Diamond Jubilee celebrations
A British Flag is "reclaimed from the far right"

Every time we have a major football competition like Euro 2012 or the World Cup, we have to put up with a lot of talk in the media about the British and English flags finally being "reclaimed from the far right".

Indeed one might even be tempted to think that between football tournaments (and Diamond Jubilees) the BNP holds the copyright to the British flag with the English Defence League more recently acquiring the rights to the Cross of St George.

In truth, the British and English flags are not symbols which require a great Stalingrad-like battle to take possession of. Even if we assume that the flags did need "reclaiming from the far right" at one point, how did the far right get hold of them in the first place?

Did they ever have to fight for it? Was it not rather the case that it was given to them on a plate by a way of thinking that suggested that any symbols or displays that might suggest pride in one's country were somehow off-colour?

As we see every two years or more, all it takes to "reclaim the flag" is for people to buy it, wave it or otherwise display it while simultaneously not being a member of the far right. This is a feat that is surprisingly easy to accomplish if done by a great many people.

Yet sadly, the kind of thinking that may have led to our national symbols being temporarily hijacked by the far right was once again on display in the Guardian today.

Nooruddean Choudry is a British Muslim who wants to support the England team at Euro 2012 but finds it difficult to do so for two main reasons, one of which is actually pretty good, the other sadly ridiculous.

Choudry says that he "finds it very difficult" to support England while John Terry is playing for the team. Terry is, in Choudry's words, "facing criminal charges for racist abuse in the workplace" and "forfeited an opportunity to clear his name" by delaying the court case until after Euro 2012.

On these grounds Choudry has good reason to feel queasy about supporting England. After all, is it really healthy to give rapturous cheers and praise to people who display serious moral and personal failings and are even accused of breaching the law, simply because they score a goal or two?

Indeed it is rather depressing that when a scandal involving a footballer having an affair breaks, whether with the "WAG" of a teammate, relative or some poor unknown, the guilty party can get more support from fans willing to forgive their stars almost any indiscretion.

Before making this rather good point, however, Choudry also said that he was "unsettled" by the sight of England fans dressed as Crusaders and "waving Crusader shields" (plastic ones, one assumes). This, he claims, is just as disturbing for Muslims as the waving of Nazi banners and the Hitler salutes that have been seen among the fans of the host nations, even if the intention behind the acts is not the same.

He then ludicrously goes on to say: "I wonder how England supporters would react to scenes at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, were masses of Arab fans to dress up in Saladin turbans and brandish Saracen swords emblazoned with Qu'ranic verse. I'm not sure it would be seen as friendly high jinx."

Well, assuming that the swords are as plastic as the Crusader shields, I think that would be seen as quite good fun, because unlike Choudry and (according to his argument, at least) large numbers of Muslims, most people have managed to get over the events of 800 years ago.

Indeed, we poor England supporters already have to put up with rival fans dressing up as our oppressors. Sweden fans have been going around in Viking helmets for quite some time, and yet somehow we are able to look at it and laugh rather than relive the trauma of murderous Viking raids.

Similarly, if the Italian fans started going around dressed as Roman legionaries, one suspects we would be able to handle it despite the at-times brutal occupation of our nation by such people many centuries ago.

Having said that, there are some national symbols and historical references which are in bad taste because the victims of historical crimes and their relatives are still very much with us.

For example, if German fans started wearing World War II helmets, that would be concerning, and while the "masses of Arab fans" with Saladin turbans and plastic swords would be harmless fun, if they wore green bandanas and fake suicide vests that would not be so jovial, however unlikely it is that they would go to a football match so attired.

By saying that ordinary England fans should not dress as Crusaders, the logic of Choudry's argument seems to be that only members of the EDL should do so and that brings us once again to the territory of "reclaiming from the far right". What Choudry totally seems to miss is that they probably are not dressing as "Crusaders" or "Christian knights" at all but as a mythical version of St George.

Are we going to have to go through the process of "reclaiming St George from the far right" every year on 23rd April? Perhaps rather than trying to discourage harmless national symbols, Choudry should move beyond the events of the 13th century and stop feeding the stereotype of the hyper-sensitive Muslim who is ready to take offence at the drop of a hat.