Transatlantic grumpus is grumpy after reading this.
It saddens me that the most natural way it occurs to the writer to criticise the BNP amounts to “they’re worse than the Americans!”
But my more serious objection to the article is that I’d like to have seen the author achieve some critical distance on the feelings she reports in this paragraph:
But patriotism has a much darker and more unsettling side. I remember one summer afternoon, my six-year old cousin, from California, took it upon herself to recite to me the Pledge of Allegiance. Despite her adorable Dora the Explorer-esque accent, I was disturbed. It was like observing a member of a very cute, very pink cult. I am all for national pride, but this just felt wrong.
Has the author considered the possibility that one’s own national rituals feel comforting, moderate, and natural whilst others’ rituals, seen from the outside, appear frightening and cultish? In a more interesting version of this article, the author would have noticed her unease with American patriotic rituals and then applied it to call into question seemingly harmless British patriotism.
One shouldn’t need an analogy to post-9/11 anti-dissent sentiments to discredit the thinly-veiled white supremacist ethnic nationalism of the BNP – a far more pernicious, if also more marginal, set of political views.
The author seems to imply that a culture that teaches the Pledge of Allegiance may be crafting citizens who will send death threats to the Dixie Chicks. While I am unconvinced, that logic should have led her at least to ask whether seemingly harmless Queen and country patriotism can likewise lay the groundwork for the radical nationalism of the BNP.
“Ah, but that was implied!”, I hear you cry. The author’s last two sentences undo any such potential justification:
Patriotism is not rooted in the past, but in the present; we should be proud of a country for what it is now. True patriotism means accepting the diversity and multiculturalism of the modern world: understanding that individuals build a country, not the other way around.
In other words, left-wing national storytelling yay; right-wing national storytelling boo!
I hate to break it to the author, but that exact discourse goes on in America. During the Bush years, a “dissent is patriotic!” bumper sticker found its way onto many, many East Coast lefty Volvos. My earnest left-liberal friends often expressed similar sentiments. The “militant” Pledge of Allegiance (which is devoid of any reference, bellicose or otherwise, to non-Americans) itself has often provided rhetorical ammunition for the left: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. If that isn’t patriotism as celebration of individuality and diversity, I don’t know what is.
It’s not an interesting or useful point to say, “ah, but I want the good kind of patriotism” without any attempt to explain why some seemingly harmless rituals (the Pledge of Allegiance, apparently) are in fact the groundwork for Bad Things and why others can lead to Good Things like “celebration of individuality”.
For what it is worth, I see the death threats sent to the Dixie Chicks as a matter of political tribalism and human aggression, not of American patriotism. People on the American left send death threats to people who make right-wing public statements. And people on the British left and right do the same to right- and left-wing public figures here.
And this brings us to the reason the article seems fundamentally naive in its ever-so-respectable free speech, individuality,and diversity-celebrating very-mildly-left-ish liberalism. It fails to ask critically to what extent forms of political expression such as patriotic ritual are ciphers for any potential political view, and to what extent they – either by their nature or simply in all plausible practice – presuppose or promote particular political conclusions.
 Such as, for instance, self-congratulatory British anti-Americanism…
 The “under God” bit was added well into the Pledge’s political life by anti-Communist civil religion advocates