Celebrating a heritage is good and important.
However, celebrating a heritage in a way that is felt to be offensive to other sections of the very same society surely cannot be considered in the same light. Clearly, there is something not quite right about it.
It is undeniably true that some of our current social problems – particularly sectarian bigotry and racial hatred – have their historical roots in many of the shameful ethnic and religious conflicts that ultimately helped form the much vaunted, and highly esteemed, constitutional structure of this country today.
Yet many people still strongly believe in the right to celebrate historical occurrences of this nature, because of what they are assumed to represent, and regardless of the negative impact the style and location of their celebrations have been known to have on others.
And they tend to justify their commitment to this belief by claiming that the historical occurrences in question constitute ‘their heritage’, and therefore feel entitled to immerse themselves in the traditional behaviours that help preserve it.
In other words, the idea of ‘having the right to celebrate your heritage’, becomes a means of intellectually legitimising a lapse into what could otherwise be described as offensive, or at times irrational, behaviour; and arguably, we have all been guilty of misappropriating history in this way, at some point or other. No side is entirely innocent.
Whether you respect this way of thinking or not, and it can be found on every side of the debate, I think there is something unsettling in the fact that there are many individuals who feel more committed to keeping historical injustices and prejudices alive, than they do about addressing the problems in society today.
I think there is a level of emotional inauthenticity in some individuals that makes it much easier for them to react with passion, and a sense of triumph, to a romantic version of destructive historical occurrences, than make the effort to shape a more cohesive and peaceful society for the future.
This is particularly so when the history that is perpetuated through cleverly crafted stories, rousing tunes and colourful ritualistic behaviours, is often made to appear more glorious to the insular and bigoted mind than it ever was. Ethnic discrimination, religious persecution, murder, terrorism, theft, misery, displacement, starvation and intolerable hardship; these are hardly notions worth glorifying and celebrating.
Yet sadly, it is not too uncommon to find these occurrences interpreted in today’s terms in a manner that is believed to justify celebrating them still, usually as having been the only rightful means of ensuring the removal of the wrong type of religion, or the wrong type of ethnicity, as barriers to the monarchical and constitutional objectives that were pursued at the time.
But this is the crux of the problem: in thinking this way, we are guilty of distorting the importance that certain occurrences in history may have for the way we ought to understand the world today – despite the fact that, given the utterly different world view at the time, they may have been regarded as absolutely necessary measures and completely within the law.
In other words, we run the risk of burying ourselves deeper and deeper into an inescapably depressing and anachronistic rut, every time we refer to a version of history to support an agenda that is no longer commensurate with how the majority of people live their lives today.
There is no getting away from the fact that there are elements on every side of the debate who feel the urge, from time to time, to make the inexcusable appeal to heritage to justify their own descent into offensiveness, their own mode of defiance, or their own form of retaliation. And this, as history has repeatedly confirmed, gets us absolutely nowhere.