The FIFA World Cup is on its way! Due to start on 11th June 2010, the worldwide football tournament never fails to ignite a sense of pride, solidarity and most importantly, inclusivity across the country. World Cup summers are often buzzing with an atmosphere of positive electricity. There’s a shared sense of joy, and an equally shared sense of disappointment, depending on the team’s success. The uniting theme is steeped in the idea that we’re all in it together.
Unfortunately, something very sinister is happening on the streets of the North West. The English Defence League have begun to carry out anti-Islamic rallies. They call themselves a ‘counter Jihad movement’, but look deeper and you’ll find they have a particularly strong distaste towards the Asian population of Britain as a whole. Put simply, it’s racism.
One of the most worrying aspects of this group’s mobilisation is their hijacking of the St George’s flag. At their racist rallies, the members of the English Defence League claim to wave the flag with pride. At the same time, they’ll chant phrases more suited to the heyday of the 1980s National Front movement.
A quick YouTube search of the EDL’s anti-Islamic protests will reveal a trend. Each protester proudly waves a billowing St George’s flag above their head. Some can be found wearing items of clothing emblazoned with pictures of the Union Jack. But the flag belongs to a cornucopia of British demographics- not just extremists. The very nature of the English Defence League’s rage doesn’t portray a very United Kingdom. The EDL’s hijacking of the flag could lead some to draw an ill informed decision, and tar everyone with the same brush.
The chilling truth is that, by latching onto the once noble flag, they have associated their extreme views with the very nature of England. Of course, it’s an unwarranted and unfair representation of England. The English defence league run riot in the name of patriotism. The uncomfortable result is the flag redefined- and it is slowly morphing into the English Defence League’s symbol of hate. In the context of these modern day Nazi sympathisers, the symbolic value of St George’s humble flag is almost as recognisable at Hitler’s swastika- provoking the same uneasy and unsettling emotions. Racist protesters have seemingly succeeded in warping the meaning behind the flag, and as a consequence, they have also warped what it means to be British. EDL protestors at Bolton’s 20th March demonstration have said, on record: ‘we want pakis out…they take our jobs, they rape our women and they steal our houses’. Are these the kind of words that should be blurted out in the name of our flag? It’s a terrible injustice, but the flag is becoming symbolic of this negative movement. It’s long been a trait of fascists to hijack the innocent notion of patriotism, turning an inclusive sentiment into an exclusive one. One can only come to the conclusion that the organisation is either too lazy or too ignorant to create their own symbol of hate. It’s time to reclaim the flag. The tool is only as good as the hands it’s in. In this case, the tool is the St George’s flag, and the imminent World Cup is a brilliant opportunity to address the issue. This summer will see the flag back in the hands of people who don’t choose to exclude based on criteria as arbitrary as ethnicity. Reclaim the flag!