History, violence and incubating prejudice…

Durham cathedral

We are down in Durham this weekend for a cricket match between England and Sri Lanka (not looking good at the moment as it is raining. UPDATE- it did not rain and they lost badly) It gave us a chance to meet up with friends Graham and Victoria, and for our kids to play a game of car park cricket!

Last night we walked along the river in Durham, and up through the beautiful Cathedral close and the old streets full of university colleges. Durham (despite the hoards of drunken hen parties) is such a lovely place, but it has all sorts of violent history.

A lot of it concerns battles with Scottish armies coming down from the North. For example, this one. Then there was the Northern rebellion (involving Mary Queen of Scots,) then the fear of the Highlanders marauding down from the north which became every child’s nightmare for 200 years or more.

Will and I had a conversation about his history lessons, where they sat and watched Mel Gibson’s Braveheart- something which makes me very cross because to even vaguely suggest that this film is ‘history’ seems to me to be deeply concerning. The teacher did seem to point out some historical inaccuracies (check out the wikipedia entry) but this once again misses the point.

Last night the British public primarily elected the UK Independence Party to represent us at the European parliament. UKIP are a party based around two right wing simplistic ideas; ‘Europeans are not to be trusted’ and ‘we don’t want any more immigrants coming into our country taking our jobs/houses/benefits/hospital beds.’ It is a party that has learned nothing from history, and seems to have effectively engaged the British with cartoon versions of human interaction. Like Braveheart does. My fear is that in a time when minority extremist parties are holding sway in our minds, we need more than ever to remember the lessons of history…

The point I tried to convey to Will is that the greatest danger of these kinds of simplistic good-against-evil depictions of races and creeds is that it makes it possible for powerful people to manipulate one group against the other. If Johnny foreigner is evil; less than human; if he is the problem – the very cause of our difficulties – then we will focus on him and forget all sorts of other issues- inequality, imperialism, injustice, poverty, greed, narrow minded prejudice etc etc.

On a bridge just below the stunningly beautiful cathedral in Durham is an old stone tablet which makes this point in a few different ways. It is carved with these words;

Grey towers of Durham

Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles

Half church of God, half castle against the Scot

And long to roam these venerable isles

With records stored of deeds long forgot

Inscription, bridge, durham

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