St. George the Palestinian: A man for all people
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Yesterday was St. George’s day, and in case you didn’t know he is the patron saint of England and the national flag is named after him. But who was he and should we care?
You may be surprised to learn that St. George was not English; He was born in 280 AD in Cappadocia which is in modern day Turkey, his father was what we would describe today as Turkish and his mother was a Palestinian from the area of Lydda in Palestine.
His father was a solider of the Roman army and St. George himself grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a soldier and an officer. It was during his service in the army that St. George took a moral stand that would make him iconic; the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian during turbulent times became paranoid of the Christian faith and ordered the persecution of its adherents. He ordered their places of worship to be destroyed and their scriptures burnt, anyone found following the faith would be killed or at the very least have their civil liberties removed.
It was in the face of this government sponsored mass hysteria that St. George decided to take his stand for what was morally right and defend the rights of this minority group in the face of tyranny from the Empire. He famously tore down the edit that ordered the persecution, refusing to carry out the orders. He demonstrated immense compassion and generosity towards those that were its victims winning much admiration.
St. George understood that his rebellion would not go unchecked and he would ultimately have to pay the price of his moral stand, a price he was willing to pay. When he finally came face to face with the Emperor Diocietian, St. George spoke out against the Emperors injustices that he was committing against a minority group for no other reason than their faith. Diocietian was unmoved and ordered St. George’s arrest, giving specific instructions that he should be tortured until he withdrew his criticism and his faith, St. George did neither. He clung to his moral position in the face of relentless torture and eventually his tormentors martyred him by decapitation. He was martyred on the 23rd of April in the year 303 AD. his body was taken to rest in Lydda Palestine. It is a saying of the Prophet of Islam that "The best Jihad is to say what is just in the face of a tyrant" (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi, Nisai and Ibn Majah). And certainly St. George perfectly personified this Islamic ideal.
There is speculation whether St. George was born a Christian or converted, but to many Muslims he was a Unitarian Christian who died as a martyr several hundred years before the advent of the Prophet of Islam (saw),in the Middle east many Muslims call him Al Khadr the ‘Green one’ and have named a mosque after him called Qubbat al Khadr.
So what benefit can we draw from this patron saint of over 12 countries including England? Well if we as a nation have decided to choose him to represent us, then he must also contribute to defining what we hold to be true. And the single most important act of St. George’s life was his courage in the face of intolerance, injustice and persecution. He rose up to defend people who were without a voice and he gave them a voice, he rose up in the face of a state witch hunt of a minority group and exposed it for what it was, morally bankrupt he gave his life for just moral ideals and this is what catapulted him to the legendary status that has endured 1,700 years throughout the world across even differing faiths.
The media is overflowing with the public debate concerning identity and multiculturalism, much of it being fuelled by the antics of extremists. On the one hand we have the right wing Nazi BNP who try to claim the St. George flag as their own to the exclusion of the rest of society and on the other hand we have the extremist from Muhajiroun and its derivatives who publically burn the flag in an attempt to persuade the rest of society to exclude Muslims.
Both these groups don’t represent normal rational members of our society so clearly we should not permit them to define us and our world. Extremists always try to hijack public discourse and divert it to their own weird world view based upon misinformation or a distortion of the facts, St. George and his flag are no exception. If we examine a few facts we realise that St. George the man and what he embodies is the antithesis of these extremists, how can a mixed heritage Palestinian who stood up for minority rights have anything whatsoever in common with the BNP or any other extremists.
Today the world is rife with injustices from the people of Tibet to Darfur as well as the descendants of St. George the Palestinians who continue to suffer huge injustices for over 60 years. Should not the nations which have chosen St. George as their patron saint embrace his legacy, and if his legacy means anything then it is to take stand against injustices and persecution of our fellow human beings whether they are the citizens of country or in other parts of the world.
Whenever we see the England flag, or hear the name of St. George we must keep the reality of what he embodied in the front of our minds, to wave the flag and not embrace his message would be a disservice to St. George whether they are the citizens of country or in other parts of the world.
If we fail to educate people about the facts concerning St. George then we risk the possibility of his legacy being distorted by right wing extremists. Let us all never forget the true legacy of St. George the Palestinian patron saint of England, was that he was a man of justice for our country.