Are all cultures reflective of a religion?

The brutal slicing out of the clitoris – we know what it is, where it is, and what it can do – of girls and young women has been claimed to reflect a cultural tradition. Was this practice derived from a major accepted religion?

The marrying off of a daughter as soon as she reaches puberty, reportedly to a much older man, has been claimed to reflect another cultural tradition. Which religion recommends or endorses this practice involving child-brides?

In another culture, a woman’s feet are bound, thus keeping them small and not particularly reliable for walking. (I have seen such women travelling by rickshaw in British Malaya.) Which religion endorses this cultural practice?

In an old culture, a widow is reportedly induced to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre by her relatives. Which religion’s doctrine requires this practice?

In Australia, I have seen a figure walk down a street covered from head to feet in what I think of as a walking tent. The gender of the occupant of the ‘tent’ was not clearly discernible. I have read in our media that some such persons have sought the right to drive a car along extremely busy streets, in spite of the probability that lateral vision may be compromised by the face covering. Which religion requires this practice of covering the whole body?

A focus by a religious sect on the ‘netherlands’ of women has resulted, in a secular nation, in a doctrine banning contraception and abortion. Is this cultural stance reflected in the doctrines of other sects of this religion?

In another nation, one’s caste (defined by one’s occupation) allegedly over-rides class. This means that, while one may be able to rise up the class structure, all the descendants of any one caste are traditionally required to be defined and treated as members of that caste. Is this cultural tradition supported by any version of Hinduism?

A culture defines the way things are done, by how they live, by members of a community. These ways do change, just as the underpinning values change through the generations. Immigrants know how cultures evolve in the nations they left behind, even as they seek to retain the cultures they brought with them.

The leaders of an ethno-cultural community may claim the primacy of their cultural practices in a multicultural nation, by seeking the legitimacy hopefully available within their religion. Regrettably, religion’s foundation (or core) beliefs may not sanctify all the diverse cultural practices of its followers.

What society is then left with are not only competitive religious sects and religions, but also ego-related competitive cultural practices. How then about adopting this principle – horses for courses?

This would mean that, in suburban Australia, where there is no risk of a storm involving a horizontal wall of sand many feet high cutting its way through (I have experienced such a storm well away from human settlements), there is really no need to cover one’s hair, face and body as if one is living in a desert.

We do not need child-brides, and such other ‘traditional’ cultures transplanted into this emerging cosmopolitan polity. In time we will rid ourselves of religious edicts imposed by historical controllers of humanity.

Revised cultural traditions will also enable a swifter tribo-cultural integration into (urban) Australia.

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Racism and tribalism (3)

Is there such a people as a white race? Where does the Hispanic of Central and South America fit in? How pompously patronising were some English writers in the not-so-distant past who referred to the descendants of some former nabobs of India as having a ‘touch of tar’; or some poor fellow-countryman’s family as having had a ‘nigger in the woodpile.’ The nabobs were English buccaneers who, having taken control of parts of India, had then adopted the lifestyles of the Indian rulers they had deposed, including the taking of ‘native’ wives. Many of the children they produced were then educated in Britain, with some subsequently entering Parliament.
Then there was Winston Churchill who reportedly described Mahatma Gandhi as ‘that nigger.’ In Australia, way back in the late 1940s, a young fellow-student of mine of Irish descent also described Gandhi as a nigger (‘He should have been shot’ he said), in a voice redolent of the catarrh-ridden accent of some English teacher in one of the grammar schools of Australia. It was a time when the ‘micks’ (as the non-Irish referred to the Irish Australians) overtly sought to enter high society, which was dominated by the Protestants, especially the Freemasons.
A slight digression would be relevant here. We Asians, especially our elders, were not impressed with white people; not only because of our colonial experience, but also because their skin colour was seen as not attractive! After all, 85% of mankind is coloured; and some mixture of colours in any one location is commonplace. The white people were thus an anomaly. Worse still, in the tropics, the ‘Europeans’ were described as ‘smelly.’ Apparently, their sweat gave out an odour, attributed to their diet of beef. It was just as well too that we, the younger generation with little to no direct contact with the British coloniser, were taught not to be anti-British or anti-European, while remaining anti-colonial. That is, we were not racist in any sense! My extended family is not even tribal, with cross-ethnic marriage now almost the norm.
When I arrived in Australia, I had no idea that Australia was so racist. The few Aussies I had met in Malaya were friendly people; there was nothing snooty about them. Yet, on a busy Saturday morning in 1949, within the crowded precincts of a fashionable Collins St. arcade in mid-town Melbourne, dressed rather expensively (Harris Tweed coat and the rest of it), I heard a shout. It was ‘Why don’t you go back where you came from, you black bastard?’ To my great surprise, I was the target.

