THE BLOG

A Multicultural Saint

22/04/2013 17:54 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 10:12 BST

The picture of our patron saint is not a simple one, says Fiyaz Mughal, as leading faith groups launch a 'St George 4 All' statement.

As St George's Day arrives today, 23 April, many of us will not understand the significance of a saint who is venerated in such places as Iraq, India, Lebanon, Palestine, Ethiopia as well as here in England.

The son of a Greek from Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and a woman from Lydda (a Greek city in Palestine), the celebration of St George has come to epitomise the struggle of a belief in God against those who renounce it. It therefore has resonance for Christians, but also for many Muslims.

As we know, St George is the patron saint of England and for many centuries the Cross of St George came to be used as a symbol of military might against those who did not profess to the Christian faith. This symbolism was resurrected by the Crusaders and has been seen by (some) Muslims as a reflection of the Crusades and the terrible atrocities that were conducted (e.g. against Muslims when Jerusalem fell through military siege).

Yet there is also a distinction. St George himself is venerated by Muslims who live side-by-side with Christian Arab communities. Therefore the symbolism of St George and military might is associated more with Western forms of Christian tradition rather than Eastern traditions, where he sits more at ease with Muslim communities.

This picture of St George is clearly not as simple and straightforward as far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and its offshoots would like to make out when they march up and down waving the Cross of St George. (Interestingly, the EDL would no doubt denounce our patron saint's Palestinian lineage, whilst dreaming and salivating that if St George were alive today, he may well have been a Golden Dawn supporter).

So, as the EDL muster their handful of followers after their crushing humiliation during their second demonstration in Brighton on 21 April, where does this leave an organisation that is so alien to the culture of what modern Britain has become?

The St George's flag that the EDL waves represents a historical, social and cultural plurality that the far right simply cannot understand. It leaves them looking and sounding like social dinosaurs. The people of Brighton sent the EDL packing a few months ago and they have been sent packing again, this time from a combination of anti-fascist campaigners, faith communities, LGBT groups and the youth of Brighton.

Many communities today seek to reclaim the celebration of St George's Day away from the far right. It is time for St George's Day to reflect the true state of modern Britain - where all communities have a stake in celebrating an occasion which is about shared experiences and values. Within that social space, there is no room for the purveyors of hate or the social dinosaurs who hark on about cultural and racial uniformity.

Let us reclaim our collective symbolism through St George, who represents what we are today: a mix of opinions, genes, cultural and social influences and even, dare we say it, religious beliefs. Those who deny this, deny their very existence.

St George 4 All statement