Yesterday I was invited to speak about Englishness following a specially staged performance of ‘Redcrosse’. You can read more about the ‘Redcrosse’ project here but in essence, ‘Redcrosse’ is an attempt to reaffirm Englishness and St. George by the Birmingham-based Shakespearean expert Professor Ewan Fernie through an innovative creative work which is partly an original arts event, partly a groundbreaking religious service.
After yesterday’s performance, a number of individuals were asked to give a talk which reflected on what it meant to them to be ‘English’. After the talks, an open Q&A session was held.
Reproduced below is a pretty accurate transcript of my talk:
“Thank you for inviting me to speak this evening.
As some of you will know, for the past 13 years or so I’ve been researching the phenomenon and manifestation of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim expressions and sentiments. Along with that, I’ve also explored issues relating to multiculturalism, diversity, Britishness and more importantly, the problems associated with these.
Of course my research is highly contentious, emotive and at times, brings out the worse in people. This has resulted in me regularly receiving abuse.
So when I was invited to speak, it immediately reminded me of my favourite piece of abuse from recent years. Shortly after my book was published, I received an email from an EDL supporter who asked me:
“How can a man who’s ethnically English hate his country so much?”
A quick post to announce the publication of my new article, “Passing the Dinner Table Test Retrospective and Prospective Approaches to Tackling Islamophobia in Britain”. As it is ‘open access’, despite being published in a peer reviewed academic journal – SAGE Open – you can still download a pdf of the article for free. To do so, click here.
If you want to know what the article is about before downloading, I’ve pasted the abstract below:
“Through establishing the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia and Cross-Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, the Coalition government has afforded significance to Islamophobia. Focusing on definition, evidence, and politics, this article considers British governmental policy approaches to tackling Islamophobia over the past 15 years. Tracing religiously based discrimination from the 1980s to the publication of the Runnymede Trust’s 1997 groundbreaking report into Islamophobia, this article explores how the New Labour government sought primarily to address Islamophobia through a broadening of the equalities framework. Against a backdrop of 9/11 and 7/7, a concurrent security and anti-terror agenda had detrimental impacts. Under the Coalition, there has been a marked change. Considering recent developments and initiatives, the Coalition has seemingly rejected Islamophobia as an issue of equalities preferring approaches more akin to tackling Anti-Semitism. In conclusion, definition, evidence, and politics are revisited to offer a prospective for future British governmental policy.”
Well according to research published in the British Sociological Association‘s journal, Sociology - and more widely by the BBC – such class distinctions are nowadays outdated. Instead of the traditional three classes - applicable to only 39% of people in today’s Britain – it is now more appropriate to consider people as being one of seven new social classes. At the top end of the class structure is an ‘elite’ class while at the other end is a ‘precariat‘; a poor, precarious proletariat that accounts for about 15% of the population.
With more than 161,000 people taking part in the research, the findings show that whilst class has traditionally been defined by occupation, wealth and education, in the twenty-first century this is far too simplistic. Today, class has three dimensions: economic, social and cultural which take into account such variables as income, savings and house value as also the number and status of people you know.
So why ‘Part 3′…? Well, I guess this is an extension of two blog posts I wrote back in 2008. So if you’re interested, you can read Part 1 and/or Part 2 here. Essentially, the blog posts focused on how Easter as a religious or spiritual festival had seemed to have completely disappeared, almost without it even being noticed.
I’m not the only one to think like this. An editorial in last week’s The Spectator noted much the same albeit from a seemingly much more ‘Christian’ point of view. For The Spectator though:
“Unlike Christmas, [Easter is] a story that doesn’t lend itself to much commercial fuss: no kings or presents. Easter is a story of sacrifice, torture, abandonment and death — and, through it all, triumph over that death. Even in the 21st century; despite all the chocolate eggs, Easter gives us pause.”
To be honest, I’m not sure that Easter gives many of us “pause”, a phrase that in itself sounds somewhat archaic.
According to the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that a census should be undertaken across the entire Roman Empire. It was against this backdrop that Mary and Joseph made the journey to Bethlehem: most will know what happened next.
The census at the time of Caesar Augustus would have been quite different to those that take place today. Instead of trying to keep track of adult males fit for military service, today’s census provide politicians, policymakers and academics – as well as many others – with information and data about the many and varied attributes of the population.
In contemporary Britain, we have a census every ten years. Data from the most recent – the Census 2011 – was released earlier this week and what it presents is clear evidence that the ethnic and religious make-up of Britain in the twenty-first century is changing. But whilst Britain is changing, are we clear about how and what impact it will have?
For those who are unaware, the Great British Community is a Link Up UK initiative that is built around a community of individuals that, as the website says, have together:
“brought about some of the greatest innovations in recent years. We’ve created computers, developed jet engines, our music is celebrated around the world, we’ve built incredible and award winning buildings, we’ve won Olympic medals, we’ve even won the Ashes. And many of these achievements and so much of what we consider to be quintessentially British have come about as a result of the different communities that make up Britain today.”
It goes on to add that despite this and Britain being famed for its tolerance, we still have problems around diversity and difference. As a community therefore, the Great British Community is working towards bringing about change by exploring the extent to which Britain’s diversity is contributing to the way we live today. To read more about the Community, visit the website here.