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June 17, 2004

Cross of St George


England, a people of faith in the face of adversity. St. George's flag, a symbol of that faith, is enjoying a newfound popularity thanks to its association with England's national religion. Unfortunately, that same flag has claimed by xenophobes who would pervert both the Christian message and arguably less ecumenical message of football (via the Melbourne Truth of blogs).

"The National Front used the St George's flag in pathetic imitation of Nazi rallies," says Michael Faul, a vexillologist, or flag expert. "They tried to put themselves forward as the real patriots and some people unfortunately accepted that identification. In doing so, they let the far Right get away with this lie."

A council in Cheshire which last year tried to prevent its town hall flying the "too nationalistic" Cross of St George was subjected to national ridicule. Last April the Asian mayor of Pendle, Lancs, defiantly ran the St George's flag up his council HQ's pole. Mohammed Iqbal, 32, explained: "That'll piss off the BNP."

The Telegraph points to such diverse uses of the flag while the Guardian worries about everything from associations with racism to points off driving licences. It should stop to wonder at the racism expressed by burning that same symbol. The cross of St. George, like any symbol, must be understood in context if it is to be understood at all. The English are alarmed by flag waving of any kind and there is good reason to be suspicious of nationalist feelings given the grotequeries of the National Front. That said, I see this new sense of English nationalism as a natural counterpart to greater sovereignty for Scotland and Wales and a growing appreciation for regional histories that had been subsumed into larger transnational states.

We have something analogous to think about in recent discussions in the Canadian blogosphere. The Tiger in Winter makes an important point about the Canadian Red Ensign. I suppose it is inevitable racist morons should want to make use of it. Let's take it back.

And then... The Telegraph's Craig Brown explains.

A number of Way of the World readers have written to me expressing their irritation with those little Red Cross flags which can still be seen flapping about on passing cars. Many have asked me what these flags mean. I'm glad to be of help. The flags have been attached to the cars under strict instructions from the Government's chief medical officer. They are all part of a "name and shame" initiative to tackle the growing problem of clinical obesity. Each flag signals that the driver of the vehicle is clinically obese, and would welcome help from passers-by in conquering the problem.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 17, 2004 08:57 AM

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I ran across one of those whack-job hatemonger sites while searching for a decent red ensign graphic. No matter what the symbol, there will always be goofballs and lunatics that want it to mean something else.

Since it's a flag our grandfathers fought under, I see no reason why the very small xenophobe contigent should have exclusive use of such a national symbol.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at June 17, 2004 02:52 PM

As a USAian I have no position on the use of the Red Ensign vs. the Maple Leaf, except to note that "retro" is quite fashionable...

Quote: "...I see this new sense of English nationalism as a natural counterpart to greater sovereignty for Scotland and Wales and a growing appreciation for regional histories that had been subsumed into larger transnational states." Well, yes, but there's also the little matter of the European Union. We colonists (loyalists and rebels both) should encourage the Mother Country to be a bit more assertive.


Posted by: Ric Locke at June 17, 2004 08:08 PM

I think the EU plays a dual role here. People opposed to European political integration might turn to traditional symbols of local identity. On the other hand, greater European integration has also encouraged a renaissance in regional identity (I am thinking of Wales and Corsica, there are plenty of other examples) that had been subsumed into various states. France, Germany, Italy, etc. have only been integrated as states very recently (especially Germany, obviously) and have at times attempted to suppress local/regional dialects and identity. The only rationale I used to see for UK participation in the EU was to advance that sort of diversity. Under Mr. Blair, regional government has moved on apace and I see enough risk for everyone in the UK for continued EU membership to merit leaving. Time for the UK to join NAFTA.

Posted by: Flea at June 17, 2004 08:20 PM

I'm with the mayor there. I'm _definitely_ using the Red Ensign, now. :-)

Posted by: Ben at June 18, 2004 01:23 PM


One of the sad byproducts of politics as she are practiced today is this centripetal tendency. Everybody wants to have their very own private Nation and nobody can interfere with them; the polyglot accumulations, primarily Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., are feeling the strain. Hyphenation is in; common cause is out, by the boards. I'm a minority and I demand the right to dictate to you!

So go with the flow. The Federation of Independent North American States: Scotland, England, Wales, Eire, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont... you get the idea. We could look up the old Articles of Confederation. Put the capital on an aircraft carrier steaming around the Banks. Hey, here's an idea: include a demolition charge, with a remote control in each Independent Homeland's capital, in a booth in front of the building. The catch is, the booth is booby-trapped too.

There is, to me, something grand about the notion of synergy. The U.S. and Canada would be pale shadows of what they are if it hadn't been for the mutual interference of all the different ethnic groups trying to rub along. I really, really hate to see us give that up to allow petty tyrants to have their day in the sun, which is what the main part of the drive really is at final analysis.

Ric Locke

Posted by: Ric Locke at June 18, 2004 08:12 PM

The Cross of St George has rarely been used as a racist or xenophobic symbol. If such a phenomonen in modern history has occurred, it is very recent. Racist political organisations and parties have invariably used the Union Jack as a banner. A quick search of the web will reveal this. I resent the notion that the Cross of St George has been used as a racist flag any more than the Welsh dragon or Cross of St Andrew.

Posted by: Steve at December 16, 2004 05:46 AM