What`s So Great About Being British?


Christine Hosein
Debates have been raging about Britishness. Is it summed up by the flag of St George? Embodied by our cricket or football team? Hang on. Doesn''t that exclude the Scots, Welsh, Irish and others in this multicultural country? According to a report in The Times a large percentage of Britons feel threatened by Islam. They believe that one of the world's great religions is alien to their traditional Western way of life. Here Christine Hosein, a London-based Trinidadian journalist of Asian descent, challenges popular notions of nationhood.


Let us not forget the beginnings of Empire during the 17th and 18th century. Its shameful cornerstone was the abhorrent enslavement of Africans and the near slave-labour indenturing of east Indians in the British colonies of the West Indies. The Empire had discovered that sugar, tobacco and rum were lucrative products for the European market. Prior to this England, was quite poor compared to rival countries like Spain and France.

During the early 1930s, through to the 1950s, there were two world wars to recover from. And imperial Britain, with its vast tentacles of power spread across the globe, invited its  "subjects" from the colonies to come and help rebuild the "motherland". The same happened elsewhere in Europe. Mostly Muslim North Africans and Turks in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have consequently made huge economic contributions to their adopted countries.

Now, I know this history lesson may be terribly boring for some of you. But it is a fact. that Britain's wealth is built on the labour and blood of Africans, Indians and other people of colour.

Of course there is the old argument of justification for colonial subjugation, with its refrain: 'We gave you democracy.' Some enligthened commentators might say that this is not the point. British people of African, Asian and Caribbean origins have brought to their new homeland a rich culture of vibrant art, music and, to noticeable degree, a set of cherished moral values.

Faith organiisatiion, across the religious spectrum, bemoan the fact that - post the 1960s permissive society - British morals and values have been declining at a nano speed.

So, what is the British way? Binge drinking commonly seen among 18 to 24-year-olds? Football hooligan-type antisocial behaviour? Murderous road rage? General bad manners? An escalation of low level crime like vandalism? Unfortunately, this is what foreign observers know of Britain.

A recent Home Office survey of crime and alcohol consumption among10 to 25-year-olds, showed that alarming 48 per cent of 10 to 17-year-olds who had drunk alcohol in the past year reported that they got the intoxicating liquor from their parents.

In 2000, the British Crime Survey, estimated that 1.2 million incidents of crimes were alcohol-related. The authoritive research went further to establish a profile of the type of person most likely to be involved in crime. He is an unmarried, white male aged 16 to 29, who visits a pub frequently and drinks lots of alcohol.

It would be foolish of me to suggest, that some Britons of African or Asian origin do not binge drink or commit crimes. But, in Black culture, family life has traditionally been dominated by a matriarchal figure and strong religious beliefs. Children from such a background are less likely to over induldge because they are afraid of their mother giving them a smack or two (and rightly so). The same goes for Jewish and Latino families.

Alcohol consumption is forbidden in Islam. Of course, there may be some Muslims who drink. They may even be alcoholics. Many myths abound among the majority British population about Hindu and Muslim families. For instance, yes there are arranged marriages. But many of the couples in these develop strong marital bonds based on a genuine love each partner has for the other. Not all arranged marriages are forced (as perceived by the British media). Participants might venture to observe that, at the very Royal top of British society, arranged marriages are common yet they do not attract negative comment as a resuit. A whiff of hypocrisy here?

Faith communities keen to hang on to their strong commitment to family values point out that, even with its free health care system and access to family planning clinics, Britain continues to have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. There is not one answer to pin-point the exact reason for this, but in countries where the rate is lower, such as Spain and Italy, pre-marital or teenage sex is strictly discouraged by societies still dominated by powerful religious beliefs.

The average age of first sexual contact for teenage girls can be as low as 13 years in Britain, whereas 16 to 18 is the norm for teenagers in Italy and Sweden, the latter despite its 'free love' liberal approach to sex, has had the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe and this has been put down to its robust approach to sex education which is part of the national school curriculum.

Getting back to the point I would like to make. It is easy for a person to criticise or demonise a different ethnic group, culture or faith because of their lack of understanding and knowledge. It is simply not good enough to think that the British way of life is best because of the past glories of Empire. In a Europe of 25 nations and a world much bigger and diverse than that, clearly Britain no longer rules supreme. But this once great country would be a lot better off if it fully embraced the other proud cultures in its midst which strengthen the place, instead of knocking them as alien and threatening.


3 Responses to "What`s So Great About Being British?"


Thu, 07/06/2006 - 00:58
<p>I agree with some statements and disagree with others here. But that does not mean that I do not respect what you are saying. </p><p>I am a white male, born and bread in London. I am very proud of my country and&nbsp;although I cannot change the past, I am still a proud Englishman. </p><p>Yes there are those who choose to drink and behave like idiots. But there are those, such as myself who choose to drink and take responsibility for my actions. Now whether or not football hooligans and racists mar the reputation that people have with this country, I continue to stand by it and I hope you will too, because it is the minority who are too narrow minded to understand anything other than their own miserable lives.</p><p>Now I may, or may not be a very small minority of people who more or less fully understands where you are coming from. I grew up in Cranford, my two best friends are Asian and Black. On top of that, I grew up in the presence of the Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities just to name a few. </p><p>I am one of the people that will agree with your statement regarding these myths of the Muslim and Hindu communities. It is rediculous and narrow minded for so many people to beleive that two people are simply put together and are forced to marry. I know that is no longer the case.</p><p>If I may I would like to touch upon something with you that you did not mention. I respect all faiths and their beleifs, and would never challenge anyone otherwise. But my friend is dating a white Christian girl, and while I am blessed to be very close with his family, they cannot be told of his relationship because of the consequences. I just do not understand why. </p><p>I am sure there are plenty of answers to that question I am just eager to hear your take. </p>


Thu, 07/06/2006 - 10:01
I agree, respect, tolerance&nbsp; and understanding is needed by all faiths.


Tue, 08/15/2006 - 14:50
<p>Although I currently live in Switzerland, it is here that I feel most especially English (being but one nation among the British). I would say I feel a sense of awe and horror regarding my nations past, as I neither contributed or directly benefited (as only a minority ever did) from the wealth building Empire. Surely it is important only that we collectively recognise the inequities carried out in the name of the British Empire, and hope to learn lessons regarding respect, fairness and tolerance, because such things are truly lacking in the 21st century UK, and Europe as a whole.</p><p>&nbsp;I will never be shamed of the violent and equally remarkable past of my motherland, but I am of the present state of the nation.<br /></p>