The most Bill Clinton thing that Bill Clinton ever did (no not that) was his St Patrick’s Day attempt to associate himself with the wondrousness of Ireland during the annual jamboree in the US. I am Irish, Bill said. Well, I am not Irish exactly, but I feel Irish, he is reputed to have told his guests, for which he was mocked by critics.

Bill Clinton has absolutely no Irish roots, or none that have been discovered. But the former US President unwittingly put his finger on a key aspect of the complex debate about the fluidity of identity and complex nature of belonging, and the way in which it does not always fit neatly inside whatever political arrangements exist at that moment.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is the latest politician to find himself at the centre of a debate about where he feels comfortable and what he calls home. A journalist on his on-going tour to Pakistan asked him if arriving in the country felt like a home-coming. His parents were from the Bombay Province, moving to Pakistan during partition. In London, Sadiq’s father was a bus driver. I don’t know if the Mayor has ever mentioned this fact?

There has been the inevitable social media row about Khan being asked whether Pakistan feels like home, with the outrage bus rolling on Twitter. The question was a racist question it was claimed loudly, and so on. Guardian columnist Owen Jones had his outrage amplifier turned up to eleven. This leaves Owen and the far-left enforcing a weird modern version of the so-called “Tebbit test” or “Tebbit cricket test,” named after the former Tory cabinet minister’s ludicrous application of a patriotism test to international cricket in the 1980s.

All sorts of people have overlapping identities that cross borders. This is positive. Why be so desperate to find a grievance and shout racist when the question asked of Khan is fair – respectful – and gets to the heart of the issue? A Scottish, Welsh or Irish (Northern Ireland and Republic)person  gets asked about “home” frequently.

Lots of Britons call more than one place home. Personally, my home is now in London, but I think of Scotland as home because of family. I was born in Scotland, lived in England from the age of one and returned to Scotland between 14 and 35. I know Scots born in London who live in Oxford, who will talk after a whisky about Scotland being home. Those with Scottish roots across the world are hilariously sentimental about it and need only the thinnest excuse to don tartan and grow misty-eyed about the glens they never go to. Their ancestors were probably from Greenock or Milngavie.

The confusion crosses nation state borders too. I would be surprised if my young American relative born in Chicago to my Scottish cousin and her American husband does not in adulthood at one point or another develop kinship and pride in Scotland, the land of their grandparents. And why not?

This concept applies perhaps most of all to the long-settled Irish in Britain. Within living memory the Irish were black-listed and treated as a joke. Yet they do not bristle if asked by someone English whether Ireland is in some sense still home, even if it is a long time since they lived there. Similarly, many of my British Jewish friends (often encountering appalling anti-Semitism) retain to varying degrees an affinity or feeling for Israel. Quite right. There are plenty of Brits with Jamaican heritage who visit Jamaica and call it home. Again, so what?

What about British Italians? The connection is very strong there in some cases. They might not use the word “home” for it but Italy, and the migration three or four generations ago, is central to their sense of self and family. “Do you feel at home in Naples, Milan or Rome?” would not be considered an insult to a British person of Italian origin landing on Italian soil. They would be proud to be asked.

Of course there is something mildly amusing or bogus about the notion when taken to an extreme in politics, as in the case of Bill Clinton citing his fictional Irishness because of a warm feeling at a party (no, not that warm feeling again). But outside the strict definitions of a passport it is impossible to codify or apply strict rules in this area. It is about human engagement, identity, shared experience and feeling, and we should surely be as broad-minded and relaxed about it as possible.

At root, the fuss about the question to Khan is down to the ahistorical and narrow-minded attempt by the new Puritans of the far-left who drive the outrage bus to prove their own politically correct virtue and shut down opposition.

Contrary to the implication, this is not some uniquely sophisticated age we live in. Travel, cross-pollination and dual identity is not new. It is an ahistorical misreading to regard this as a modern development. Certainly, tourism via air travel has added scale and weight of numbers, although very often we are being shot at speed in a metal tube to a place that could be anywhere, stripped of distinctive local detail and flattened out into a bland modern consumer experience.

Our ancestors were much more attuned to the outside world and connected to it than we tend to think. Travel in the Europe of the Rennaissence and later was not limited to the aristocracy. Aristans, merchants and their assistants, soldiers, and tradesmen of all types traversed the continent and beyond. For centuries going to sea was one of the major European occupations for those who lived near the coast, particularly so for the maritime mad British. Indeed, the ancestor of Octavius, Reaction’s new columnist with his  Guide to Surviving Modern Life, was Willis , a boy from Cumbria who became captain of the Westmorland, with a crew of 38 sailing across the Med avoiding war and pirates, until his ship was captured by two French warships off the coast of Spain in January 1799, carrying a cargo of artworks owned by travellers completing their own “Grand Tour”. The contents were stolen and sold, many going to the Prado in Madrid. The papers  were put on display a few years back in Oxford in an exhibition. Captain s descendents ended up in Glasgow, South Africa (Mandela was married to a Machel, with one l) and India.

Human experience and identity is far too interesting and varied to be squeezed into the boring contemporary narrative of “that question is, like, so racist and offensive.”