Friday 12 September 2014

Britain First and their exceptionally ignorant brand of nationalism

The Britain First Facebook page is an absolute abomination, but what is worse than the extremist content of the page itself is that hundreds of thousands of people have brought into their vile brand of ignorant extreme-right nationalism.

Of course many people have been duped into following their page via "honey trap" images, (the most famous example being the picture of the abused dog they used to raise funds for their party, without actually bothering to inform donors that they were giving money to a political party, let alone an extreme-right one), but there are plenty who willingly buy into the ignorant Britain First brand of nationalism too.

In the week before the Scottish independence referendum I decided to take a quick look at the Britain First page to see what their stance is. Unsurprisingly they are strongly opposed to Scottish independence, and their page is littered with appeals to "save the Union". I'm pretty sure that the majority of right thinking Scots would be absolutely disgusted by the racist BNP-splinter group that is Britain First, and that these appeals to "stay with us" from from a fascist organisation would have the opposite effect, and send Scottish people rushing to the polls to vote Yes.

As I was scrolling through Britain First's output, I came across a quite extraordinary image, one that clashes with their professed love for Scotland in a way that should cause disorientating bouts of cognitive dissonance for anyone with a coherent worldview (one in which mutually contradictory ideas are not easily compatible). Not only does the image clash terribly with their professed love of Scotland, it is also the perfect illustration of nationalist sentiments built on foundations of sheer ignorance (to see my annotated version of this image scroll down to the end of this article).

The image is one of those "share if you agree" Facebook memes, which had been shared by almost 6,000 people, and liked by over 10,000. The sentiments the image expects us to agree with are quite extraordinary, yet all of these people have explicitly agreed with them, spreading the work of a racist hate group in the process, without apparently giving the slightest effort to apply their critical judgement first. I'll detail and respond to the three claims made by the image in the following sections.

Claim 1: "In Briton we have room for only one flag, the British flag"

I'll quickly gloss over the fact that the spelling "Briton" is usually used to denote a resident of Britain, rather than to denote the island itself, and that this island of "Briton" must be an exceptionally small island indeed if it only contains sufficient physical space for a single flag. I'm glossing over 
the incredibly poor wording because as funny as it is, the feeble standard of literacy of the idiot who wrote it is not the issue. The issue is the ludicrousness of the actual sentiment.

The sentiment that the union flag is the only acceptable flag in Britain is completely absurd. Scotland, Wales and England are separate countries, each with their own flag. Anyone who understands the composition of the Union flag should know that it's a combination of the cross of St George (England), the saltire of St Andrew (Scotland) and the saltire of St Patrick (Ireland). So to claim that it is the only legitimate flag is to display complete ignorance of what the flag actually means.

I'm pretty sure that it's only the most nationalist of Scots and Welsh who would take offence at the sight of the Union flag. However most Welsh and Scottish people would take exception to the implicit claim that the Union flag is the only legitimate flag in great Britain, and that the Welsh and Scottish flags are unacceptable abominations.

On the island of Great Britain there is clearly more than one national flag, but then there are also a load of regional flags, the flag of St Piran (Cornwall), the white rose (Yorkshire), the red rose (Lancashire) and the three swords (Essex) are among the most well known of dozens. Then several cities (London, Edinburgh, Durham, Birmingham ...) have their own flags too.

The idea that the island of Great Britain is united under one single flag, and that all other flags are abominations is completely ridiculous, yet thousands of people have explicitly expressed their agreement with this sentiment by sharing the image.

Claim 2: "We have room for only one language, the English language"

This claim is even more extraordinary than the one about the flags.

The first thing to note about the English language is that it is one of the most etymologically mixed languages in the world. The main influences include the Germanic languages of the Anglo Saxons, Scandinavian from the Vikings, French from the Normans, 
the Latin of the Catholic church, Greek derived words used by the scientific community and more recent imports from the many outposts of the British empire (especially India, South Africa and the West Indies).

