I got a call from BBC Radio Shropshire yesterday asking me to go on the radio this morning and talk about St George’s Day – I was more than happy to of course.
Other than being St George’s Day, the motivation behind the debate they were having was a press release put out yesterday by an inter-faith group that wants to “reclaim St George’s Day”. Here’s their press release:
Time to reclaim St George’s Day for all English
St George should be a figure of national unity and pride. That’s why we, a coalition of English faith groups and campaigners, are reclaiming England’s patron saint and demanding he becomes representative of all English peoples.
We demand him back from those who promote racism and extremism, and from those who say that St George can only represent a single ethnic group.
We want to promote a new, relaxed and confident, English national identity. A place where a hijab is as welcome as bangers and mash, and no-one is attacked for their race, religion (or lack thereof) or any other belief.
That is why this St George’s Day we are reclaiming St George.
As patron saint for England, St George is there for everyone living in England. Too often he has been hijacked and used as a symbol of triumphalism and division by those on the extreme Right. St George needs to take his rightful place as a national symbol of inclusivity rather than a symbol of hatred.
Although the English national flag, bearing the Cross of St George, was carried by the Crusaders, St George actually lived before the birth of Islam and should not be associated with any hatred of Muslims. He is respected by many people in the Middle East because of his origins there.
Therefore on St George’s Day, we call upon all people of goodwill to join us in:
• standing up against the hijacking of a national hero by those who promote Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of discrimination
• opposing the modern dragons of hatred and intolerance
• saying: As the diverse people of England, we are comfortable with difference, and each other. St George’s Day is a time for highlighting harmony and peaceful national pride.
Al-Khoei Foundation www.al-khoei.org
Baptist Union of Great Britain www.baptist.org.uk
Christian Muslim Forum www.christianmuslimforum.org
City Sikhs Network www.citysikhs.org.uk
Faith Matters www.faith-matters.org
HOPE not hate www.hopenothate.org.uk
Islamic Society of Britain www.isb.org.uk
Joseph Interfaith Foundation www.josephinterfaithfoundation.org
London Baptist Association www.londonbaptist.org.uk
London Boroughs Faith Network
Muslim Council of Britain www.mcb.org.uk
Radical Middle Way www.radicalmiddleway.org
Religions for Peace UK www.religionsforpeace.org.uk
St Philip’s Centre www.stphilipscentre.co.uk
Three Faiths Forum (3FF) www.3ff.org.uk
Woman’s Voice www.womansvoice.info
Firstly I have to say I’m pleased this inter-faith group have taken an interest in St George’s Day – it’s a day for all the people of England, not just white, Christian Anglo-Saxon’s (not that there are many of those left here after a thousand years or so). I’m not much happier for religious groups to try to take ownership of St George’s Day than I am with the likes of the EDL or English Democrats though. I know saint’s are, by their very nature, a religious thing but unless you’re in one of the more orthodox countries a patron saint’s day is a civic occasion more than a religious one.
I’m also not happy with the way the group tries to claim that St George’s Day is associated with the “far right”, racists and other -ists. The only undesirable groups that habitually use the English flag are the English Democrats and the English Defence League, neither of which are any more representative of the English people than Abu Hamza or Amjid Choudhary are of the Muslim population. The traditional peddlers of intolerance and prejudice are the British National Party and the National Front, both of which use the British flag and don’t even claim to be English groups. They are both active in all four member states of the UK.
At the weekend the Stone Cross St George’s Day parade attracted over 15,000 people and there wasn’t a preacher of hate to be seen, just thousands of English people of all nationalities, colours and religions getting together to celebrate their country’s national day. Similar events were held all over the country and I’ve seen no reports of trouble at any of them in the news so where are these racists and “far right” groups that have supposedly taken ownership of St George’s Day? They simply don’t exist.
I wholeheartedly support the objective of this inter-faith group to celebrate St George’s Day properly and to use it as a way of bringing together all the people of England but I wish they wouldn’t resort to such lazy attention seeking phrases like “reclaiming [insert English symbol here] from the far right” because it just devalues their argument.