I had the pleasure of debating British history last weekend on the BBC Sunday Morning Live Show with lecturer and historian Kate Williams, editor of Breitbart London, James Delingpole, and Reverend Peter Owen-Jones.
The main discussion focussed around whether Britons should be “proud or ashamed” of British history, in light of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
I was asked a number of challenging questions by the presenter, Sian Williams, one of which was whether I was proud of any aspect of British history, to which I said nothing. It is important to note that prior to this question being asked, the contextual build up to it was Britain’s colonial crimes, and Mr Delingpole’s reluctance to acknowledge any of it – be it the Bengal famine or the Amritsar massacre.
Immediately after the show, hundreds of my fellow Britons took to Twitter to vent their outrage at me for not stating a single thing about British history which I was proud of – yet, I perceived the Ottoman Empire with more “pride and honour”.
Many of the Tweeters, who varied from the centre-right to the far-right spectrum (it was clear from their timeline) interpreted my struggle in citing proud moments of British history, and words of liking towards the Ottomans, as an act of disloyalty to Britain.
Dozens of trolls echoed what Mr Delingpole said to me on the show, when he asked me where I’d be “happier to live” (assuming I’d say Saudi Arabia or Syria) – and to his surprise, I said I was perfectly happy in the UK. The fact that a British born Muslim of Bangladeshi heritage was met with so much aggression and hostility for highlighting the misdeeds of the British Empire, whilst identifying with the Ottomans solely from an Islamic perspective, demonstrated that many Britons still arrogantly refuse to acknowledge any of the “bad things” in Britain’s history. “Go back to where you come from”, “F**K OFF IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT HERE”, “Go to Saudi if you don’t like Britain traitor”, “Go Syria and join ISIS if you love the Ottomans”, were just some of the colourful tweets that I had the joy of reading after the show.
But in my critics’ defence, as nonsensical and intolerant many of their arguments were, I acknowledge how I must have come across to ordinary white British folk and patriotic Muslims alike. A British Muslim from Bangladeshi parents, criticising this great nation’s imperial wars by highlighting unimportant events like the Bengal famine, Dresden and the Iraq war – but when asked what he was proud of about the country where he was born and raised in, he couldn’t even mention one good thing.
Therefore, I felt it was important to write this piece so I could elaborate on some of the points I made, clarifying the reasoning behind my statements, and whether there is anything about this nation’s past that I am proud of.
Am I Proud or Ashamed of British History?
1. I was asked by Sian Williams if I was “proud of anything about British history?”
I have absolutely nothing to be “proud” of regarding its colonial and imperial wars – and I will stand by that due to the human cost of achieving that “greatness”. How can Britain ignore the Boer concentration camps, Aden’s torture centres, the Chinese “resettlement”, the Amritsar massacre, the Cyprus internment, the brutal crushing of the Iraqi revolution during the 1920s, the partitioning of India, the Irish “potato famine”, the Kenyan concentration camps, and the Bengal famine?
However, I do have an admiration for William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Blake, the brave ordinary Britons who fought the Nazis, the Suffragist and Suffragette movements, and of course, Britain’s contributions to sport.
I admire how Britain’s technological, scientific, industrial and medical advancements has benefited humanity – though, it’s an undeniable fact that a lot of this great work was a development and progression to the foundations established by Muslim scientists, thinkers and mathematicians.
2. Why didn’t I say this when asked by the presenter?
In all honesty, I mentally froze, and the context of the discussion (Britain’s colonial wars and imperialism) had consumed me.
3. What do I love about modern-day Britain?
Well…there are a few things: Eastenders, the NHS, fish and chips, Liverpool FC, humour (within limits), and English literature as mentioned earlier.
4. Why didn’t I mention this when asked by the presenter?
Again, forgetfulness and it was irrelevant to the context of “British history”.
5. Why do I honour and identify with the Ottomans?
I identify with the Ottomans, just as I identify with the ‘Rightly Guided’ Caliphs, the Umayyads and the Abbasids, as an integral part of Islamic history and my Muslim identity.
6. Were the Ottomans perfect?
Far from it.
7. Did the Ottomans make mistakes?
Of course the Ottomans made mistakes, some serious ones, and the Prophet Muhammad prophesised the shortcomings and failures of future Caliphates.
8. Why do I affiliate and identify with the Ottomans and not the British Empire?
It’s quite simple; because the Ottomans were a major part of Islamic heritage, and it goes hand-in-hand with being a Sunni Muslim to acknowledge their achievements. I had no control over where I was born (Britain), but I do have a choice in the religion I follow (Islam).
9. People on social media questioned whether I was ashamed of being “British”, and if I “hated” this country?
No, I certainly do not hate or despise Britain or my fellow citizens. However, I am an ardent critic of successive British governments because of the crimes they have committed, and continue to do so under the farcical banner of “human rights”, “democracy” and “freedom”.
Like most, if not all Muslims living in the UK, I want what’s best for this society – morally, socially, economically and politically. Therefore, I have every right, just like anyone else, to highlight and criticise where I believe this country has gone wrong, and subsequently led to further problems, which has resulted in endangering the lives of its citizens.
Had I been a white non-Muslim, would my opinions be treated with so much suspicion and contempt? It is unfortunate that many Britons still suffer from the ‘white privileged’ mentality, which tends to dictate to ethnic minority Britons what they should love about British history.