Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A great day... for the world?

In an email to me yesterday, a good friend wrote about my "letters, blogs, diaries, lectures, diatribes, declamations or acclamations". I replied, "Diatribes - moi?" But let me break the habit of a lifetime to let off steam after yesterday's vote in the House of Commons to redefine the English language and the natural law.

In an item on The World at Ten on Radio 4 in the evening, there was a vox pop from a pub in Soho. One comment struck me. "It's a great day for gays, for Britain and for the world" (my italics). Well, it will certainly have momentous, and unforeseen unintended, consequences for this country, I predict. But isn't it time we got a realistic perspective on our own global importance? Along with other former colonial powers, we lost our colonies in the last century. Only we still cherish the illusion that we are a "great" power. We still presume we have so much to teach these benighted nations, who've only just emerged from the jungle or the desert. Hello! 

Isn't it time that we acknowledged that we have at least as much to learn from those on whom, let's be honest, we still look down as we ever taught them? Let's look at ourselves from outside. It would not be hard to paint a picture of a country whose media are corrupt, whose police are compromised, whose financial institutions are irresponsible, whose politicians are venal and whose aspiring leaders persistently and dishonestly deny perverting the course of justice. It might perplex the onlooker how one small off-shore island presumes to judge and intervene in other nations' internal struggles, when it would vociferously and violently resist the same happening in reverse. It might puzzle him how a country planning to spend billions of pounds on upgrading its nuclear weapons' system takes such a morally superior position over others who attempt similarly to defend themselves. 

It really is time that we abandoned the notion that we are a "great" nation - and by that I don't mean that we have to give up our national pride; but it needs to be proportionate; it needs to be real. We are not morally superior. I was unexpectedly moved last week watching the programme Make Me a Muslim, in which thoroughly secular model, Shanna Bukhari, set out to discover why more young British women are converting to Islam. The answer was not uniform, but it seemed to be a symptom of a profound dissatisfaction with our apparently enlightened culture, and something that occurred to me was whether our national unease with Islam was partly a reaction to its implied critique of this country's morality, or lack of it. Of course we dress up our Islamophobia in the guise of "It's only the terrorists we mind," but I wonder.  

Our politicians are not cut from a better cloth than all others. Our institutions are not intrinsically better than others' institutions. The realisation that we are an "ordinary" nation would save us much in terms of expenditure, of unrealistic ambition and popular discontent. I gather Chris Bryant MP was heard to say in Parliament yesterday, "The world has moved on." That may not be the best reason for redefining language and law, but is an excellent reason for reviewing and realigning our global perspective. What happens in the Commons does not shake the world.


  1. Here, here Dad! Thanks for the recommendation about the MAke me a Muslim programme, I will try and catch it before it goes off iplayer. Looking forward to seeing you and Mum next weekend, Penny x

  2. I used to think that the duty of an MP was to represent in
    Parliament the views of a majority of his constituents, but Airey
    Neave disabused me of that quaint notion. At a meeting to consider
    whether Edward Heath or Margaret Thatcher should be Tory leader, a
    clear majority favoured Heath: an angry Mr Neave said "I did not come
    to hear your views but to explain mine".

    1. What a quote! I certainly get the same impression when I write to my local MP. I have yet to receive a reply which addresses the SUBSTANCE of the points I raised. I'm simply sent cobbled-together bits of the party briefings on the general subject. One would have thought at least a researcher would have the courtesy to read rather than skim....

  3. With respect, I disagree. We do still influence the world, for good or evil, because our highest historic culture is still seen as among the best in the world. Set beside that, is an international perception that the leaders of the the post/war generation from the 60s onwards are so inferior to all British generations before it since the earlist times, that the world is astonished. Due to them alone, we have internationally fallen from a kind of "grace" and we are falling further, faster than ever, in my view. I lived in Tunisia for about six months and believe me, I far prefer to live here still. However, as Italy is sticking with Christian morality, (it would appear) I am thinking that is a better place to move to. The downside is that the Italian race will be nearly gone in 100 years, due to its demography.

    1. Without doubt, we live in a globally interconnected world where no nation is an island entire of itself. But we DO now have dangerous and costly delusions of grandeur. I'm arguing for a more honest and realistic assessment of our own importance, and more importantly a humbler acknowledgement of others'. For example in many "primitive" countries there is still the tradition of welcoming the stranger, of respecting the elders and of cherishing the environment - in none of which we excel and all of which are divine mandates.

  4. I totally agree. I have long been ambivolent about the UK. I hate things in this country, and like things about it. On the one hand we have order and the rule of law. We have the language and a great history. We have books. We have some wonderful people who are carers and public servants. On the other hand, there is the privilege, the power of money, the apathy about the environment, the greed, criminality in the elite, the breakdown of the bonds of society, the harshness, the lack of compassion and care is heartbreaking. I try to fight for disabled at work and for elderly at home. However,I have insight into the situation in other countries in Europe through my husband and the selfishness, lack of morality, family breakdown is exactly the same there, if not worse. We need to value the order and public decency still in place here. My fear is that our Christian legal system which was copied across the globe, is breaking down here. Without that we are finished, as a nation and global civilising influence.