I confess I was troubled by Theresa May's Party pleasing speech at the Tory Party Conference last Autumn. Amongst the more concerning statements was her contention that to be a citizen of the world was to be a citizen of nowhere. In my view this is ignorance verging on arrogance, and privileges narrowness over breadth in matters of personal, social and national identities.
First, that which every human being holds in common is humanity, not nationality and not even citizenship. Our common humanity is the starting point for understanding togetherness and otherness, sameness and difference. Yes indeed, as human beings our personal and national histories, our cultural formation, social and economic context and experience, life opportunities and life limitations, create rich and at times confusing and colliding diversities. But basic to human sociality, and indeed fundamental to human flourishing, is that recognition of, respect for, and concern to protect and enhance, our common humanity.
Only then am I prepared to think of national identity in a globalised world, social identity in a multicultural and pluralist culture, and personal identity formed and developed in a changing continuity within the overall context of my life. So when the Prime Minister tells me I cannot be a citizen of the world, that to claim such makes me a citizern of nowhere, she is wrong. What is more her own say so does not, thankfully, deprive anyone of their self-identity of belonging to this richly textured, multi-cultural diversity we call the world.
There is therefore some irony in the same Prime Minister, a few months later, insisting Britain wishes to be global, to be a global trader, enaged in trade and commerical relationships on a worldwide scale, but only so far as it furthers our nation's interests. Well, yes, trade is conducted for the very purposes of furthering a nation's interests. But usually to the mutual benefit of trading partners, and within the recognised protocols of treaties and agreements, which preserve the principles of fairness, mutual concessions and accepting that in those compromises there may be pluses and minuses, but overall a relationship that benefits all particpants.
But the narrow minded pursuit of international relations on primarily economic grounds is itself problematic. What about being a net contributor to the common good of the world, and often at our own expense? And that expense borne willingly in order to underwrite our commitment to those other people and peoples beyond our own increasingly grudging borders? Four brief points sharpen this question.
- The well known hostility of the Prime Minister to the European Convention on Human Rights is a threat to an institution and instrument that goes to the very heart of what we believe about citizenship, power and humanity in its vulnerability to abuse of that power. This negativity towards the European Convention is darkened by an equal ambivalence towards the European Court of Justice.
- Second, we have a political future post Brexit that is heading towards tighter borders, intolerance of immigrant people, economic reconfiguration around self-interest and significantly distanced international relations, all of which make any claim that our country is interested in global relations at best self-serving, and at worst deluded.
- Third, the Prime Minister's insistence that she alone has the right to trigger the Brexit clause would mean that my own current status as a citizen of the European Community, can be rescinded on the say so of a Prime Minister not elected as such by General Election, without recourse to the sovereignty of Parliament, and as an act which is brought about by her own Party's inner enmities which brought about the Referendum in the first place.
- Fourth, at a time when the United States is going through a political reinvention with similar strains of isolationism, radically self-interested economics, driving forces of anti-immigration and right wing resurgence, and with overtures of encouragement to the UK to be and do the same, there is a real threat to the international political order such as has not been felt since the end of the Second World War.
So when I am told, without discussion, and from someone claiming a Christian heritage, that I cannot be a citizen of the world, that global citizenship is effectively a dangerous nonsense, I hear the drums of nationalism and exclusivism, the clang of claimed privilege and unself-critical pride, and the ignorance and arrogance of someone whose personal ambitions are made embarassingly naked. Ignorance, in the sense of lack of knowledge of what it sounds like, looks like and feels like, to have your Prime Minister tell you what you are and what you are not. Arrogance in the sense that those statements that disenfranchise and denigrate those with a global worldview are not the remit of any democratically elected leader in a country. No leader has the right to unilaterally disqualify my view of the world in favour of a narrow, exclusivist, self-interested view of our own country's place in the world.
My own understanding of a Christian view of the world is neither rose tinted nor shadowed by fear. The Christian church is trans-national, world embracing in its mission, open to sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God with every language, tribe, people and nation, made up of those who in following Jesus are ministers of reconciliation, peacemakers, members of a Kingdom of justice, joy and peace, teachers and embodiments of all that Jesus taught and commanded. Such a position does not allow me the "crabb'd and confined" view of the world currently being marketed as our future.