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.
(Page 2 of 2)
His group advocates adopting the Irish model, where there is an elected but largely ceremonial head of state. He points to former president Mary McAleese who, as the first president born in Northern Ireland, helped bridge sectarian divides and unify the Irish people.Skip to next paragraph
“The process of electing her helped the Irish citizens to reflect on who they now were,” says Mr. Smith.
British officials from across the political spectrum have increasingly encouraged reflection on what it means to be British. Under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the government created the group citizenship ceremony in 2004 from what had been a solitary bureaucratic process of saying an oath before a
“It’s that idea that people from such different and diverse backgrounds will have this in common, and to give people a bit of pride. It’s a life event to have this ceremony,” says Bryony Aldous, a local official in the south London borough of Southwark.
IN PICTURES – The Queen's Diamond Jubilee
She officiates the short ceremony in a cozy hall that opens out onto a garden. Before her stand the eight would-be citizens and, off to the side, their families, holding plastic Union Jacks. She gives a short talk that’s explicitly British: noting that tea is waiting in the back, the weather is uncharacteristically sunny, and sports fans can rejoice in the Olympics coming to town next month.
She also talks of the rights and responsibilities of British citizenship, including the right to vote and the responsibility to take part in civic life. The eight – from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Russia, Nigeria, and Lebanon – swear the oath together, then sing “God Save the Queen.” One by one the citizenship certificates – once printed on cardboard, but now just paper due to austerity – are handed out.
Smith, of the anti-monarchy group Republican, says would-be immigrants have been put off from citizenship by the requirement of swearing to the queen.
“People have come from countries where they’ve had to fight quite literally for democracy and then they get here and they have to swear an oath to a hereditary monarch. It’s quite appalling,” he says.
Siblini’s wife, British native Yolanda Hill, however sees value in the ceremony. She says her husband is still struggling to find his place, six years after first coming to Britain. The recession has made it hard for him to find work, and his childhood connections are in Lebanon.
“And so I think this [ceremony] is a good way to get settled. And he’s starting studies in university, which I think is a really good way to get integrated as well.”