I was born into a multi-tribal, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual colonial territory. Within the 3 generations of my extended family, both from my own experience and that of my elders, in that territory, there was no evidence of any religious prejudice. Perhaps that was because everyone was far too busy seeking to survive; and also perhaps through a lack of a shared language for the earlier arrivals. The host people, the Muslim Malays, were also very tolerant of us immigrants.
Through acquiring a shared language (English) – to complement the market Malay we all used initially – as well as through habituation (that is, regular contact with one another), we lived with one another peacefully. All of us carried out our traditional religious rituals, and prayed, as we wished. Cultural traditions and festivals were celebrated freely. Clothing styles remained unhindered. Yet, in time there was a visible fusion in some clothing and in the preparation of food. We began to eat the foods of other cultural communities, borrowed words from other languages, and developed our unique style of speech.
When Australians began to blurb about how multicultural we were becoming, I used to deflate burgeoning nationalistic egos by pointing out that Malaysia and Singapore were far ahead of us. A widening ethnic diversity is not an adequate substitute for religio-cultural tolerance, which needs time, habituation, and non-interference from priests and politicians. Regrettably, some chauvinism from these new ethnic communities is unavoidable (as is evident today).
What shocked me on arrival in Australia shortly after the end of World War Two, was the virulent skin colour prejudice (which I felt reflected guilt more than superiority), an unwarranted cultural arrogance against non-Christians, and a openly ferocious sectarian religious prejudice (with discrimination practiced by both sides). It was only when the oldest generation died that colour prejudice was lessened. There does not seem to be much of this prejudice around now.
The arrival of large numbers of European immigrants tended to drive sectarianism subterranean. Why? Brit.vs.‘wog’? A fast-rising interest in Yoga and Buddhism, reflecting the flowering of freedom at many levels from the 1960s, undermined some religious prejudice.
We have now evolved into a cosmopolitan people with great cultural tolerance; skin colour is not an issue (except for some yobbos); and ancient Asian philosophies have established a strong foothold against the waning of institutional religion. A couple of minority ethno-religious communities either influence Middle-East policies, or have a grip on the nation’s social policies, or control much of official administrations. While co-habitation is sound, control by religio-politicians rules. To what extent is Western democracy responsible for such control?
Yet, there is adequate evidence that, when not persuaded by those with influence over us, we will reach out to one another, as children generally do.