Cancelling our past does not help our future: INAYA FOLARIN IMAN argues that move to axe Proms favourites Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory serves no purpose
How grimly ironic that hope and freedom should be among the potential latest victims of ‘cancel culture’, the drive to eradicate anything and anyone that sins against the ideology of political correctness.
For decades, music-loving crowds at The Last Night of the Proms have lifted up their voices in an Elgar sing-along, roaring out ‘Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free!’
But according to reports, the BBC is considering dropping the anthem – along with Rule, Britannia! – with concerns over both the ability for musicians to rehearse it in time with Covid-19 restrictions and, more alarmingly, a perceived link to colonialism and slavery.
The Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who will wield the baton at this year’s Last Night on September 12, is said to be one of those who disapprove of the song’s sentiments.
Waving the flag: Typical scene at the Last Night of the Proms
A BBC source said at the weekend: ‘Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter and thinks a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’
In other words, the suspicion is that elements at our national broadcaster have seized on the fact that coronavirus restrictions will keep the crowds away, and are intent on taking the anti-democratic opportunity to ban a song, simply for the crime of being patriotic. If so, what a travesty for one of Britain’s best-loved anthems.
The tune is from Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March No 1 and the words were written by the poet Arthur Benson in 1902.
Its first verse salutes British democracy, the ‘equal laws’ and ‘truth maintained’. But it also contains a line vowing that Britain’s ‘Empire shall be strong’ – a sentiment guaranteed to provoke outrage today.
Yet the beauty of words is that we can interpret them in different ways, and choose not to be offended.
Indeed, I wonder how many ethnic minority people truly are offended by the song’s lyrics. But such is the the influence of a small number that I fear anything that represents pride or an uplifting, positive British image is now being depicted as offensive or alienating.
Star role: Soprano Golda Schultz (pictured) will sing at this year’s Last Night of the Proms
It as if there is a wholesale attempt to rewrite history, painting the country’s past in a unilaterally negative light. And I believe this can only breed resentment, not heal social fractures.
Every country in the world has its own national story, the things it tells itself to create an identity. Why is it uniquely evil when Britain does it?
The reality is that Britain’s empire and aggressive overseas trading policies in the 18th and 19th centuries are part of our complex national history, a story filled with violence and war.
We all recognise that Britain is a different place from the country it was 50 years ago, let alone in the days before the First World War, when Land Of Hope And Glory was written.
The majority of people certainly don’t think of slavery and colonialism when they sing its words. Elgar’s uplifting music speaks of pride in a nation, transcending parochial categories of race and culture, and it unifies us through our shared values.
Indeed, that is why my own mother, who raised me and my siblings single-handedly, came from Nigeria to Britain. She saw it as a ‘land of hope’ with so many more opportunities than her native country would offer us. She has been to the Proms and has no problem with the lyrics.
If the BBC does go ahead and ban the song, it will be actively endorsing a divisive, stifling culture of offence championed by a woke minority against the majority of people.
The Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska (pictured), who will wield the baton at this year’s Last Night on September 12, is said to be one of those who disapprove of the song’s sentiments,’ Inaya Folarin Iman says
No less than 87 per cent of respondents to an online poll that asked if the Proms should drop Land Of Hope And Glory opposed the move.
Pride in nationhood unifies us all, regardless of our background, and should be a bulwark against divisive identity politics, which forces everyone to be perpetually conscious of racial, gender and generational divisions and to judge others by their differences. This move does not ‘modernise’ the Proms, but undermines what is special about it.
What we’re seeing is the sort of intransigent bullying that prevented the reading of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Mandalay at the VJ Day celebrations this month. Never mind that those verses have a profound significance for the surviving veterans who actually fought in the Far East during the Second World War: Self-righteous younger people objected to the tone, and so Kipling was cancelled.
The idea that the past alienates ethnic minorities and that people should feel guilty about their national history and shamed by it, is constantly drummed into us – but it is both untrue and solves nothing.
Cancelling the past is not helpful to our shared future. We need to understand the good and the bad in our history, not seek to rewrite it. There are many other ways to honour our differences, by building on tradition and using it to create a better future.
By undermining our national story, we lose the one thing that can unify us all as British people.
Inaya Folarin Iman is the founder of The Equiano Project, a forum promoting freedom of speech on issues of race, culture and politics
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