It was a grey uninspiring Thursday afternoon in Oxford, normal in every respect expect one.
I was getting my photo taken with the Queen, resplendent in her glittering crown, jewelled gown, and royal blue sash.
Well OK, not exactly Her Majesty, but a photo of her.
Why was I having my photo taken with a photo of old Lizzie? And more importantly why was I smiling about it? I am definitely not a royalist. I am an Australian who voted for a republic, and would do so again if our politicians gave us the opportunity (though I do confess to watching with curious fascination sadly balding Will and automaton Kate’s impassive royal wedding).
The reason for my aberrant behaviour lies in the bit of paper you see me clutching: my certificate of Citizenship of the United Kingdom.
Yes folks, I am officially a British citizen.
Although this is now my third nationality it is the only one that I have had to consciously and explicitly ratify. For as a new British citizen I was required to verbally pledge my allegiance to the Queen and her heirs, and my loyalty to the United Kingdom and its laws and democratic values.
Affirmation of allegiance
I (name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.
By vocalising these pledges in the stately gallery of the Oxford Town Hall and listening to the General Lieutenant enthuse about the role of citizens in their society a curious thing happened.
I began to think about what it actually means to be a citizen of a country.
That citizenship involves responsibilities and not just rights (i.e. the right to work, which was only thing I had been thinking about until that point). And that those responsibilities include more than just obeying the law and paying taxes, but also involve civic participation, and giving back to the community.
As I felt this wholesome bubble of social benevolence and communal goodwill well up inside me (which I entirely blame for my temporary desire to be snapped with the Her Majesty’s likeness), it occurred to me that if you acquire citizenship by birth you never pledge your allegiance to anything, nor ever ruminate on the importance of being a good citizen.
Surely there would be merit in making all residents of a country partake in a citizenship ceremony to bestow upon them the gravity and the privilege of their role in society? Wouldn’t this collective awareness and the ensuing civility make the world a better place?
Or would it just encourage an exaggerated sense of patriotism and nationalistic pride, that would lead to exclusivity, fear and distrust? I mean just take a look at the pledge of allegiance immigrants to the US must declare:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Blimey! Not a lot of social benevolence going on there.
As I exited the Town Hall into typically miserable English drizzle in search of a celebratory pint and some fish & chips, I was no closer to answering these questions.
But today as I sit down to fill in the application for my third passport (if this writing gig fails, maybe I’ll try my hand at espionage) I can’t help feeling that the best solution would be a world without countries, borders, passports and visas. An undivided free and safe world for all to work, play and travel in peace and harmony.
Yes, it is a utopian, hippy ideal; a naïve dream that is never likely to come to fruition. The rational, realist in me completely understands (and reluctantly accepts) that borders, passports, nations and nationalism is not only a necessary evil in today’s world, but in fact, a built-in construct of the modern world.
Nevertheless, I can always hope.
And boy would I just love to one day pledge my allegiance to Planet Earth
Affirmation of allegiance to Planet Earth
I (name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a citizen of Planet Earth, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to this unique and exquisite biosphere and all life within it.
Pledge to Planet Earth
I will obey the laws of a democratic, egalitarian society for all humankind and will respect the rights and freedoms of all livings beings. I will fulfil my duties and obligations as a responsible and active Earth Citizen faithfully, in a manner that will benefit future generations and that will ensure life continues to flourish on this precious planet for millennia to come.
What are your thoughts on nationalism, citizenship, passports and borders?
Is a global world a possibility? Or just a dream?