LONDON FAILS TO CELEBRATE IRISH PRIDE

Born and raised in New York, I’ve been privy to some pretty joyous celebrations. A city that never sleeps doesn’t mind closing down streets so that thousands of people can make merry.  New Yorkers don’t need much of a reason, and will honour holidays as popular as Thanksgiving and as obscure as the Greater New York Good Neighbour Parade.  Yet, there are some parades that seem to shake up the Big Apple by the sheer magnitude of people who attend.

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York drew hundreds of thousands of merrymakers. This is how I remember the Big Apple during St. Patty’s. Day. People showed up for work wearing green no matter what cultural background they were from.  Employees of big firms would leave the warmth of their office buildings to hightail it down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a chat and some lunch with strangers.  There was food and merriment everywhere around the city.

So during my first year in London, as St. Patrick’s Day grew closer, I expected a celebration the likes of which Francis Scott Key himself would have had a loss for words.  Yet, when I first saw London’s version of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought that I had gotten the date wrong.   After all, isn’t Ireland right next door?  And aren’t more than 3 percent of 7.5 million Londoners of Irish descent, according to a 2001 census?

The celebration turned out to be a dismal disappointment.  If you were outside of the Trafalgar Square area, you probably would not have known that a celebration was taking place.   Strangely enough, London only officially began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 2002; another strange fact that I couldn’t get my head around.  Many of the people that I have met in London are from Ireland or have parents from Ireland.   Yet, the celebration here when compared to New York City is a small affair.  I actually became angry for Irish people everywhere.

This year, in Trafalgar Square and surrounding areas, about 30,00 people attended including Mayor Boris Johnson.  Yet, we are forced to wonder to what extent Johnson’s appearance was politically motivated.  He publicly dedicated the celebration to “peace” in order to honour a police constable and two fallen soldiers from Northern Ireland, who were killed in a bombing by the Continuity IRA.  This was after cutting £50,000 from the budget for the event.  In 2008, £150,000 was spent for St. Patrick’s Day when Ken Livingstone was in office.

While we can acknowledge the effort made by the city of London to honour Irish culture, many Irish people would agree that London could do much better.  They don’t seem to hesitate in celebrating all things British in their capital.  It is about time that the rest of the Londonites get their due.  Although, with personal bias, I can say that they will never party as lively as they do in New York City.

QUESTION TIME FOR BNP

Nick Griffin’s proposal that the British race would benefit from a sort of purification process is nothing new. History has produced many xenophobes, who consider the mixing of races an abomination rather than evolution. It is difficult to imagine that anyone educated could see the world in such a limited way. He fails to see what many have come to understand; the very idea of race is a human convention, which may have been created to identify people from different areas, but has been unfortunately twisted to exclude racial groups from certain privileges. Griffin’s fear is the fear of having to share. He is no doubt from that ilk, who longs for the time when they had the most toys.

Baroness Sayeeda Varsi made a brilliant point tonight when she suggested that England benefits from accepting ‘the best and the brightest’ from around the world because they add to Britain’s society. She does not assume that Britain always has it right. She instead suggests that some societies make the best bakers, while others are better painters. In other words, each culture does something better than any other culture does. To assume that Britain can prosper in a vacuum is a testimony to the limits of Griffin’s thinking. No culture in Western civilization remains without strong influences. Even America, which seems to force their gripping and long lasting chains on other cultures (fast food chains, bookstore chains, etc.) is still highly influenced by British culture. One only needs to spend time in New England states like Vermont and Massachusetts to experience a decidedly deliberate tether across the pond. And while it is true that some cultural practices are an uncomfortable nuisance (British boys are mimicking Americans by wearing their pants down beneath their bums) they are more often used as a way of communicating and solidifying relationships. To some degree, it could be argued that many disputes are caused when a nation seemingly forces their culture on another. (The Crusades, The War in Iraq, etc.) This method and Griffin’s approach are both extreme. Perhaps salvation will be found somewhere in the middle.

