Don’t make it about …

In my other article this morning I talk about the grief and mourning process thinking about what happens when this happens in a wider public context. Of course one of the emotions that can be part of grief (though doesn’t always have to be) is anger.

I don’t think there has been much of that around with the death of Elizabeth II being peaceful and in her later years. However, there have been a couple of points of tension because events are happening in the context of wider geo-political life and so I wanted to respond to a couple of those things and then draw some more general lessons.

First of all, there’s been the issues of race and colonialism.  Most of the controversy incidentally has been coming from certain political quarters in the US and I suspect says more about the US political context than it does about anything here.  The colonial angle is that we cannot ignore Britain’s past as a colonial power and the issues of Empire.  Now, consistently over the years I’ve seen people seek to make a case for the British Empire as benign.  That may well have been the case at certain times and in certain places but doesn’t take away from the wrongs of Empire and colonialism -the idea that one country and/or one race can build a system that depends on other countries and races existing to serve them having been subjugated.  

We must not ignore the hurts caused by that past. Recently when evangelising at the Commonwealth Games, I met a man who simply refused to take a Gospel because he associated Christian faith with a white man’s God -even though I was out that day with an African brother.  His anger at past colonialism but a stumbling block in the way of him hearing the good news. That grieved me because that is the greatest harm that empire has done.

However, having deep connections with a number of countries around the world, having grown up in a multi-ethnic city, Bradford and having pastored in Smethwick, another multi-ethnic context with significant numbers from Commonwealth backgrounds, I’ve seen a different story when it comes specifically to the Queen. Our 2012 Jubilee celebration event was overwhelmingly attended by people from non-white British backgrounds.  The Queen carried affection that seemed to cross those boundaries and barriers.  Indeed, she seemed to do so in a way that went beyond perceptions of what the monarchy itself historically represented noting that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were booed by some, though not all in their recent tour of the Caribbean. 

Why is this? Well, I think it reflects the fact that there has been significant change over the past 70 years as the age of Empire came to an end. The Commonwealth has a colonial history but is something different today and the Queen herself was central to how that was shaped recognising past failings. If there was a deep affection for her from around the Commonwealth and across a multi-ethnic culture in Britain today, it was perhaps in response to the deep affection she had for others.

Another variant was seen in this tweet from a US professor. 

When people gently corrected her to point out that no, we weren’t getting two weeks holiday here for the Queen’s funeral, instead of withdrawing her tweet, she doubled down and began to lash out at people who had responded to her. She accused anyone who disagreed with her of aggression against her and lack of empathy with the deaths of black people.

The problem is that she had her own specific political agenda concerning the problems of police brutality and racism in the States and I presume of issues with labour laws affecting the provision of time to grieve.  But she was wrong on her facts, first because as I said above we are not getting two weeks off. She may have spoken to someone who has immaturely and incorrectly begun to talk about how they didn’t have to work during the period of mourning – that person will be in for a shock when they return to the office if they haven’t had a call sooner – but that doesn’t provide any evidence for her claims whatsoever.  I would hope that a classroom professor would do better in handling basic facts, logical reasoning and in responding to challenge and correction.  There was also a lack of emotional intelligence as she did the equivalent of blundering into another family’s wake and starting to hold forth about an issue unrelated to them.  To repeat again, the affection for the Queen and therefore the mourning is something that crosses ethnicity and culture.

The other example was Ireland.  Again, this was primarily about Irish Americans making their views known.  First, we have this tweet.

Now, without unpicking all the details of 1916, it is worth observing that the historical view is that the original uprising was not popular in Ireland itself but that the British response did inflame nationalism. However, the events described were 10 years before Queen Elizabeth’s birth, 36 before her accession to the throne and 106 before her death.  We’ll come back to that. First, though, here’s the second tweet.

As suggested above, there are things Britain needs to reflect on and answer for with regards to her history in Ireland.  This includes the way that Britain responded to the Easter Uprising, it also includes the horrendous events of Bloody Sunday and of course historically, the English role in the potato famine.  Indeed there has been reflection and response with Tony Blair’s apology for the potato famine and David Cameron’s following the inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

However, there is also another side of the story. I can speak a little into that side of the story. My maternal Grandfather was Northern Irish and we’ve had other friends and connections in Ireland over the years.  The other side of the story is that for a significant part of recent history Northern Ireland experienced brutal, criminal violence. The perpetrators were not British soldiers -in fact, they were often on the receiving end from both nationalist and unionist communities having been sent in by James Callaghan’s Government to protect nationalist communities during civil rights protests.  Rather the perpetrators were the IRA who carried out a terror campaign using bombs not just to attack military targets but to maim and kill civilians, women, children, the elderly both in Norther Ireland and on the mainland. The Queen’s family was itself affected when Lord Mountbatten was assassinated.  The IRA’s reign of terror was not just against those perceived as the English enemy or unionist communities but rather they imposed a mafia form of mob rule on nationalist communities. Failure to comply resulted in punishment beatings, knee cappings and executions.  There are nationalists today still trying to get justice after horrific crimes including rape and murder because the IRA put obstacles up to justice claiming that these were internal matters for them.

Incidentally, the IRA received significant funds from the US during their reign of terror.  Again, though despite the fragility there has been in the peace process, people looking on from a geographical distance with only a faint historical connection to lands where ancestors emigrated from might want to pause before seeking to stir up trouble in those places in order to build their own identity politics narrative. Today, Britain and Ireland are neighbouring countries with close affection, today, Northern Ireland even with political challenges right now enjoys peace. And here in places like Liverpool and Birmingham there are large Irish Catholic communities.  Again, the Queen has played a significant role in all of that.

The common theme here is that people have been quick to employ an event here to push their own political agendas.  They’ve done so with little regard to either whether there is a logical/factual connection between their agenda and the events they are piggy-backing on. They’ve done so without any sense of emotional intelligence or concern for the impact of their own words and actions on others. It is ironic that the aforementioned professor’s own twitter account has a pinned tweet talking about the dangers of narcissism. 

As I said at the start, I wanted to make a more general point because whilst I might feel a little indignant as a Brit at the moment, I’m only too aware that this is just an example of human nature at work. It’s very easy to become wrapped up in whatever agenda I’m passionate about, no matter how worthy the cause (and to be clear challenging racism and colonialism are worthy causes) that we see every single event that happens not on its own terms but in terms of how it serves our particular agenda.  When we do that, we end up causing deep hurt and pain to others but sadly can be blind to the hurt we are causing. Like the people in the examples, instead of hearing gentle correction or the pleas of those we are hurting, we end up even seeing those responses as evidence of our own victim status.

If my cause is genuinely worthy and right, then I do not need to pursue it at the expense of others.

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