‘Nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ are two words which are often used interchangeably in conversation. However, this use is inaccurate and misleading, and taints the actually quite positive term ‘patriotism’. The fundamental difference between the two words is simple; a patriot has pride in their own country, whereas a nationalist believes their country, or in some cases ethnicity, to be better than other countries. In no way am I a nationalist, but I am certainly a patriot.
I think for some the term ‘patriot’ conjures up visions of the Jubilee, the Bulldog, a Union Flag and a certain reminiscence about the Britain of times gone by. Unfortunately, this nostalgia can also bring about sentiments of racism and hatred, an obscure wish for a Britain that was somehow more British (if anyone even knows what that means?)
My source of patriotism doesn’t stem from this, and in fact, my source of patriotism openly rejects it. For I am proud of the NHS, the welfare state, and the fact that the majority of us are tolerant and live alongside very different cultures and lifestyles to our own. I think sometimes those who yearn for the values that we fought for in the Second World War are fundamentally mistaken about those same values, and instead prefer to leave out the importance of tolerance and democracy that made us dislike the Nazis so much?
If I am fundamentally wrong about the Second World War, and in fact we did fight in the pursuit of racist and undemocratic values, then I am certainly not a patriot, but this isn’t the case. It would be a tragedy to allow those who seek to divide us to try and define what it means to be British, and more specifically, English.
Unless it’s World Cup season, the St George’s flag and its meaning have become synonymous with the likes of the National Front, and more recently, the EDL. It seems we have just accepted this, and allowed fascists to carry a flag in order to (mistakenly) represent us? I propose we fight back, and redefine for ourselves what it means to be English.
England not only hails some of the most influential scientists to have lived, including the likes of Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking, but also played a large part in the suffragette and trade union movements. This in itself is something to be immensely proud of. Furthermore, should we not be in awe at how diverse we are? London itself is a fantastic example, being able to experience Bangladeshi culture in Tower Hamlets, Caribbean culture in Peckham, and then quintessentially Sloane culture in Chelsea? We are industrial in the North, Naval in the South, innovative in our capital, and everywhere we pursue different cultures and lifestyles, and it is this variety and our shared commitment to one another that holds us together!
England has many issues, including economic, racial and gender inequality. However, we should not allow those who capitalise on these issues, in order to push racist beliefs, to define what it means to be English. Let us redefine why we are proud to be English, and start celebrating St. George’s for the right reasons- let’s celebrate what makes us different, but crucially, what makes us the same.
By Lawrence Pople