The English Defence League’s definition of what constitutes the English working class is a classic case of projection. To take the “working class” tag, never mind that Tommy Robinson (the leader of the EDL) owns his own business and so is technically petit-bourgeois – making him officially entitled to buy a cream and gold bathroom. The more contentious bit of the EDL’s identity is its claim to represent “the English”. The problem with this claim is that a hundred people will come up with a hundred ways of defining Englishness and each with disagree violently with each other. To quote George Bernard Shaw: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”
So while football hooliganism (out of which the EDL has spawned), covering your car in St George’s flags (English flag as opposed to the Union Jack), wearing balaclavas (a prevalent item of clothing at EDL marches and rallies) and spending time in prison (Tommy Robinson the leader of the EDL has been convicted of assault) is one definition of Englishness, others do exist. Today our meetings with foreign cultures are awkward precisely because we lack a solid sense of who we are. A lot of the fear shown towards Islam comes from the death of the Christian soul – we see a people who actually believe in something and we are intimidated.
By contrast, most Muslims cling on to values that were once definitively English and that we could do with rediscovering. Islam instructs its followers to cherish their families, to venerate women, to treat strangers kindly, to obey the law of any country they are in (yes, yes, it really does), and to give generously. One recent poll found that British Muslims donate more money to charity than any other religious group. Much is written about the need for Muslims to integrate better into English society, although states that 99 per cent of them probably already do.
This is a blog post written for the Daily Telegraph by Dr Tim Stanley. He is a historian of the United States. His biography of Pat Buchanan is available now. His personal website is www.timothystanley.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter @timothy_stanley.