Flags of Inconvenience

In wishing a happy St George’s Day to all who call England their home – which right now includes my London class – I am reminded of the true value of patriotism. To belong, share a language, a common story, a sense of humour. To take pride in our heroes and seek a coherent national narrative, whether or not one exists or is even desirable. As sociable animals we recognise our best interests lie not in isolation but in the group.

The flag is surely a symbol of welcome, of belonging, of hospitality. It ceases to be this when it is used as a weapon. When it is used as a means to ‘other’ individuals and groups and deny them the absolute hospitality that any flag should symbolise.

In fact, of course, it is, like the humans who design it – both positive and negative. It is an aporia – a conundrum. An inconvenient reminder that we constantly run the risk of excluding ‘the other’ in our thirst for self-identity. Indeed it is, to an extent, inevitable. What is not inevitable is that it should be exploited. No surprise that the malevolent oldĀ prey on the innocent young by providing them not with a clear view of appropriate self and group identity but, instead, with a fairground mirror of distortion. First, sketch out your enemy in cartoon form; then demonise the caricature you have produced; then destroy him.

So hang the flag of St George high on the flag post and proclaim ‘this is England’. Drape it out of the bedroom window. Festoon your car with it and fashion tee-shirts with its scarlet cross. But let’s do so proclaiming Englishness as a touchstone for justice, for fairness, for decency and dignity. But most of all, let it be a beacon of welcome for the traveller, whatever passport or nationality the traveller carries. Happy St George’s Day.

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