It's St George’s day – a chance to celebrate England's patron saint, and, for some sanctimonious characters, it's also an opportunity to berate people by reminding them who St George really was. But there's a problem with those determined to lecture others: they're getting their facts wrong.
In recent years, a peculiar narrative has taken hold among seemingly well educated people, who have suddenly discovered that St George was a 'Turkish soldier', an 'Arab' whose mother was Palestinian, or – perhaps the most absurd claim – 'a migrant worker from the Middle East' who would be 'banned' from the UK.
The problem with these claims is that none of them are true. And those peddling these stories should know better.
It was Alice Roberts, president of Humanists UK and professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham, who told her 300,000 followers on Twitter:
'In the third century, a Turkish Roman soldier joined a growing cult and was executed for it, inspiring other martyrs. When the cult later became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the soldier inspired a popular cult of his own in Palestine...'
And it was Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Mirror, who said:
'Happy St George’s Day, a day plastic patriots and racists ignore St George was a migrant worker from and in the Middle East who they’d ban from a UK he never visited anyway.'
As for the extraordinary claim that St George was an Arab? That was made by Jack Straw writing in the Guardian.
The issue here is that St George was actually Greek. His father was a Greek from Cappadochia, inhabited by Greeks (amongst others) since time immemorial. It took a brutal war and a genocide before Greeks were removed from the region in the early 20th century.
His mother, too, was a Greek Christian – from Palestine – where you’d also find Greek communities in those times. To call him Turkish is absurd, as the Turks would not arrive in the area for centuries. And being from the Middle East definitely doesn’t make you automatically an Arab. As for 'migrant worker', I had no idea that was how members of the Roman Praetorian guard should be described.
It's a pity that those determined to wind up people who are keen on celebrating St George's Day should be so sloppy on acknowledging the historical facts. After all, the basic details about St George's life are easily found on publicly available sources, even on Wikipedia.
Instead, this 'progressive' presentation of a man who lived and died thousands of years ago has become a tool in the great play of point-scoring, through what I suspect is wilful misinterpretation, because St George being simply 'Greek' is not enough. Instead, we have to reach for some other, more Middle Eastern origin story, it seems, even if it’s not true. Why? Because the point is to make your opponents angry, not to inform the public. As a result, all of those involved – the Greeks, the Turks, the Arabs, St George himself – are objectified and turned into mere props.
At the time of St George’s martyrdom, Christians faced extreme violence and persecution. His story made him the protector saint of not only England, but also Venice, Genoa, Portugal, Ethiopia and Catalonia among others. His life and death means something for people well beyond England, and well beyond the here and now. But who cares about the facts when you can make a cheap point on Twitter?