What does it mean to be British?
Are you a national because you were born here? Is it because of your English family heritage? Or, is it the royal coat of arms on your burgundy British passport?
Being British is all of those things.
Let me ask you again.
Does being a Brit mean you are a royalist? Is it because you love fish and chips and you wear your socks inside your sandals?
Being “British” can be those things…
“Britishness” can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, making the periphery of “British Nationalism” decidedly unclear.
Monica Samia, 22, British Citizen:
“I have a British passport. My parents pay their taxes, I celebrate St.George’s day, I proudly wore an England football t-shirt as I cheered on our team in the 2014 World Cup in a Beirut pub, so why am I still too foreign for here?
I left Lebanon with my family and I came to the UK when I was nine years old. Fast-forward 13 years; I am now a British citizen and I have graduated from a British university.
I feel like I embody British values; I am tolerant, open minded and part of a super connected world today, thanks to multicultural London.
However, I am yet to feel 100% British and have never been made to feel completely welcome here. Perhaps it’s because I’m not ‘white English’, or because I am very proud of my Lebanese heritage and therefore still perceived as ‘foreign’. It’s an ongoing struggle”, Monica said.
Ryan Fraleigh, 20, foreigner:
“I’m not technically British, but generally for the sake of ease when I’m abroad and someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say England.
That’s not meant to be deceptive—and it’s much easier than explaining through an English accent that I’m American—but rather that it’s the country I feel an affinity to, and the place I refer to as home.
I think part of being British, passport holding or not, is understanding the unique cultural values we have without second-guessing them: from the overwhelming urge to say ‘sorry’, to our holiday traditions, it’s almost like being part of one huge “inside joke” and not realising it. As we see more and more immigration, it’s great to see people who share similar values adopt our ways, and devastating to hear of communities who feel entitled enough to want ethnic Brits out. Essentially true Britishness boils down to inherently understanding British values”, Ryan said.
So, despite months of national rhetoric in the lead up to the EU Referendum, and now post ‘Brexit’, the issue of National identity in Britain, is no longer black and white, but rather a 50 Shades of Grey.
In 2011, former Prime Minister, David Cameron spoke about the sensitive issues concerning national identity in Britain;
he said, and we live in a country where those values are upheld by law.
However, the EU referendum has ensued an intense debate about the state of British nationalism.
“We want our country back!” many Leave campaigners chanted.
Who does? Where did it go?
There appears to be a weird mismatch between the grievance and the solution to a number of different issues.
Research published by Opinium in July showed over 1.1 million, out of the 17.4 million British citizens who voted “leave,” apparently regretted their decision after.
The reasons for this varied; some people used ‘Out’ as a protest vote towards the establishment and immigration issues, some thought their vote wouldn’t matter, and others had second thoughts, after feeling robbed after believing lies such as the ‘350 million’ sent to the EU.
The Leave campaign addressed real issues concerning the British national identity; such as the state of our economy and health care system, about laws being passed in a government over 200 miles away from Westminster, and the inherent threat of home grown terrorism. However, these complaints were also exacerbated; generating fear, racism, religious hatred, and with it, a move towards nativist nationalism.
The rise of far right groups such as UKIP, Britain First and the English Defence League were blamed for stirring hate and lies. But, is the emergence of nativism the result of xenophobia or genuine national concerns?
Just as we are told not to label all Muslims as terrorists, are all members of the far right racists?
I first went to the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right street protest movement that focuses on opposition to what it considers the spread of Islamism and Sharia.
Although the original founder, Tommy Robinson, insisted that the EDL was only against the rise of radical Islam, other members were noted for being expressly anti-Muslim; resulting in face-to-face confrontations with groups such as Unite Against Fascism.
How do you define British Nationalism?
“British Nationalism = Love of our country, honouring our traditions,defending our values and our independence, supporting all that is good for the British people and respecting other nations and cultures that do not threaten us”. EDL, September 2016
Sound reasonable to you?
I managed to get in touch with “Matty P”, 38, from Birmingham - one of the regional organisers of the EDL in the West Midlands.
I pressed on open-mindedly.
“I can’t stand the press and I’ve had lots of runnings with them over the years,” he said. And he went on.
“I’m far from racist, I grew up with black people and have great friends who are black and Asian. One of my mates who is black (well known in Birmingham) knows I’m EDL and even he said “Matty you aint racist one bit, the press are trying to bring you down”.
“The thing I am against is militant Islam and I know a few Muslims who agree with me but they will never speak out – why? We live in a city that is very multicultural so why cant we all stand as one and speak out?
“I’ve been trying for years to get all the communities of Brum to just sit down and talk, unfortunately the Muslim community didn’t want to know.”
What would you do if you were Prime Minister and could change Britain today? I asked.
“This is my opinion, not that of all EDL members even though I’m sure quite a few with agree with me on this; but the first thing I would do is sort immigration; I’m not saying stop immigration as this country has helped others out and will continue to do so, but we need to watch who we are letting in as these people could be a part of ISIS or a terrorist organization.
“I admit not all immigrants are bad people; some of them just want a better life for their families, and lets be honest, who wouldn’t? It’s just risky letting in every Tom, Dick and Harry.
“I would also like to see schools teaching kids more about the history and culture of Great Britain, yes, learn about other cultures, food, dress, language, but keep the religion side of it out of schools (all religions) and let the kids decide what religion they want.
“However, if religion still needs to be taught at schools then make sure the kids are told the truth, not lies”, he said.
And what makes someone “British”? I asked.
“If you are born in Britain, you are a Brit. The only thing that annoys me is that some people who live and were born in Britain don’t respect our ways, but they want us to obey theirs. I wouldn’t go to a country demanding this and that, I would follow the rules of that country and respect it’s people”, he added.
It’s clear a lot of issues derive from a lack of understanding between groups in British society. If fixed, Britain could bring back a collective concern for the issues that everyone faces, as a nation.
Adding to his speech in 2011, David Cameron declared an end to “passive tolerance” of divided communities, and said; “members of all faiths must integrate into wider society and accept core values”. International Security Conference, Munich, 2011
This need is starting to become more recognised, by communities, charities, and even by religious leaders.
This awareness that we need better cooperation and better understanding has manifested itself in movements and organisations.
This year the “Near Neighbours” programme was awarded an additional £1.5million in funding from the British government, to bring communities together and to build relationships of trust and cooperation.
“We have run 1100 projects, in the last 5 years”, said Mrs Liz Carnelley, the Near Neighbours Program director.
“We do projects for young people, some are to do with health, sometimes we will turn a wasteland into a community garden, do cooking and sports events for example.”
What is the biggest obstacle that prevents people coming together? I asked.
“Its issues of capacity, people have businesses, kids, jobs, big issues to solve; so time is an issue and then sometimes local politics can get in the way, or people can be suspicious of our initiatives”, Mrs Carnelley added.
Do people from ethnic communities feel British? I asked.
“Many people consider themselves British, if they live here. Take Mo Farah, he’s British! He represents Great Britain, but he was actually born in Somalia and came here as refugee”, Mrs Carnelley continued.
“There are shared and common values between people of different cultures and faiths; hope, peace, wanting their children to grown up in a safe way, caring for people, wanting to help others.
“Its important to think about the values that brings us together instead of thinking about the things that separate us”, she said.
The British government is tackling cultural practices that do not adhere to our values.
For example, the Foreign and Commonwealth office work tirelessly with the Police and charities, working together to stop cultural practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
Last week, radical preacher Anjem Choudary was jailed for 5 years, for inviting support for the Islamic State. The full force of the British law is being exercised in that regard.