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Patriotism and 'heimat': the geography of our common humanity

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Patriotism and 'heimat': the geography of our common humanity

Post by Jill Segger on Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:50 pm

Samuel Johnson's epithet does not mean that all patriots are scoundrels. It invites us rather to consider the uses to which scoundrelly intent may put the concept.

But first, what might patriotism be? Is it useful? I love my country but I would hesitate to call myself a patriot. This is largely because I fear that to be an idea which has been hijacked and prised away from its gentler virtues. I am an English-born woman of mixed descent. Polish Jews, Ulster Scots and Bavarians have all laid their markers in my genes. But England is where I hatched. And – as with a duckling – it is the early imprint which influences attachment.

This attachment is measured in landscape, in legend, history, music and literature. It nourishes me in small northern towns with their ageless music of dialect and in the rapidly shifting polyglot hum of large cities. It is perhaps most dear in the whine of winds through the coarse grass sieves of high fells, the cry of a curlew or the glimpse of a tiny silver tarn beneath crags and screes. It has nothing to do with a flag, a head of state or with military pageantry.

It is rooted a sense of place and and that is why the German word heimat means more to me than mother/father/home/land. There is no precise translation of this word and it carries no baggage of power or exclusion. It expresses that lift of the heart which is experienced when we return to a beloved place after long absence and when memories formed in that place come tumbling back.

Places are as much of the mind and heart as of maps and languages. Elgar and Bach have a common heimat as do Arnold Bennett and Arundhati Roy. This is the location where we may be taken not just 'out of' but beyond ourselves. And it is in that territory that we find more about our common being and move away from the smallness of defining ourselves by what we are not. It is a land which is not hospitable to exceptionalism, racism, xenophobia or any other divisive hauteur.

It is a great pity, though not altogether surprising, that Theresa May chose to weaponise an impoverished concept of patriotism to attack Jeremy Corbyn recently. She accused him of “abandoning the patriotic working class”. As she can know little of the Labour leader's inner relationship with his native place, she would appear to have based her judgement on his once being seen to refrain from singing the National Anthem, on his belief that armed force should be a last resort, undertaken in accordance with international law when all else has failed, and on his refusal to facilitate nuclear annihilation. Such shallow, partial metrics are the tools of a particular type of narrow and intolerant nationalism. And they are no more characteristic of the working class than of any other stratum of society.

If more politicians would have the courage to step away from this kind of opportunistic reductionism and to explore the common riches of heimat, we could take a significant step towards a more just and inclusive society. The idolatry of outward forms has nothing to say to the commonwealth of our humanity.That is a different geography.

This blog first appeared on Ekklesia and is reproduced with acknowledgement. www.ekklesia.co.uk



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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen


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