The land the Dome forgot;Comment;Opinion

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Mandy's Millennium Dome could yet do its bit for the currently flourishing nationalist cause in Scotland. A recent impromptu local survey indicates a fair proportion of Scots around who are saying: "What's it all to do with us?" Tony Blair lambasts Dome-doubters as an ignoble, unpatriotic and nihilistic bunch, part of an inglorious strand of British history. Just about the only reference to British history so far in Dome-speak. The script, of course, is hardly surprising, since the Government has still to raise half the required business sponsorship of pound;150 million.

The Dome certainly promises us a giant theme park: a monster big top, with apparently little artistic, aesthetic or cultural overview. The displays will offer activity and sensation. Values would appear largely to be secular and commercial, although that won't stand in the way of a spectacular fun day out for families who can get themselves to London.

Two thousand years of what, children may ask. Are we by any chance celebrating the birthday of a religion - and a civilisation? Christianity does gets a passing nod in the Spirit Zone, but thanks to the warm-mushy-glow brigade representing Christianity in the Lambeth Group, the multi-faith advisory body, a passing nod it is. At Greenwich, you'll be able to choose your religion and sit in the sheltered calm of a Christian monastic cloister, the austerity of Japanese Zen gardens or among the formal exuberance of Muslim architecture. Whichever you choose will doubtless be welcomingly restful for aching feet and pleasantly aromatherapeutic for the soul.

Can you really imagine Islam, when the 2000th birthday of the Prophet comes round, giving equal space and treatment in a Muslim dome to features on Christianity and Buddhism?

So what does the Dome offer to educators? Just think what multimedia and virtual reality might have made of an overview of the history of the UK's component races, of the patterns of racial invasion and absorption in these islands - the contributions of any races, from the Votadini to the Vietnamese, to the rich, creative, polyglot celebration which is the UK today.

A political decision was made to present time forward, and leave the past somewhere out there in dusty museums. Thus has a great opportunity to glimpse a global future in terms of its seedbed slipped. Indeed Britain's potential contribution to Europe and the global village cannot really be envisaged without some knowledge of the colourful background which has melded the strengths of these islands. It is fashionable to mock the concept of empire, but the British legacy of democratic government as the ideal remains the aspiration of many still under a far-flung tyrant's jackboot.

The British preference for self-deprecation means we need to be reminded occasionally of our outstanding contribution to European legislative reform and the growth of world parliamentary democracy. Traditional British multicultural tolerance is a national characteristic on which the country should be proud to build.

In terms of world civilisation, Britain's notable military and peacekeeping history not only has past but future relevance. England and Scotland have both contributed with distinction to the European Renaissance, to the Enlightenment and to the growth of public education, welfare and equal opportunities.

History is bunk, said Henry Ford, and it looks as if some politicians go along with that. But in a future where British schoolchildren will daily Internet with counterparts all over the world, it might help if they understood those roots. But cheer up - there's always the Body Zone and the floater-coaster.

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