Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why I Want to Be a Knight

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why I Want to Be a Knight

Article excerpt

What would I have done, I was asked recently on Radio 5 Live, if I had been offered something in the New Year's honours list? I would try to follow the example of my grandfather, I replied. If the honour had a "BE" in it, I would have to reject it. But if a knighthood were bestowed on me, I would accept it gracefully.

My grandfather, Dr Ahmadullah Khan, was a medical officer in the British army. He saw action in Burma and China. For his services to the empire, he was given both an OBE and a knighthood. Although he wasn't in a position actually to reject it, he was, according to family history, quite ashamed of the OBE. But he was proud of being a Knight Bachelor--so much so that he translated the "sir" into Urdu as sardar ("leader"), which eventually became the family surname.

My grandfather was proud of his knighthood because it embodied the ideal of the British gentleman. To be a knight is to be a part of an ancient British tradition and to be accepted as an equal and integral part of it. But the honours associated with the Order of the British Empire, created in 1917, reduce you to a subject status. As a "Commander" or "Officer" or "Member" of the "British Empire", you are a subject of the imperial will.

The Most Noble Order of the Garter was created in 1348. The idea of the knight goes back further. We think of the knights' role in the Magna Carta, which planted the seeds of what became representative government and democracy. …

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