Bunting along together

I know I've mused here before about flags, but on my walk into work yesterday I was struck by how lovely it is to see bunting and flags popping up all over London. It is as if we are allowing ourselves a few weeks of being proud of our national heritage in a way we usually aren't that comfortable doing! I remember when I first lived in Sweden I was surprised by the overt presence of flags - flying in our complex of flats, on the front of buses, down major shopping streets. It made me wonder about the lack of flag flying in the UK, although in the 10 years that have passed since then, I think our flag flying has improved slightly; certainly for national celebrations!
In last week's torah portion, when we started the book of Bamidbar (Numbers)  we learn in 1:52 that each tribe camped together, with their own individual flag flying. Each tribe was united by a unique identity and family bond, yet they were also one camp of many tribes, worshipping together and living under the same laws and guidelines. Somehow they were a united whole, embracing individual group identities within. Unity, without uniformity.
Perhaps this is what Prince Charles is hoping to achieve in his desire to become Defender of Faiths rather than Defender of the Faith? Although in the UK it will take a little more than faith to unite the whole. Yet I still think this flag model is helpful; we can celebrate our individual customs, identities, and connections, without separating ourselves from the whole. On the Edgware Road, the heart of the Arabic community in London, flags are flying just as much as anywhere. Sometimes, even a city as diverse as London, can be unified under one flag. Let's hope we can continue to find unifiers beyond, perhaps, football and monarchy, and continue celebrating diversity as well as common humanity beyond the Jubilee weekend.


  1. I think part of the flag problem lies with the way in which the UK is plugged together with parts which are more than mere geographical areas and with their own flags.

    These days immigrants to England (I cannot speak for the other parts of the UK) mostly (not always) take on a British identity not an English identity, leaving English people uncertain which flag to use and a certain undercurrent of resentment on all sides which may take many years, if not generations, to resolve.

    I recall on one town in Warwickshire a town councillor of Jamaican origin objecting to a George Cross being flown over the council house on the basis that it was racist. Hurt feelings on all sides.

    How keen will people be to fly a flag when they see that Scottish and Welsh people feel free to fly their national flags, but English people cannot fly the George Cross without being accused of being racist, yet the Union Flag may add insult to injury by seeming distant and impersonal and denying their association with their own country rather than a wider union.

    Until English people can fly English flags without hostility, they won't be so keen to fly the Union Flag which may represent for many a denial of their English identity.

    Sadly, this is tied up with topical fraught issues such as diversity and immigration etc.

    Humans are tribal and so are flags. If you have uncertainty over which people belong to which tribe, you will have unease over flags. I liken it to an army merger a few years back of two regiments, one Northern and one Southern. You didn't need to listen to a soldier's accent to know where he came from - you just had to look at the way he wore his beret. Tribalism is a sensitive matter.

    The army largely resolves this. A soldier identifies with his regiment versus another regiment but his army versus another army. Our country hasn't got the hang of that.


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