Issues of multiculturalism – Part 2

Prof. Zubrzycki said that the policy of grants to ethnic groups pays disproportionate attention to one of the many dimensions of multicultural policy. It promotes “an ethnic approach to minority groups” by emphasising the things that divide us, instead of the things that bind us. The policy also extends the scope of equality of access (to the nation’s resources) to the equality of outcomes. The need for some short-term affirmative action or positive discrimination “specifically targeted to refugees and other victims of oppression” is, however, not denied by the professor.

He went on to say that wooing the ethnic vote “represents a grave distortion of multiculturalism for all Australians. It measures the success or otherwise of multicultural policies by the amount of special funds and programmes directed specifically to ethnics, irrespective of whether they lead to a cohesive or fragmented society.” He also says that “multiculturalism is seen here as an instance of public policy developed for the benefit of minority groups and not as Australia’s legitimate response to the demographic reality of our society.”

This view is confirmed by Sir James when he says that the philosophy of multiculturalism “calls for respect for differences but not their perpetuation at public expense.”

I am grateful to these two eminent leaders (with whom I once had a close and warm working relationship) for articulating my views so succinctly and in such a timely manner. But stacked against the three of us in our approach to funding for ethnic groups (and implicitly to the plural service structures so endowed), and the divisiveness of such an approach, is a multitude of ethnic leaders. Of course, these claim to speak on behalf of their people and to express their needs.

However, it is difficult to know if their constituencies are consulted regularly and whether, in any such consultations, each community has considered how its grandchildren will relate to the grandchildren of other Australians, and to what kind of nation they will belong. Are there always going to be ethnics, with each group separate from the others, and to be in need of taxpayer subsidies? As an ethnic wit said recently (adapting Goering of Nazi fame), “When I hear of anyone talk of multiculturalism, I hide my purse.”

One writer on this subject has already posited that, just as some post-colonial, or indeed some European, nations are splintering into tribes based on ethnicity (reflecting in some cases, religious differences), so Australia will see sub-cultural separations, either through a celebration of their freedom of choice (e.g. gays) or because of a desire to be tribal. So, instead of globalisation and the homogenisation of cultures, the risk in Australia is the reverse; the demise of nationalism. The explanation for this drastic prognosis relies on the so-called ‘information superhighway’, which will allow “members of local tribes to communicate instantly and comprehensively with … members of the same tribe – all over the world.”

In response, one could argue that the use-by date for this prognostication was passed some generations ago. For example, have not Catholics throughout the world been linked by the papal highway? Have they not, in Australia, also been kept apart from people of other faiths, in the same way that some of the smaller Churches keep their adherents apart from the rest of us? This is not to deny that some people might, as individuals, choose to keep away from those who do not share their beliefs and interests. Yet, tribal barriers are being progressively breached.

Another writer calls on history to warn us that multiculturalism can lead to serious social division. This is also not a new argument. It is like its sibling – the argument that mixed cultures cannot produce a cohesive nation. The examples frequently cited to support this latter argument are usually Malaysia and Fiji, which shows how little these critics know about these two countries, and how inadequately they understand societal forces and impacts. After all, history can be read in diverse, yet viable, ways.

(The principal issue in community relations within a nation is whether a socially integrated people can arise, through evolution, from a substantial diversity in origins, especially with significant differences in religion, cultural practices (in spite of core values being implicitly shared), and the relative durability of their civilisations. The answer is that they can, were priests and tribal leaders to keep out of the way when, progressively, mutually tolerant co-existence gives way to co-operation in shared endeavours, to a shared citizenship held with pride.

This happened during my life in Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore). My extended family, with a few cross-tribal marriages, exemplifies this development. What was established through co-habitation, education, working together, and habituation, was not through governments managing anything; and no chauvinistic politician standing on a religious platform can undo the threads of the fabric of a proud shared citizenship.

When governments encourage the maintenance of religio-cultural tribal differences within their nations, citizens of minority ethnic origins need to beware: why is such a maintenance sought? In the way that African witchdoctors of yore were said to ask their patients ‘Who gains from your illness?’ we need to ask about the beneficiaries of an official policy of encouraging, in a nation of mixed tribal origins, an ongoing celebration of cultural history after 3 generations.

The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ impinge upon these issues.)