The city council of a tiny rural hamlet in Somerset, England, has vetoed a plan to fly the flag of St. George because its links to the Christian Crusades in the Middle Ages may offend the town's Muslim residents.
The village of Radstock, about 10 miles southwest of Bath, and 120 miles west of London, has a population of about 5,620 – including just 16 Muslims, according to government figures.
Indeed, Radstock’s Muslim population is so mall, there is no local mosque.
The Council will instead fly the Union Jack at its civic flagpole instead of the more divisive St. George banner.
St. George’s Cross has been the emblem of dozens of states across Europe and is rooted in the Crusades, which sought to free the Holy Land from the Muslims. St. George has also become the unofficial “patron saint” of England. In recent years, it has been embraced by British nationalists and football hooligans.
Labour Councilor Eleanor Jackson, a university lecturer and teacher, told Bath Chronicle: “My big problem is that it is offensive to some Muslims but even more so that it has been hijacked by the far right. My thoughts are we ought to drop it for 20 years.”
In response, John Clements, vice president of the Royal Society of St. George, a patriotic organization, called the Radstock councilors' decision “nonsense” and a form of “censoring” of the national flag.
Rather surprisingly, Nasima Begum, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Council of Britain, also disagreed with the council’s move to ban the flag.
“St. George needs to take his rightful place as a national symbol of inclusivity rather than a symbol of hatred,” she said.
“St. George actually lived before the birth of Islam and should not be associated with any hatred of Muslims.”
Similarly, Rizwan Ahmed of the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society, said: “It is political correctness going a bit too far. Use by the far right is one thing, but to say that Muslims are offended I don’t think is correct.”
Ahmed added: “I think, if anything, this will harm understanding of Muslim people, and it feeds into the ideas that some people have of ‘Oh, here they go again, pandering to the needs of Muslim people,’ when actually it is not offensive.
Ahmed even admitted that St George’s flag is meaningful to British heritage and should be preserved.
Some local residents are also annoyed.
Pensioner Irene Burchell, 76, told the Daily Mail: “The council does not speak for the people of Radstock, and certainly does not speak for me. I think it is absolute nonsense. The St George’s flag has been adopted by England for centuries. We are the only ones who never celebrate April 23 [St. George's Day ] the way other people celebrate their national day.”
Another Radstock native, 70-year-old Jenny Fisher, complained: “The only people who will be left using the flag will be football hooligans and this plays into that. I don’t think Muslims would be offended by it. Why would they? They live here. It’s stupid.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.