One thing that it is extremely important not to forget is the influence of the Celtic languages, which all predate English, and are still spoken today in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

The attempted claim that "English is the only legitimate language of Great Britain" is a brilliant example of hopelessly ignorant nationalism. Anyone who explicitly agrees with such a sentiment is betraying their ignorance of the origins of the very language that they speak, and also their ignorance of the fact that the Celtic peoples still speak their native languages, despite foreigners turning up here for Millennia imposing their own cultures and languages on the island of Great Britain.

The idea that English is the only legitimate language of Great Britain is offensively ignorant, yet thousands of people have implicitly endorsed it by sharing the image.

Claim 3: "We have room for one sole loyalty and that is to British traditions and the British way of life"

The mindless ignorance necessary to explicitly support such a statement is terrifying. In my view one of the great things about Britain is that we have freedom of thought and freedom of expression. If I want to say that the Royal family are an expensive anachronism and should be abolished, I have the right to say so, but nobody is forced to agree with me. If these ignorant buffoons want to say that "Briton" only has one flag and one language, they're free to do so, but again, nobody is forced to agree with them.

These people are completely out of touch with reality if they think there's just one thing that British people are loyal to. A look at the reality of the UK tells us something completely different. Thankfully we have religious freedom in Britain so people are completely free to be loyal to whichever god(s) they like, or none. Some people in Britain are loyal to their friends and family, others are loyal to their local communities. Some are loyal to particular charities and causes, others to particular football teams or other sports clubs. Some are loyal to lofty ideas and principles and others are loyal only to the pursuit of material wealth.

There are all kinds of different loyalties in the UK, and despite the fact that many choose to pin their loyalty on things that I find repulsive (the royal family, the ridiculous honours system
, hierarchical religions, the pursuit of material wealth ...) Britain is undoubtedly a better place for the fact that we are free to choose what we are loyal to.

The appeal to "traditional British values" is another common right-wing tactic. There are all kinds of traditional British values that have fallen badly out of fashion, such as
 state sponsored piracythe buying and selling of human beings during the slave trade, the barring of all but the male landed aristocracy from participating in democracy, and the invasion and occupation of other people's countries in order to create the largest empire in the history of humanity.

So since "British values" are so evidently malleable, who is the arbiter of what they are currently? I'd argue the case that a bunch of militant right-wing extremists are just about the last people to lecture anybody on "British values", especially given that one of the established British values since the 1930s has been fighting against right-wing extremism.

From the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 when the working people of London stood in solidarity to give Oswald Mosley and his bunch of black shirted fascists a beating they never recovered from, through the grim fight for survival against European fascism that was the Second World War, even up until the intensely hostile reception given to Nick Griffin when he appeared on Question Time in 2009, one of the most common British values over the last seven decades has been an intense opposition to fascism.

Anyone who believes that there is only one true form of "Britishness" and just one set of "British values" is hopelessly ignorant about the rich, varied and often unsavoury history of this island. Not only are they ignorant of history, they're also just as ignorant of that most important of British values, the freedom to think, speak and behave as one pleases (as long as you're not completely fucking things up for other people by doing it).


The most important conclusion is that there are an awful lot of people out there who are willing to explicitly endorse things without the slightest consideration for the actual meaning of the words they are giving their approval to.

In my view critical thinking skills should be taught in schools, so that the majority of people end up with the cognitive skills to weed out completely ignorant rubbish. However it has suited the interests of the British establishment that the majority of "plebs" are not given training in philosophy, critical thinking, economics or politics during their state education, and that these subjects are reserved for the children of the elite, at fee-paying schools. The danger with this deliberate stupification of the masses - so that they're too dumb to understand that they are being ruthlessly exploited by the privileged establishment class - is that eventually they'll start believing in stuff that is even stupider that the crap that establishment class and the mainstream media have been dripfeeding to them for decades.

As a final observation, I'd like to think that at least a few Scottish people will have taken such offence at the assertion that their flag and their language are illegitimate, that they'll vote for Scottish independence, meaning that the St Andrews cross has to be removed from the union flag. Thus, these rabid, ignorant nationalists wont just be losing their claim to speak for the Scottish part of "British culture" that they deny even exists, they'll also be losing their supposed "one true flag" after it is redesigned without the Scottish element (hopefully to include a Welsh dragon - because dragons' are cool).

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