Eid celebrations : the United Kingdom’s 5th Plinth and the redefinition of ‘The Native’

I was most pleasantly surprised to discover that the Islamic Eid celebrations were being held in Trafalgar Square yesterday. But I couldn’t help wondering after the reasons why I ought to be surprised at all.

Perhaps this surprise is due to my experiences in Singapore... ..which reserves all significantly prominent spaces in the media, the public, politics, culture, etc, for a ‘majority’ that has, through much effort on the part of Singapore’s BNP-style government, been defined along racial and cultural lines.

Singapore, which was historically a Malay country, saw a significant influx of Chinese and Indian migrants during Colonial times. After independence, it became, officially, a multicultural nation. 50 years after PAP-rule (People's Action Party), and after lip-service was paid to multiculturalism and democracy whilst it was being subverted, it had become a Confucian nation with popular Chinese support, and well on the way toward making Mandarin the nation’s ‘mother-tongue’. And across the Causeway in Malaysia, which was also a historically Malay country, the Malays have maintained the privilege of the historical inhabitants of the nation over the migrants-come-lately. So, in the former, people are accustomed to according greater significance to a ‘majority’ defined in terms of ‘race’ and culture, and in the latter, ‘originality’.

My surprise at the Eid celebrations being afforded a celebratory space in a location that was historically associated with native British achievements, observations, celebrations and demonstrations, came from my being accustomed to discrimination being rationalised on the aforementioned bases. After all, all the Chinese that I'd known had always said, in the face of disaffection, 'everywhere in the world also like that'. I suppose familarity loves to assume global similarity so that it can focus on making the best of a situation that is thus assumed to be natural as opposed to suffering the tedium that comes with critical introspection.

In the United Kingdom is brought together both reasons used to discriminate on both sides of the aforementioned causeway. Not only is the ‘white’ population a majority of about 92%, but they have been the native population of the country with a shared and highly eventful history going back thousands of years. But instead of pandering to these potential justifications for the institutionalisation of racism, it seems to be doing its utmost to undermine the perspectival basis upon which such sentiments might be founded and flourish.

By affording the Muslims yesterday, and the Hindus next weekend, this historically ‘white’ and native British space of great native political and cultural significance, the country is in effect relocating the idea of ‘the native’ by locating the natives of non-native origins in a historically British ‘native’ space. Whilst the 4th Plinth is currently being occupied by people drawn from all walks of life to elevate the significance of the ‘commoner’ on a podium which, in the other 3 Plinths and pedestals on Trafalgar Square is occupied by political figures, I couldn’t help appreciating Trafalgar Square itself as the 5th Plinth that presents all cultures as equally significant. On the 4th Plinth, is validated the significance of the people, and on the expanse of this 5th, the significance of difference.

Upon this 5th Plinth, is pedestaled the United Kingdom’s Mutually Affirmative brand of Multiculturalism. In this is the recognition, subconscious perhaps, that no culture that is borne of a relatively historically disparate and insulated past can be shorn of its deficiencies till it is subjected to the insights garnered from the unique perspectives that come with relatively unique and disparate histories.

Said I to Vanessa, who informed me of the event, and who was also similarly pleasantly surprised, that this strategy of egalitarian inclusion can actually help to focus us on the integrative elements of our respective cultures as a response to an integrative approach by others. It is too often that exclusion tends to exacerbate tendencies toward individuation and rejection of the entire culture of those who spurn our difference.

For instance, if we are excluded or assailed by a different other, we might look for elements in our culture that enables us to amplify our own difference and exclude those who exclude us so that we might continue to feel good about ourselves in the face of those who discriminate against us.”

I continued,

“if we look at Islam, we will find the all-encompassing value of universalism, and which is also found in varying incarnations in other faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism, and so on, that together forms a whole. (this excludes societies which places importance on the assimilation of others to the cultural norms of the centre/powerful/prominent/majority/popular and which views difference as an unconscionable compromise of ‘order’ – especially when such perspectives did not emerge as a reaction to discrimination by others, has been promoted as a virtue in itself, and valued as ‘strengths’ in themselves.). But such universalism is compromised when there isn’t much of a market for it as exhibited by others’ discriminating against us. That is when cultures and faiths become mere identities taken on for the sake of contradistinction.”

In this, the Muslims, Hindus, and the ‘native’ British as well, amongst others, are being exposed to what is being practiced as an unassailable value of egalitarian integration on the 5th Plinth that is Trafalgar Square.

There are, amongst others, two reasons for cultural introversion that are relevant here. One, which is applicable to all, is that emerging from shared and mutually insulated histories that provides people with formulae for appreciating reality, and which the tedium of thought in the face of difference might lead to their rejecting it; and two, people being focused on the identity-value of their cultures, instead of those elements of their cultures that encourage universalism, when faced with discriminatory others. Egalitarian integration undermines both. This is how people might be focused on the integrative elements of their cultures as ‘the market’ for cultural introversion is compromised by the integrative approach of others.

In this, everyone gains as cultural and perspectival deficiencies emerging in the course and because of, historically disparate experiences are gradually eradicated via the appreciation of the varying facets of universalism that is spread across various cultures. And in the consideration of difference in itself, the core deficiency that founds historically disparate experiences is undermined. Where others have lesser reasons to reinforce their brand of cultural fascism, be it on the basis of ‘originality’ or ‘racial numbers’, the United Kingdom, having both, illustrates that these pale in consideration of the value that is added to all by the egalitarian valuation of all.

It is in this, that the United Kingdom seems to be well on the way to becoming the 6th Plinth in itself, and a bastion against the small-minded and bestial pragmatism of fascists elsewhere.




  1. I really love your view of multiculturalism. It's great that we in the UK have moved from being colonisers to being a commonwealth of difference!



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