Ruth Gledhill, Times (London), November 22, 2005
Britain’s first black Archbishop has made a powerful attack on multiculturalism, urging English people to reclaim their national identity.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said that too many people were embarrassed about being English. “Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains,” he said.
He said that the failure of England to rediscover its culture afresh would lead only to greater political extremism.
The new Archbishop also strongly criticised the Terrorism Bill, showing that he is likely to be even more robust in his criticism of the Government than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Dr Sentamu has consistently denied speculation that his was a political appointment and, as a former judge in Uganda, his attack on counter-terrorism legislation carries particular weight. “The moment you make your laws so tough, even the most law abiding will say, this is a chance to break them,” Dr Sentamu said.
He called for the English to rediscover their cultural identity by properly marking celebrations such as St George’s Day on April 23. “I speak as a foreigner really. The English are somehow embarrassed about some of the good things they have done. They have done some terrible things but not all the Empire was a bad idea. Because the Empire has gone there is almost the sense in which there is not a big idea that drives this nation.”
The Ugandan-born Archbishop, who fled Idi Amin’s regime in 1974, said he would not be where he was today were it not for the British Empire and the English teachers and missionaries who worked in Africa.
Dr Sentamu was speaking to The Times before his enthronement as the Church’s new No 2 at York Minster on November 30. As the most senior black churchman, who during his time as a bishop in London acted as an adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry that found institutional racism in the police, he received racist and abusive letters, some covered in human excrement, after his appointment was announced earlier this year.
But as a direct product himself of the British Empire, he intends to make mission and a passion for English culture, and the Christian roots of that culture, driving forces of the next decade or more that he will spend as primate of England’s northern province.
“What is it to be English? It is a very serious question,” he said. “I think we have not engaged with English culture as it has developed. When you ask a lot of people in this country, ‘What is English culture?’, they are very vague. It is a culture that whether we like it or not has given us parliamentary democracy. It is the mother of it. It is the mother of arguing that if you want a change of government, you vote them in or you vote them out.
“It is a place that has allowed reason to be at the heart of all these things, that has allowed genuine dissent without resort to violence, that has allowed all the fantastic music that we experience in our culture.”
Multiculturalism as a concept failed to convey the essence of what it meant to be English. “England is the culture I have lived in, I have loved . . . My teachers were English. As a boy growing up, that is the culture I knew.”
He disliked the word “tolerance” when used in reference, for example, to people of different cultures. “It seems to be the word tolerance is bad because it just means putting up with it,” he said. “I was raised in the spirit of magnanimity. That is a better word than tolerance. If you are magnanimous in your judgments on other people, there is a chance that I will recognise that you will help me in my struggle.”
He described English culture as rooted in Christianity and, in spite of attempts by secularists to marginalise it, the Church still had a central role to play. “I think the Church in many ways has to be like a midwife, bringing to birth possibilities of what is authentically very good in the English mind.”
He will work closely with Dr Williams, and disclosed the precise nature of that relationship.
“We come from a similar stable,” he said. “He is my Moses. I have chosen in that analogy to try and be a Jethro to him. Jethro was Moses’s father-in-law who was always very practical, making suggestions. In the end it was Moses who had to put them out [into practice].
“People say to me, ‘are you going to play second fiddle to the Archbishop of Canterbury?’ That is not helpful. This is going to be a partnership.”
Referring to Dr Williams’s “incredible gifts of intellect” and deep spiritual life, he described him as “a person of prayer and a person who listens to God, a person who wants to be magnanimous about everybody, which some people don’t like. He is a Welshman, I know, but still his behaviour is the kind of tradition I was raised in.”
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed Dr Sentamu’s comments. He said: “I’m only embarrassed about being English when we lose a cricket match in the way we’ve just lost one.”