Category: MNI View Created on Saturday, 26 May 2012 09:46
Perhaps one of the more prominent and noble acts within human interaction, is saying thank you. Saying thank you can simply be uttered personally or publicly, or it can be affectionately addressed in more lavish terms such as bestowing individuals with awards for the work they have done towards the improvement of the human condition. The British honour system that rewards invididuals with an OBE, MBE and CBE is one such way in which saying thank you is embodied towards citizens of the Commonwealth in recognition of their work and achievements.
It is admirable to reward success. Those who give unselfishly of themselves towards improving the lives of others also deserve special recognition. My view however, is that awards are largely psychological, both to the awardees and the general public.
The British Empire ruled over most of the world for the better part of 300 years. Many historians commonly agree that the last threads of Empire expired perhaps between the last 50-60 years. The Empire has now been replaced with the Commonwealth of which Queen Elizabeth is the figurehead. There is much to celebrate about the value of the current Commonwealth system across many quarters of endeavour, as I am aware that it also has its challenges.
Having said that, I will say this pointedly and without reservation; as a matter of personal choice emboldened by my distaste for the use of the word Empire, I am not anamored with the British awards of OBE, MBE and CBE. There are many other awards to be attained in recognition of selfless service and as a means of saying thank you, however, the previous awards, as highlighted, grind against the grain of my regard for history and the continued progress of once oppressed people by the Empire.
It is not that I do not believe in the honours system in its wider forms and noble intentions; but after spending some time seeking to define my position on these said awards, I have come to accept that I have a fundamental unease with the use of the word ‘Empire’ in the British awards of Order of the British Empire, Member of The British Empire & Commander of the British Empire.
I am of the opinion that it does a disservice towards breaking the mental barriers towards true freedom and self empowerment for former and still existing colonies, to recommend their citizens for awards that seek to portray these citizens as accepting of an old Empire system that practiced immense brutality and exploitation of people they deemed as conquered in the name of the British Monarchy.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is also apparently looking to reintroduce the British Empire Medal. The Prime Minister’s justification is that this medal is for those people who do voluntary work. Further mental buffoonery with his use of Empire in that award, seeking to celebrate political clout that no longer exists.
Calls have been rising in respected quarters for the Honours system to be reformed. Individuals such as author Patrick French, who also rebuffed an OBE in 2003 said "The British Empire is the most interesting thing this country has done in the last 300 years, so it absolutely should be taught in schools, but the fact is that it is over and has been for 50 or 60 years, and to continue to use it in the medals that the government is giving completely fails to recognise the way in which the empire is perceived by other people in other countries, in particular former colonies."
French has called for a name change to Order of British Excellence. I am certain that would be more palatable to many who take issue with the use of the word Empire.
As Commonwealth nations seek real progress, it would certainly be unwise to spend too many hours peeking back at a dark past of colonialism and conquest. However, I believe in the transformational power of information to empower individuals, so whilst it would be defeatist to teach our children anti-British sentiments because of our colonial past, it is also vital that we educate them of their history as a people and where they should seek to position themselves mentally, socially and economically. I would find it very difficult to tell my offspring that accepting an award with the word Empire embedded within it represents progress.
A piece written by Journalist, Richard Alleyne, in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper back in early May highlighted this very issue in which three of the monarch's Lord Lieutenants, who advise Her Majesty on who should receive the honours, said the use of the word Empire was "inappropriate" and "anachronistic". George Reid, one of the Lord Lieutenants, went as far as to explain to the Commons public accounts committee that generally there was "unease" about the use of the word Empire.
The Lord Lieutenant is quoted as saying, "One local resident of ethnic origin, whose family came from a former colony, said that he could never accept an honour named after a system his family had fought to abolish.”
The Empire so enshrined in the OBE, MBE and CBE was a system that culturally disrupted ‘conquered’ societies. It was a system that economically pillaged the developing world for the glory of Britain. It was a system that psychologically defaced our forefathers into absolute submission to the will of the crown and the aristocracy, the remnants of which are still being felt today. In good conscience and by personal choice, I cannot support an awards system that seeks to celebrate what was a once brutal British Empire, as now virtuous.
Photo Credit To Olibarret
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