Britain: An Island of Tolerance…
Geoffrey of Monmouth , in his tome ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ wrote that the founding father of Britain – a refugee named Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who, with a large group of his fellows, was fleeing the aftermath of that historic war – was told in a dream he would find an island where he and his people could be free from tyranny and war. After sailing round Italy (and sort of founding Rome) and fighting through France, they came upon Britain (‘Bruton’), which was inhabited only by ancient giants. They treated the giants to some good old fashioned genocide, eventually settling the land and living happily ever after.
As Britain’s history unfolded some of it was cruelly obscured. The Druids – the Jedi-like spiritual advisers of ancient Europe – were almost entirely eradicated from the record by the Romans, who understood that as long as they continued to influence the indigenous populations of western Europe the Romans didn’t stand a chance of subjecting, sorry, civilizing the Celtic nations. The Druids established the first universities for example, and were well known throughout the continent as tolerant to all, as long as you came in peace. Celts were not so much a racial group but in fact scores of different tribes loosely associated through culture, but all were welcome in Britain, where they would travel to learn the ancient knowledge of the trees.
When the Romans finally gained the upper hand and successfully crossed the Thames at Brentford to invade Britain, it only took a couple of hundred years for the Britons to intermarry all the way to the top of Roman society. The emperor Constantine was the first Roman leader to adopt Christianity, after, according to some accounts, his mother Helena (who was apparently from Essex) saw a cross in a dream, which Constantine marked his soldiers with before they entered into the decisive battle of Rome against Maxentius. So the cruelty of Roman fascism was eventually toppled by their interaction with the British.
But let’s not forget the crimes committed by what then became the Roman Catholic Church, who went on to persecute the Pagans who lived in Europe and the Middle East. By this I mean of course the persecution of Muslims in the crusades to the holy land, and the hundreds of years of witch-hunts that turned the land – and the ages – Dark.
Sick of the control exerted on the hearts and minds of his countrymen by the Vatican, Henry VIII decided that it would be best if he opted out of European Union v 1.5, a decision that would cost Britain hundreds of years of bloody warfare, all in the name of spiritual freedom and tolerance. Henry (or his enlightened advisers) felt it wasn’t right that a central church should say what you were free to explore, be it spiritually or scientifically, so he, along with a handful of northern European countries, decided to rebel and thus the protestant movement was created. Unquestionably it was this decision that allowed the industrial revolution to take place, and so our modern world.
Perhaps what Geoffrey of Monmouth was trying to provide, with his possibly mythical character of Brutus is an excuse for the historically tolerant nature of the British people, as even he couldn’t explain it in purely social terms. It just was. And the Britain of recent history has been no different. She has broken every boundary of cultural exchange at each turn, and despite the well known disputes and atrocities that have been committed by kings, governments and businesses in the name of Britain, the attitude, or ‘Weltanschauung’ of the people is surprisingly laid back. If you reach her shores, and are willing to drop the bullshit and accept people for people, you’ll do fine. For isn’t it true that the British are a bastard breed, made up of hundreds of years of integration and cultural assimilation? Most refugees take the dramatic step to flee their homeland to escape persecution, for if they were happy under the rule of tyranny, they would simply stay put.
The contribution to British culture by immigrant populations is what makes Britain what it is today. From Medieval Sephardic Jews who brought battered fish from Spain, to the Polish, French and Italian citizens who fled Nazi occupation during WW2, everyone is welcome, as long as you can leave what you were fleeing behind. People would go to Britain expecting nothing other than a safe place to be who you really want to be, free from oppression. Of course, having an empire on which the sun never set helped with a constant influx of cultural ideas. After being the first country to abolish slavery 150 years before, Britain shipped in Jamaican and Indian immigrants in the 1950’s, who brought with them rich, colourful foods and new, poly-rhythmic music, both of which were assimilated, bastardised and regurgitated back out into the awe-struck gaze of the wider world, strengthened and renewed with hybrid vigour.
Even the English language is essentially a mix of Germanic (Viking and Saxon) and French; more proof that each time a new culture has arrived (even if by invasion) it has been gradually integrated and tempered by the nature of the people, or the energy of the isle.
It’s a well known fact that practically none of the significant features of modern British culture are defacto British. Curry, the nation’s favourite dish is Indian, London’s beloved Cockney slang is a mix of Romany and English, and from Merseybeat to Grime the music of Britain has been influenced by Black culture.
On the day of the 2005 July 7th terror attacks on London, Londoners didn’t run home and hide under their beds, or board planes and trains to foreign lands, or attack the fellows of the people accused of the bombings. They simply walked home, in traditional British fashion. They walked together in the face of adversity and whilst the summer sun beat down upon them they moaned about the trains not running, and how ridiculous and inconvenient it all was (at least this time they couldn’t moan about the weather).
The History of eccentricity also plays a large part in the Island’s cultural contribution to the world. Noel Coward, Quentin Crisp, Charlie Chaplin, Aleister Crowley, the Suffragettes, the sarong-wearing David Beckham and countless lords and ladies all play a part in the nurturing of individual and unique character or personality that the British are able to embrace and carry off more or less effortlessly, much to the constant gawping of other less confident nations, who appear way too conformist compared to the British. In other words, there is no country on Earth that does eccentric quite like the British.
Britain is and always has been about acceptance and tolerance of other people’s unique features. But this ‘credo’ is a two way street. The people expect you to be tolerant of their eccentricities, and in return they will show tolerance to yours. The slogan above the door so to speak should read ‘Welcome to Britain, you’re safe, now chill the fuck out’. It’s this tolerance that has in recent years almost disappeared. Fueled partly by an Americanized media based around sensationalism of news events, and partly by the intolerance of a few of the people who have decided to seek freedom (or money) in Britain, the danger of intolerance lurks and threatens to make true the prophecies of George Orwell, and his socialist dystopia 1984.
We can see the recent rise of the right – and the English Defence League in particular – as an up-swelling of the latent seething underbelly of all that is wrong about white, Anglo-centrism, or we can see their hostile stance towards others as a reaction to the intolerance of the supposed aggressor. Perhaps the EDL are more an indication that there is a societal problem today within Britain – and not the British people – that is yet to be dealt with in honest and frank terms. In other words, extreme views call for extreme reactions.
So as we rush head first into the future it’s time Britain became Great once again, and not for her empire, technical achievements or military wits. Its time for Britons of whatever race, religion, age or sexual persuasion to get in contact with the ancient energy of the island, an energy that encourages nothing but freedom to explore every facet of life, every nook and cranny of our short time on Earth. There is magic in the grass and trees of Britain, a force beyond the colour of one’s skin, or the god of one’s choosing. It is only through wholesale compliance to this law of tolerance by every citizen of Britain that we have had a modern world. From Brutus to Berners-Lee, via Boulton and Bacon, this revolutionary force has driven the whole of mankind’s progression for hundreds if not thousands of years, and so it is vitally important that we learn to once again obey this energy, or face a destiny where the Future is just a thing of the past.
In 1785, the English poet William Cowper wrote of slavery:
“We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein.”