What Does it Mean to be British?

June 5, 2007

Author: Lucy Rodgers

Source: BBC News


Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly will set out plans for a national "Britain" day to celebrate Britishness and promote stronger national ties.

So what does it mean to be British? A conference on Islam and Muslims has been considering this question.

Religious leaders taking part this week in the two-day debate on Islam And Muslims In The World Today in London had an idea of what they believed being British was - encompassing core values such as freedom of expression and respect for others.

But they also acknowledged Britain had a long way to go before all its communities were united in common purpose.

US Muslim convert Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, founder of the California-based Zaytuna educational foundation and who has advised the White House on Islam, said he saw little national cohesion in Britain.

"People have more allegiance to football teams than they have to Great Britain. What is the glue that is going to hold society together?"

Britishness cannot be imposed on communities, he said, but Britain did have the ability to lead by example.

"It has to be organic - how do we facilitate this sense of Britishness. But I am optimistic because of that moral compass a lot of British people have. That gives me a lot of hope.

"Britain can do a lot of things to teach mainland Europe about how to respect and engage minority communities - and it could help the US as well."