Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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An English anthem?

And did those feet in ancient time

The preface to Blake's 'Milton, a Poem', containing 'And did those feet in ancient time', as coloured by Blake.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, has been watching the footie, and he wants a debate on an English national anthem. It seems he’s got a little annoyed at the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the England football team at the World Cup in South Africa.

First off, anthems are rather silly things. Their lyrics are often little more than a admixture of jingoism and romanticist nonsense. However, the things of anthems and flags are important symbols of belonging, as long as we recognise they are the symbols and window-dressing of our identity and not its substance.

Second off, I abhor our current paean to Mrs Windsor because she doesn’t even begin to represent what this country means to most of us. The tune and lyrics are both bad: scrap it along with the monarchy! It also has the problem of having some official status in most Commonwealth realms (those countries that inexplicably keep Mrs Windsor as head of state). New Zealanders, for instance, would have the right to complain that the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ by British or English sporting teams that the anthem is just as much theirs — ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of New Zealand, alongside the more common ‘God Defend New Zealand’. In spite of my being a Christian, I recognise that ‘God Save the Queen’ bears a certain theological element that is either inappropriate or questionable to a significant number of citizens — being addressed to God, it is a prayer, and can, historically, be said to be a Christian, even Church of England, prayer.

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South Africa and the British concentration camps

I’m loving the World Cup, trying to watch as many matches as I can, and even like the sound of the vuvuzelas! With many others of the English tendency, I watched England’s first match against USA with nervous excitement. ITV prefaced the match with an outdoor broadcast from Roark’s Drift, and Film4 showed Zulu earlier in the day. As much as I have enjoyed the film in the past, it belongs to the odd canon of boys-own British pseudohistory.

The Boer War is a fairly forgotten piece of British Empire history, although ending only a little over a century ago. In the UK we remember Roark’s Drift (mainly because of Zulu), the Relief of Mafeking, Cecil Rhodes and Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts. It’s far too easy to have this jingoistic comic-book understanding of British history. In some countries, lots of them, the school history books are doctored to instill a nationalistic pseudohistory in the student, but here simple, subtle mass ignorance suffices.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Britain began the 20th century with systematic mass murder in South Africa, which involved the invention of the concentration camp. Part of jingoistic history is to make evil other: foreigners are and do evil,which we boldly resist. By editing out the evil from our own history, we end up with an overinflated impression of our moral superiority. This makes it important to remember the evil our country has done.

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