Nationalists celebrating St George’s day over the weekend were given an unexpected history lesson about the ethnic origins of England’s patron saint.
Representatives from anti-hate crime charity Tell MAMA handed out 100 heat-reactive T-shirts which, at first glance, simply display the red cross associated with the historical figure.
Yet, once worn, the words “St George was Syrian #DefendDiversity”, appear.
The St George’s cross has been co-opted by far-right, xenophobic groups, with little consideration for the fact that he had Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean heritage.
The patron saint had Syrian, Greek, Turkish and Palestinian heritage, and is shared with Ethiopia and Georgia, among other nations.
He is celebrated in Palestine as a hero, where he is regarded as a martyr who defended the Christian faith.
Tell MAMA targeted a group of around 100 far-right demonstrators who were milling around the Mayor of London’s separate annual Feast of St George parade.
They had been walking towards the Cenotaph from Trafalgar Square.
Asked what St George’s Day means to them, one demonstrator replied: “Purity”.
One woman said: “Our flag is red and white, not red and brown.”
And another man, draped in an England flag, said: “St George’s Cross – that means England, born and bred.”
It comes as police recorded a 17% rise in hate crime offences in England and Wales in 2017/18 – to just over 94,000.
Iman Atta OBE, Director of Tell MAMA, said of the prank: “In light of the recent surge in division and hate crime, we wanted to reclaim the St. George’s Cross from those who spread division and celebrate it as a symbol of diversity.
“Migrants have shaped our country, from St. George to present day heroes like Mo Farrah, Rita Ora, Malala Yousafzai and Dame Zaha Hadid.
“Fly the flag for diversity this St George’s Day.”
This article has been amended to reflect that St George had Palestinian heritage.