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Peter Sampson’s Beijing Blog

WHEN I THINK OF ENGLAND

03-02-2010

Peter Sampson is currently living in China and he is perhaps able to look on the country he left behind from a better perspective than commentators back in England are able to.

Six months down in Beijing, and I find myself thinking of England very often. So it was with some disappointment that I came across an interview with Martin Amis in the Daily Telegraph. He is described as seeing England as a third rate country, challenged by Islam, and obsessed with sexuality.

Does this ring true to someone who spent forty five years in the country of his birth, before deciding to sample a taste of the East?

I have to say that it does not.

Let’s get the third rate thing out of the way first. By any measurement – economic, historical, cultural – England is as much third rate as David Cameron is a man of the people. We may not always be proud of our history or present, but to describe it as third rate is to make a significant mistake.

Challenged by Islam? England may be challenged by many things – excessive alcohol consumption, a fixation with celebrity culture, perhaps – but it has generally found a way around challenges of all descriptions. It is one of the strange qualities of the country, and – for most people – I suspect ‘the challenge of Islam’ is less important than whether or not they have a job.

And finally, Martin Amis bemoans England’s obsession with sexuality. To which I would simply respond that it is better to have loved (or lusted) and lost, than not to be allowed by state, or government, or religion to do so.

What do I think of when I think of England from afar?

I think of many things, and of many places. But freedom to think, to discuss, to offend, and to walk down New Street, or stroll around Penzance, aware that the worst thing that can happen is that I will be fined for putting a cigarette out on the pavement is a splendid thing in itself.

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