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Braveheart Buddhists

“Independence isn’t just history.” That was the message of leafleters outside Scottish cinema screenings in the 1990s as Wallace rode onto our screens ready to free the nation.

Today the Braveheart effect on Scottish politics may have worn off, with modern nationalism now being centred on economics, democracy and future aspirations. But with the referendum set to be held in 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, just how closely the independence movement should run to historic sentiment is still a real issue of debate.

Recently, several sources including the Scottish Centre of Himalayan Research reported that Tibetan monks had been watching Braveheart, even between prayer times, presumably encouraged by the story of Scotland and its fight for independence from a much larger and much more powerful neighbour.

Perhaps it is the monks’ philosophy of all things being interconnected that has in some way influenced these developments – and that is something we should learn from. Independence movements around the world are bound together by a common goal; and in the new age of internet democracy that solidarity will have an even greater part to play.

These developments on the role of our history in Tibet are particularly interesting due to our own criticisms of the subject. Scotland’s story is a “Hollywood invention”, we are often told. It was “wildly romanticised”, or simply “didn’t happen”. Whilst we should ensure our knowledge of the subject is as factual as possible, it is fair to say that Scotland’s obsession with freedom is not a post-Braveheart phenomenon but a very real and long-lasting notion centred at the very heart of our culture. We wouldn’t dismiss India’s struggle for independence as fictional due to some inaccuracies in the 1982 film Ghandi. Films do not create these notions; they interpret them.

Recounting the history of Bruce and Wallace was in fact a common feature in the works of Robert Burns, almost 500 years after the Wars of Scottish Independence. His intention was not to simply reminisce on the past but to actively inspire the Scottish society of his own time to stand up for itself against a culturally and politically one-sided union. The Tibetans, it seems, are emulating such an idea.

For us, we can read the history books, we can watch the films, we can look at the current reality in Scotland and see fair treatment, freedom of speech, individual equality, and freedom of choice, and wonder how the country can possibly be considered “not free”. But there is a difference between individual freedom and collective freedom – the right a society has to democracy and self-governance. A nation’s people cannot be free unless they have both.

The answer to becoming a truly modern nation is not to forget our country’s history but to celebrate it and learn from it in a way that is inclusive and forgiving. There is a reason why the history of Scotland fascinates and resonates with people all around the world. It’s the story of the underdog; the simple idea that any society or any individual, regardless of precedence, can stand and be counted. The Tibetans understand why that message is universal, and so should we.

This article is from Andrew Barr who blogs here.

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  1. Surely the trouble with ‘Braveheart’ is not the many historical inaccuracies (annoying though they are) but the importation of a US-style philosophy of ‘manifest destiny’. Wallace is in the right because he’s the ‘good guy’ and therefore the film expects us to be on his side regardless of the methods he uses–including murdering his rivals on his own side. This is the morality of the Frontier–still readily visible in such recent westerns as ‘Open Range’ and ‘Appaloosa’. It’s also the black and white worldview of ‘Dubya’. So I entirely agree with Andrew that the important point is to learn from our history in a way that is ‘inclusive and forgiving’, and avoid Hollywood simplifications!

  2. Blind Harry and John Barbour exhibit the same “ends justify the means ‘cos we’re the goodies” philosophy as well; there’s nothing especially American about it. The Black Douglas, especially, comes out as quite the psychopath in the The Brus… now *he* would make for a good film character.

  3. Alex Buchan says:

    I think this is an incredibly important point. I think unless we can lift our aspirations higher to feeling solidarity with all national groups who are denied a voice then our campaign will remain limited in its appeal here in Scotland. There is so much that could be done here and Scotland’s struggle which is already having an impact across the globe could really help to raise the profile of the issue of national rights worldwide.

  4. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    These people were creatures of their time and no better and no worse than those they opposed. I can’t be bothered by the constant carping of moralising modifiers.
    Without Wallace and Bruce there would be no Scotland. That is a fact. That is all.

    The Film “Braveheart” has much of the central essence correct. It is rather more accurate than, for instance, Shakespeare’s MacBeth.
    Do you think the English have their knickers in a twist about the manifest inaccuracies in their glorified historical episodes?
    Good Queen Bess? My arse!

    1. Indy says:

      Yes they were creatures of their time. Which is why Braveheart is rubbish. It is a rubbish film, people only like it because it is such a novelty when anything Scottish – other than Big Tam of course – makes it to Hollywood.

      But Mel Gibson is a fairly unpleasant person and so is the film.

  5. Dave – not in the least. I 100% agree that we can’t hold medieval people to modern standards of warfare. I was just pointing out that there’s nothing specifically American about that particular ends/ means malarky.

  6. Albalha says:

    Having spent time in different parts of the Middle East in recent years a regular repsonse to my telling someone I was Scottish was … ah Braveheart, the film was widely watched for it appears much the same reasons as the Tibetan monks you talk of.

  7. Barontorc says:

    Plainly, the average voting and soon to be voting Scottish person, is moved by the central theme of Braveheart and that is why such silly mocking has been heaped on it in shovelfulls. I have no doubt that factual inaccuracies can be found in every published “story/report” in almost every MSM and BBC Scotland broadcast/published item.

    At least, Braveheart was a film, with no pretence at accuracy, but only that of story to be told.
    The greater shame is that of so-called journailists who openly flout the truth and pen such garbage that suits their paymasters. All aboard, for journalistic prostitution?

    1. Mudfries says:

      Well saic Bartonic, my sentiments exactly.

    2. Mudfries says:

      Sorry Pal! I didnt mean to call you Bartonic! dont know why that came into my head, I must need a drink! I salute you Barontorc!!!!

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