The fact that Griffin or anyone would use Winston Churchill to example their own beliefs, especially in regards to race, is a tremendous faux pas. When Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, he consistently made comments that demonstrated a notion of Great Britain’s superiority.

‘I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.’ – Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937

This quote, taken from a 2002 article written in the Guardian, shows Churchill’s reluctance to see either the imperfections in his own culture or the merit in others. By aligning himself with Churchill, Griffin demonstrates his desire to make Britain superior over others again.

At the end of BBC’s Question Time, one of the audience members asked if this venture was an early birthday gift for the BNP. Perhaps it is, but one might speculate that the BNP, like all inflexible organizations, ultimately die the death of a relic. The world is changing, despite the fears of smaller groups. Cultural norms and traditions are alive and well in our history and to a very strong degree, still utilized daily in order to connect with our humble beginnings. But the need to distinguish or separate ourselves from each other is becoming less and less as we globally connect to the Internet. And it will be these connections that strengthen us as we ban together to face the demons of our past in the warming climate of the future. As sea levels rise and bees disappear, it will be ever more important for us to put our petty differences aside to save the world. As the weight of these challenges press upon us, Griffin will undoubtedly be left alone to deal with the coal in his stocking.

MOIR ON GATELY’S DEATH

Watching the funeral of famed Boyzone singer Stephen Gately today, one cannot help but feel a sense of sadness for the family and friends of this interesting chap. Even if you are too young to remember when Boyzone was together, the breaking of voices as his fellow band members read his eulogy gives anyone watching the impression that the UK has lost someone special.

In Dublin, where he is being buried today, people have turned out in droves to pay tribute to Gately. From the thick jackets and short coats people are wearing in the crowds, it is decidedly brisk out but no one seems to care. His band members speak and mention something we’ve heard again and again since Gately’s death. ‘He never forgot where he was from.’

To Dubliners, this important observation may be one of the reasons why they have joined the family as they say goodbye to their beloved. One could gather that the fans intend on being as loyal to Gately, as Gately was to Dublin.

This touching scene of respect and sorrow seems so much in contrast with the words written by Daily Mail columnist, Jan Moir, who implies that ‘a bitter truth lies beneath’ Gately’s death.’ Moir maintains that something sinister has occurred here, and that the singer’s family members, friends and perhaps even the authorities are desperately trying to cover it up.

The inaccuracy of many of her statements and the fact that she has written them before Gately has been buried are not even the most disturbing aspects of Moir’s perspective.  After all, she owes no one affected by the untimely tragedy a grieving period, not even Gately’s husband. What is most disturbing is her inability to make connections in her own writing that suggests a severe stereotyping of anything to do with gay couples and gay people in general. Moir imagines that because a Bulgarian man had visited before Gately was found dead, that somehow ‘the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.’ She bases this uninformed speculation on nothing else but that there were gay men present, one of them being a celebrity.

Moir goes on to compare Gately’s death to that of gay celeb Kevin McGee, who recently committed suicide, giving a further impression that she believes all civil partnerships are connected somehow. To be fair she seems to be as anti-celebrity as she is anti-gay partnerships.

Many in the UK have opposed Moir’s views and her comments have become a source of debate. Yet, in the real world of grief and tragedy, no one at Gately’s funeral seemed to care how he died, they only wished he hadn’t. In this way the wisdom of theorists such as Judith Butler appears inevitably present. The only way to successfully deal with the oppressive behaviour of those who sexually discriminate is to give no respect for the idea of sexuality.  By the end of this day, Dublin will not have buried a homosexual or a celebrity but, as one of Gately’s friends pointed out, a husband, a brother, a son and a man.

Hello Cyberworld!

Hello cyberworld.  I’ve finally decided to share my meanderings with the rest of the world. As an American writer living in the UK for the past 5 years, I am consistently bombarded with cultural differences and social issues that make for good reporting. So stay tuned.