Letter: Past evils are not our fault

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The Independent Online
Sir: Beatrix Campbell ('It's time to open our eyes and think of Ireland', 6 September) makes two interesting points, but she cannot claim success for both of them.

'Nothing in my culture supports a sense that we, the English, are made of migrants,' she writes - and surely we can be pleased at that. We have forgotten about being part-Saxon, part-Danish, part-French, part-Roman, part-British, part-Celt, and so we have no reason to fight each other about such things. Other cultures which rehearse the evils of the past, and evil deeds of the dead, pay a heavy price for enjoying their half-understood recollections, as we sadly see in Ireland, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and so on.

But then she says: 'England's cultural crisis is its lack of empathy', and she seems to mean that we should feel as the Irish do. But surely our indifference to where we all come from and whose ancestors did what to whom in the past is a cultural strength, not a crisis. We should feel sympathy, of course, for everybody past and present to whom injustice or cruelty has been meted out, and regret if we have reason to think any of our own forebears were involved in it, which most of us have not. Such sympathy should help to prevent such things in the future, but there is nothing we can do to help the past.

Probably Ms Campbell's ancestors, like my own, felt bitterly involved at the time of the massacre of Glencoe. But what empathy can we feel now? What responsibility for it can we rediscover?

Yours faithfully,

JANE EGGLESTON

Norwich, Norfolk

6 September

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