THE BLOG

When Did Patriotism Become Synonymous With Persecution?

29/10/2014 10:48 GMT | Updated 28/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Nationalism, patriotism and conservatism (with a small c) are principles that have been influential throughout British History. They have helped shape our sense of identity and define our culture, despite the argument as to what that exactly constitutes.

In my humble opinion there are not many things that evoke a greater sense of national pride than a rousing rendition of 'Land of Hope and Glory' or the thought of Winston Churchill defiantly declaring "we shall fight them on the beaches..."

However, in recent years it seems the sense of national pride that one should rightly feel for being British has been hijacked. Groups and organisations, such as the English Defence League and Britain First, have utilised the rhetoric of supposed patriotism to excuse the persecution of those who are different.

In one of the first short documentaries I ever made I spent time with the EDL as they protested against the opening of an Islamic youth centre. The EDL describe themselves as a street activist movement against the Islamification of British society. Tommy Robinson the founder and ex leader of the group claimed they were not a racist organisation and were solely opposed to what he refers to as 'radical Wahhabi Islam'. With that in mind I turned up to film with my cameraman Ally (short for Alamein), who is British born and raised, but of Iraqi heritage. However, we were denied access to film until we concocted the lie of Ally being short for Alessandro and him being of Italian descent. The clear basis of their thought process being how could someone who doesn't look like us be British?

Over the last few months I have been hoping to create a short documentary with Britain First. They are a slightly different entity from the EDL and cite the defence of Christianity as their primary aim. The group propagates the idea that an inherently Christian nation (that has 12% of its population attend church weekly) is under siege from immigration and Islam. So far in my attempts to get Britain First to agree to filming, I have been rebuffed. Jim Dowson co-founder and now ex member of the group informed me that my proposal to create a film aimed at a predominantly student demographic would not be agreeable to Britain First as students are intrinsically 'left wing'.

I have always been fascinated by the Cecil Rhodes quote "to be born an Englishman is to have come first in the lottery of life". With unashamed bias, I agree with the sentiment, however, if you were to interpret that quote literally and had not come first in a game of chance should that be reason enough to condemn you or consider you unequal?

The aforementioned groups have specialised in using the emotive last stand rhetoric of years gone by, the difference being this time that there is no army marauding across Europe threatening our very sovereignty. With this in mind, the focus has changed to our sense of identity; however, we are not a single homogenous group. Britain is, and always has been a set of varying countries, traditions and people melded together in an arguably meritocratic society.

A fundamental part of patriotism is taking pride in our tolerant liberal democracy and in the words of Robert Ingersoll "tolerance is giving every other human being every right you claim for yourself". I understand there is an economic argument to be had (for another day) and I don't reject it, however it should not be in place of a moral one.

Perhaps the most unpatriotic thing to have occurred in modern times is the denigration of our flags and symbols to have connotations of bigotry and intolerance.