Anglo-Saxon attitudes

2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony (picture Nick Webb)

Praised by critics and acclaimed by the public, the opening ceremony at the Olympics did not please Conservative MP Aidan Burley.

“Leftie multicultural crap,” he said.  “Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!”

Now, Aidan Burley has form when it comes to insensitivity, having attended a Nazi-themed stag party last year, but what to make of this latest outburst?  The truth is that the opening ceremony was not really multicultural at all.  OK, there were rapping and mixed-race relationships depicted, but that’s simply British culture as it is today.  Britain has, and it always has, absorbed influences from around the world.  Didn’t the Rolling Stones start out by copying Chuck Berry and the Chicago blues?

Multicultural crap would have included people singing in Bengali or Yiddish, following an obstinately different way of life while living alongside the majority community.  Multiculturalism means accepting those differences and finding a way to create a democratic society together.  If Aidan Burley thinks that Dizzee Rascal is an example of multiculturalism, he is in for something of a shock.

If the reality of multiculturalism is yet to reveal itself to Aidan Burley, so is the reality of monoculturalism.  For Dizzee Rascal is just as much an example of British culture as the Red Arrows or Shakespeare.  Culture is not something that politicians or the establishment can control as they wish.  Culture emerges from what the people do, not from what they are told to do.  A political outlook that depends on the immutability of culture will fail.

Mitt Romney’s adviser who rebuked President Obama for not respecting the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” embodied in the US/UK special relationship needs to learn the same lesson.

“The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

History is, in its very nature, in the past.  Political relationships are needed for the future, and yes, while Britain and America have many deeply shared values, the exclusivity and self-sacrifice implied by the special relationship no longer has the relevance that once it did.

If our present was still to be determined by our Anglo-Saxon past, the Olympic opening ceremony would have featured not Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Mary Poppins but Beowulf, King Arthur and the ship burial at Sutton Hoo.

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