved quickly. And it will take a serious adjustment in attitude from those on the left, where “diversity” is something less to be accepted than to be celebrated and worshipped for its own sake. But regardless, it is good to see the strength of American patriotism being recognized by some voices in places where it has largely been treated with contempt in the past.
difference - but which is not so loose, so nebulous, that it leaves a hole where
national identity should be.