There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him ‘blackjack’. The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.
We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can’t remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He spoke with eerie, measured anger. He’d fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone ‘different’, that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called ‘the Nazis’. Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were ‘different’ wasn’t merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial.
Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That’s what I understood it meant to be truly ‘British’: to be polite, and civil and fair of mind.
But according to the BNP, I’m wrong. Being British is actually about feeling aggressed, mistrustful, overlooked, isolated, powerless, and petrified of ‘losing my identity’. Britishness incorporates a propensity to look around me with jealous eyes, fuming over imaginary sums of money being doled out to child-molesting asylum-seekers by corrupt PC politicians who’ve lost touch with the common man – a common man who, coincidentally, happens to be white.
As Nick Lowles points out, the fascists are thrashing their hands in anticipation as they gaze upon the disintegration of our political class. Never mind that the BNP’s own accounts aren’t quite in order – its party leader rattles the tin in so many members’ faces that disaffected Nazis type the party leader’s name as ‘Gri££in’ on their web forums – that their supporters don’t like appearing on leaflets, that they slander war heroes, and that the BNP is in any case full of psychopaths and criminals. People are angry. It seems that in this country you can get away with more or less anything if you are at a certain level of wealth and status. The BNP is skilled at presenting itself as a democratic alternative to a Parliament of Whores rather than the sordid little club of racists, inadequates and conspiracy theorists that we know it to be. It has a chance.
The growing prominence of British fascism has started the predictable debate on how to reclaim the flag from racist scum. David T makes a lot of good points in the piece I’ve linked to. I don’t see anything at all wrong with patriotism (as opposed to mindless nationalism). We should be able to say ‘we’ without the quotation marks. It is a shame that, as David says: ‘many people who regard themselves as progressive believe that what is notable about Britain is its racism and its ’shameful history of imperialism’’ – especially when this is a history shared by more or less every other country and people.
It would help if Britain was truly an idea as well as a nation. Homegrown Islamists are rare in America because all kinds of people are able to buy into a written constitution that sets out equality before the law. It’s about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not race, faith, kingship, land, soil and all the other old and stupid myths responsible for darkening the earth with blood.
In the absence of a Great British Dream we should celebrate what is good and brave about this country – our literature, our universities, our political activism, our cities, our music, our traditions of tolerance and fair play and our contribution towards global human rights and the defeat of fascism and totalitarianism.