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On Diamond Jubilee's eve, diverse Britain seeks unity in Queen Elizabeth

Some say monarchy is a rare unifier in a land absorbing large numbers of immigrants. 'She will become my queen, too,' says newly minted Briton Youssef Siblini.

By Staff writer / June 1, 2012

An office building by the river Thames in London is decorated with British flags in preparations for the weekend celebrations to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Thursday, May 31. The capital is preparing to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne.

Sang Tan/AP

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London

Flanked by the British flag and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, who marks her 60th year on the throne this weekend with a diamond jubilee, Youssef Siblini poses for his first photo as a Briton and as a subject of the crown.

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Moments earlier Mr. Siblini and seven other immigrants swore an oath of citizenship to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty.”

For Siblini, an immigrant from Lebanon, the oath of fealty helps bring him into the fold of his new homeland. “I think it’s a good idea to make you feel that you are English now,” he says. “She will become my queen too.”

Starting tomorrow, Britain kicks off a four-day national celebration of the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The monarchy is riding high levels of public support even as Britons widely express unease with a sense of crumbling community spirit. Some link the two sentiments, arguing the monarchy is one of the few unifiers in a country absorbing large numbers of immigrants. 

 “The monarchy signifies the unity and diversity of the British nation,” says Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, a think-tank in London working on social cohesion. “She’s not white people’s monarch. She’s the monarch of all the British people and all the British legacies and dominions.”

Over the 60 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Britain’s overseas empire finished breaking away, but the British Isles themselves grew far more diverse. Net immigration, once as low as 48,000 in 1997, shot up to a quarter of a million by 2010.

 Polls show the public has grown uneasy with the pace of immigration and its impact on social cohesion. A 2011 YouGov poll found 88 percent of British respondents agreed that immigrants who are unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate have created “discomfort and disjointedness” in Britain.

As in many parts of Europe, multiculturalism is losing ground to greater assertions of a national set of values and heritage. For many critics of the monarchy, the need for a unifying symbol appears neither urgent nor best served by a hereditary office.

“People will find something to rally around whether it’s the sports teams … or [actor] Stephen Fry,” says Graham Smith, head of Republic, an anti-monarchy advocacy group. “We don’t need to allow these peoples [royals] to co-opt all that in order for their own personal gain.”

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