Britain must regain a pride in its identity, Chief Rabbi warns
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones
The Sunday Telegraph
A crisis of national and social identity is undermining Britain's efforts to integrate its immigrant population, according to the Chief Rabbi.
Sir Jonathan Sacks told The Sunday Telegraph that multiculturalism had led to segregation and a country that was no longer confident of what it stood for.
Sir Jonathan: 'Britain used to know who and what it was'
It needed to regain a sense of pride in being British, he said, but must be less afraid to allow ethnic minorities to contribute to society, or risk marginalising them.
In a BBC documentary to be shown this week, to mark the 350th anniversary of the return of Jews to England, he will say that religion will lead to deeper divisions when “communities feel alienated from mainstream British culture”, but that it can also have the power to bring groups together.
Sir Jonathan expressed concern that Britain was facing a crisis of identity while it struggled to cope with the marked rise in immigration.
He said that Britain had lost its sense of traditional and institutional roots, bemoaned the decline of the nuclear family, and claimed that irony had replaced deference as the prevalent mood among British people.
“Britain used to know who and what it was,” he said. “It had a quiet confidence in its own identity, but one of the big differences has been the death of deference.”
Sir Jonathan, who is the spiritual head of the United Synagogue, the largest synagogue body in Britain, said that there had been a particular decline in respect for institutions.
“In my father's generation, the country was very proud of Oxbridge, the BBC, the Royal family,” he said. “It is much easier to integrate than when the predominating mood is irony.”
Last month, Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, acknowledged that multiculturalism might be encouraging ethnic groups to live separate lives. But Sir Jonathan went further, arguing that it was time that the idea of multiculturalism was abandoned. In the 19th century, there was a single dominant identity in the country that welcomed in lots of people, but multiculturalism has led to confusion and segregation, he said.
“Britain hasn't made the transition to the idea of building a home together,” he said.
“Society must be the home we build together. That is not multiculturalism and it's not the 19th century mono-culturalism. It's the idea that we all have our private histories, but we all bring our several distinct contributions to the public good.”
The Chief Rabbi echoed the call last week by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, for Muslims to do more to integrate.
Sir Jonathan said that the Islamic community, particularly second-generation Muslims, were struggling with “a conflicted identity”.
“People are getting messages in all directions of all kinds and it's a big jumble,” he said.
“We should have two languages our first language of citizenship and our second language of our particular community and its history and traditions.
“We have to speak the same first language. We are British first and foremost.”
He also delivered a stark assessment of the effects of the breakdown of the traditional family. “It is devastating. We are engaged in an experiment that has never been embarked on by any society in history since man first walked on earth,” he said. About 40 per cent of children who are being born do not have parents that are married and the number of girls under-18 conceiving in England has risen by almost 12 per cent in 10 years, to 39,545 in 2004.
“The idea that you can deconstruct the family is a wholly unprecedented experiment and will end in complete failure. Societies without families will eventually die,” said Sir Jonathan.
Jews were banished from England in 1290 by Edward I, but Oliver Cromwell readmitted them in 1655, and the community is now around 300,000 strong.
In A Strange Land will be broadcast on Wednesday, on BBC1 at 11.20pm.