United in our heritage


David Cameron has criticised "multi-culturalism" in his first speech as prime minister, on the issue of radicalisation and the causes of terrorism. At a security conference in Munich, he argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism but for many Arabs within Great Britain, Cameron’s speech has just echoed the same ignorance that was first espoused by the previous Labour Government.

According to the Daily Mail, in an article that was first published in 2010, “most Britons are direct descendants of farmers who left modern day Iraq and Syria 10,000 years ago“. After studying the DNA of more than 2,000 British men, researchers claimed they had compelling evidence that “four out of five white Europeans can trace their roots back to the Near East“.

A DNA test was carried out in 2006, in association with Channel Four’s “100% English“, also discovered that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was actually a direct descendent from the Bedouin tribes of ancient Mesopotamia, which centuries ago covered all of Iraq and large portions of contemporary Turkey, Syria and Iran.

It was Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, who in 2006 reported that the Notitia Dignitatum, a Roman document from AD400, described how battalions of Iraqis once patrolled the English North East, where archers were brought over from conquered Middle Eastern lands and were settled in close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall; where certain areas were made to undergo a “name change”, to accommodate the Romans Eastern soldiers.

In 1824, while travelling up the river Tigris, General George Keppel described an Arab population that “resembled the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome“, with boatmen being “hardy and muscular“, making “excellent models for a Hercules; and one in particular, with uncombed hair and a shaggy beard, struck us all with the resemblance he bore to statues of that deity.”

According to the 2004 paper “The Arab Population in the UK”, Dr Ismail al-Jalili noted that Britain is now home to more than 500,000 Arabs and that “in the 19th century, Yemeni seamen called the Lascars sailed with British ships, with many settling within the UK to work on the docks and other related industries, along with the burgeoning rail network; “The traditional trading skills of Syrians and Lebanese brought them to the industrialised ‘Cottonopolis’ – Manchester.

“London’s East End, Tyneside, Liverpool and Cardiff became centres of small Arab communities. By 1948 there were nearly a thousand Arabs in Tyneside alone, some marrying local women, thus giving birth to the “British-Arab” identity that many native-born British-Arabs, especially those of mixed ancestry, are now establishing”.

The BBC reported; “In 1916 the Military Cross was awarded to a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers for “conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches”. The citation noted that he had braved “rifle and bomb fire” and that “owing to his courage and determination, all the killed and wounded were brought in”.

The military “hero” in question was the celebrated British poet Siegfried Sassoon, whose prose are a central feature to many in English literature but what is often ignored, is that Siegfried Sassoon’s family were Sephardic Jews, who had flourished originally in Basra and that Sassoon’s grandfather was the first of his family to have arrived in England in 1858, having come to Britain as a result of the industrial revolution.

The Arab historian Albert Hourani was born in Manchester in 1915, with his book “A History of the Arab People” being described by the Harvard University Press as “the definitive story of Arab civilizations”. Upon publication Hourani’s book became “an instant classic”, with him being famed for having trained more academic historians of the modern Middle East, “than any other university historian of his generation“.

During the 20th Century, my own relatives lived and worked around coalmining in the North East of England, with them being based around the Ashington Colliery, which was opened in 1867 and eventually closed in 1986.According to the Durham Mining Museum, the Ashington Colliery employed an estimated 2343 “under ground” workers in 1902,with the number rising to 3997 in 1914.The number then rose again to 4076 in 1921.

My great-grandfather died in the 1920’s, leaving behind a wife and children, having suffered pneumoconiosis, brought on by the inhalation of coal dust. In the early 1990’s at my grandmother’s funeral in Manchester, her elderly brother and my great uncle, a man described by the family as being a “Geordie Nationalist”, patted me on the head and asked my mother “when will you teach this lad English?” He explained “you will only be Englishman when you speak like a Geordie”.

So when debating the concept of multi-culturalism, the first thought that comes to mind is a statement by Leon Trotsky, who once stated “to understand and perceive truly, to feel to the very bottom, the section of time in which we live, one has to know the past of mankind, one has to know the history of mankind, the picturesqueness and the personalities of contemporary life” and through this discovery, we may find that within Great Britain, there is more than just a common “heritage“.


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