Monday, March 17, 2008

Goldsmith...A reply...

Dong has sent me an impassioned and thoughtful email in response to my little piece about Lord Goldsmith. As it was an email rather than one of our glorious wine fuelled debates, I've assumed that it's for publication.

I'm not sure that I intended to touch on quite such a depth within the debate about allegiance ceremonies, but I think you'll find that Dong has some well argued points that are worth the read. As always, make your own minds up which side of any debate you're on.

For the record, I'm quite in favour of some kind of rite-of-passage marking for our young people, but I also err on the side of Samuel Johnson (1775) who famously noted that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel". Any such ceremony really needs to avoid blind patriotism; needs to avoid the meaningless swearing of an allegiance that few if any will actually feel. I don't know exactly what form such a thing could take without infringing someone's point of view; I look forward to positive suggestions.

Anyway, here's Dong's text - do take the time to read it through:

"Dear Joshua

You can be very good at engaging my attention, having just returned from 3 hard days plying my strange trade in Kingston & Richmond & looking forward to a pleasant day’s paperwork I find my mind distracted by your blog post of the 11th regarding Lord Goldsmith.

I am saddened that you have joined in the lightweight media frenzy over the – reported – recommendation of an “Oath of Loyalty”, knee & jerk spring to mind which is, usually in my experience, beneath you in anything important.

I heard Lord Goldsmith interviewed on the Today program by Humphries who majored on this point for, to my mind, a cheap headline. Goldsmith was at pains to point out that he was suggesting that a young person’s coming of age as a citizen should be recognised and celebrated and if that involved some sort of ceremony it could include a statement of commitment to society from the individual.

He also said that he had come to this idea, from a sceptical viewpoint, after observing the citizenship ceremonies now conducted for immigrants to this country, he was surprised at how moving these ceremonies are for those being granted the right to live here.

This would probably resonate more with Lord Goldsmith that with many others, as a Jew he will be very aware of the value of being welcomed to a stable and liberal society where the rights of an individual are respected and upheld. In my experience Jewish people either through their religion or simply as a cultural norm make sure that their children are aware of their history of oppression & how the human spirit can rise in adversity – does last Sunday’s film spring to mind?

From the original Diaspora, their slaughter in England in 1189, the pogroms in Eastern Europe and the Holocaust in the 1940’s Jewish people have evolved survival techniques, as have other oppressed minorities, that thankfully most of us in the British Isles have not needed. These involve a strong commitment to family, society and over time to the country they live in together with an obsession with education and self improvement.

Jewish immigrants and their descendants have made a real contribution to the life of this country, they are active in commerce, culture, the professions and politics, other immigrant groups from India, Pakistan, China etc are now also making their mark.

These people recognise what a great society we have become over 100’s of years from the Magna Carta onwards, we as indigenous parents are not good in getting this message across to our children. Rights so painfully gained over the centuries are taken for granted and not valued – our debate over the right to vote springs to mind.

Having seen at first hand some of the ten’s of thousand’s of rudderless young people at play, with little on their mind but booze, dope and sex, I would strongly support a right of passage that made them feel special, took them seriously and reminded them – or informed them for the first time maybe – of their rights and where they have come from and their responsibility to respect our laws and customs and the rights of others.

It would also remind whosoever was officiating at such a ceremony, Magistrate, Mayor, local MP or whoever,of the state’s responsibilities to it’s people.

ASBO’s, the gang culture, binge drinking, casual violence, & being educationally subnormal are all signs of a lack of self worth by the individual or their parents
– mercifully rare in Millbrook but we are very lucky to live here – anything that can get a rootless generation that is going to face enormous challenges, needing all the strength and integrity they can muster, to get their heads above the parapet and contribute to society should be seriously considered.

As to the “Loyalty to the Crown” point, this is a superficial issue, we happen to have Monarchy as a symbol of our country, this may change and we may end
up with a President, possibly a Mandela, more likely a George Bush or even a Robert Mugabe, it is the commitment to the society represented by the symbol that is important.

This may not be the best idea but if we do not work hard to engender a sense of morality and respect for others among the young people of this country the result’s that will be felt by our children & grand children could be dire. We already see a society with great social problems, it is right, however clumsily, for the government to be concerned and try to take some action.

Lots more to say but it’s time to get back to work, I have no doubt that you will give a considered response in due course.

Kind regards

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