(This is a transcript of my Thought for the Day on the subject, for BBC Radio Leicester)
A friend of mine recently asked me, “Do you feel British or English?” I said, “both”.
He then said, “OK, as an Asian Muslim, I can understand that you feel British but can you really be English? Doesn’t that imply being white, and maybe a little bit Christian, as well? I mean, your parents are not from this country, even if you were born here…”
This made me think that St George, the patron saint of England, the very symbol of Englishness, was actually not from this country!
St George was born of Turkish and Palestinian parents, and is also the patron saint of other countries, including Palestine. The legend of this great saint was brought to the British Isles by crusaders returning from the Holy Land. And hundreds of years later, English people of all faiths, and no faith, have embraced the characteristic red cross on white background.
To me, St George is a good symbol of an inclusive English identity for our modern, global village. And not only St George, but also other icons of Englishness such as the Royal Family, tea, and fish & chips – all with significant influences from abroad.
How apt for this very tolerant nation and, especially, for this very tolerant city – Leicester. Where diversity is seen as a strength and not a weakness.
Happy St George’s Day!