Do you love your country?

This was the question asked of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger by MP Keith Vaz whilst he was being quizzed about the papers exposure of what western security forces were doing in our name to spy on ordinary people.

The story of how a former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has exposed the shady practices of our security services is a rather fascinating one, but I find myself lingering on this question- “Do you love your country?” 

It seems such an un-British question. Love of country seems to be a prerequisite for anyone involved in public life in the US, but not here. We are usually slightly embarrassed by such displays of public patriotism- such things belong to an age of imperialism, or perhaps to the extremism of the English Defense League.

I have not even heard friends who are fervent supporters of Scottish independence say that they love their country- not through lack of passion and commitment I am sure, but rather because most of us are simply not sure what such a phrase might mean.

Does it mean blind unswerving partiality and loyalty to everything that our country contains- north or south of the border? Does it mean being prepared to die to ensure that our ascendancy is continued or enhanced?

Does it mean a love of place- the shape of the land and the history contained in each and every stone?

Does it mean a love of SOME parts of what might be contained within ‘country’, and even a loathing of others?

I have written some musings about how we might describe a ‘good’ country before, and said this;

I am British- somewhere inside. I find this difficult to define- as an English/Irishman living in Scotland. I am grateful for the gentle green climate of these beautiful islands, and for the slow pragmatic evolution of our welfare state.

But (in the words of many a school report) we could be doing better…

Does this mean that I love my country? I think the word love is meaningless when applied to something to huge, so complex. I love my wife, I love my kids, I love vinegar on my chips and cricket bats and Bruce Cockburn’s music. But my country?

I think the job of my country is to provide the graceful just framework for us to learn to love each other better. As soon as we start with the flag-worship nonsense too much gets hidden in the shadows.

Well done The Guardian for making this clearer.


Guantanamo bay- if Obama won’t/can’t close it, who can?

He promised to shut it down- but it is still there. A prison where people have been taken from all over the world, often after being kidnapped on foreign soil. Once there, they are held in inhuman conditions, tortured and often given no hope of release.

Even when told that they can now be released, there is no guarantee. Years go by whilst people are waiting for the doors to be opened- including British nationals.

How can American people (and their foremost allies, the British) allow this to continue? What justification is there for such flagrant breach of the rule of law?

The official line concerns itself with depicting these men as dangerous terrorists, with information that is fundamental to fighting the ‘war on terror’. Perhaps some of the men were indeed involved in terror groups. What is now certain is that many were not. They were just like you and me, apart from their religion and the colour of their skin. This is what happens when knee jerk fear driven politics are given free reign rather than being made subject to the rule of law.

The stories of what happens to people at Guantanamo have trickled out. A few years ago I wrote a review of a book written by one of the inmates, another British man, Moazzam Begg.

Today we hear from official sources some confirmation of tactics Begg described being used to try to break the spirits of the inmates.

Small wonder that they are driven to making the only protest left open to them- refusing to eat. The Guardian had this on their website today;

In March 2013, reports of a hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, the US detention camp in Cuba, began to surface. Details were sketchy and were contradicted by statements from the US military. Now, using testimony from five detainees, this animated film reveals the daily brutality of life inside Guantánamo. Today there are 17 prisoners still on hunger strike, 16 of whom are being force-fed. Two are in hospital.