Black? I was a very light tan, as yet unburnt by the Australian sun. Bastard? My elders may not have been as tolerant as I with this insult. It did not take me long to appreciate that the word could mean opposing meanings. Ironically, a European migrant friend and I soon developed this greeting ‘How are you, you old bastard?’ to be used whenever we rang each other across the nation.
In 1995 or thereabouts, after a novice politician, Pauline Hanson, reflecting the values of the more conservative of the populace, had claimed that there were too many Asians in the country, I had rude gestures directed at me in public places. When I subsequently sent the Hanson electoral office my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ (an experience-based book on migrant settlement policies), pointing out that, as an Asian, I had made some contribution to Australia, I received a nice thank-you note.
Then, in the decade of the noughties of the current century, the proprietor of a small subsidy-publisher, who had described my first book (published in London) as ‘well written and interesting,’ told me that ‘Australians would not want to read about their country from the point of view of a foreigner.’ That was when I spoke to him about my second book.

This book was titled ‘The Karma of Culture’; it was endorsed by 3 senior academics in diverse disciplines. The book dealt with these issues (as defined by a professional manuscript appraiser): the cross-cultural impacts of a culturally diverse migrant intake; the potential for Asian cultural and spiritual values to influence Western thinking about democracy, human rights, and social values; and the consequences of attempted cultural retention by immigrants.
(These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

“The boat people” – extracts

This is the first short, story from ‘Pithy Perspectives,’ a bicultural series of wacky, or weird, or uplifting or intriguing or imaginative thought-bubbles of mine.

“Go and ask that miserable-looking Asiatic who calls himself captain. Tell him that we need at least two porters.”

“Yes, dear.”

A little later, quite a little later, Rueben returns, looking mystified. “There’s no one in the uniform of a ship’s officer to be seen” he tells Miriam.

“Nonsense,” responds Miriam. “Look more carefully below deck. The officers are probably hiding in their cabins.”

“Why would they do that, dear?”

“Because that’s what these Asiatics are like. They are not comfortable in the presence of white people, are they?”

…………………………….

At the Customs barrier, he sees a bearded Sikh, resplendent in a most colorful turban, talking to a black man, as colleagues might. Approaching the latter, Rueben calls out “You! Come and give us a hand with our luggage. I will pay you well.”

“Pardon?” responds the black man, with the accent of a native of north England.

“I need a hand, man. Let’s go.”

“Excuse me, sir, I am the Immigration Officer on duty here.”

……………………………..

I need to examine your entry papers most carefully. We do not want any more illegal entrants,” says the public servant silkily, with suave satisfaction.

“And I will need to examine the contents of your luggage equally carefully,” interjects the Customs Officer, looking as bland as only an Oriental can, but with a broad Scottish accent. He is careful not to smile, although his turban seems to tremble slightly.

………………………………

Shocked out of her mind at seeing a white man, particularly her husband, doing the work of coolies, Miriam decides that she would compensate for the more brutish life of the future by buying a yacht, as her former compatriots now resident in coastal Sydney had done.

She is not to know that these new arrivals have already been described as the second-wave boat people. Where the first wave had arrived illegally by boat from East Asia in order to escape a ‘red’ regime, the second wave arrived legally to escape a ‘black’ regime, and promptly bought a boat.

 

 

 

 

First impressions of Black Australia (3)

“When I worked, after retirement, as a lowly service station attendant, providing driveway service late at night, I met a wide range of Aborigines, a few seemingly full-blooded. There were those who were apparently well paid, driving expensive cars, and employed by Aboriginal organisations. I was told by a couple of them that, in spite of their academic or professional qualifications, there were no jobs available to them in the private sector.

At about the same time, the federal government was talking about unemployed Aboriginal people learning to conduct their own businesses. Why weren’t the unemployed whites asked to do this too? One would also need to ask whether many whites would accept Aboriginal professional, quasi-professional or trades people. The antipathy against Aborigines seems to me to be very substantial.

Other Aborigines I met ranged from a couple who worked for the state government, to a goodly number living on welfare. From time to time, a dilapidated car full of apparently inebriated not-so-young Aborigines would arrive at the service station, noisily arguing, often using the filthiest language. On seeing me (perhaps it was my grey hair), they would become silent and be most polite. In the streets, I might be bumped accidentally by an Aborigine, and the apology addressed to me as Bro or Brother was prompt. I could never fault the behaviour of an Aborigine in my presence.

The most impressive Aborigine I have met to date is a young lady, who developed her Aboriginal heritage only after reaching adulthood. Today she is an elder, busily guiding her people, as well as building bridges between black and white. I sense, with regret, that only a minority of whites are interested in reconciliation, and in assisting the Aboriginal people to develop themselves. In the light of the country’s history, any effort to reach out to the Australian indigene in an un-patronising manner is surely a most progressive step. However, when I attended, as a member of a local adult education committee, a reconciliation study, I was impressed with the understanding and goodwill displayed by the whites participating, and the way local Aboriginal women guided the group.

Yet, I am saddened by the sight of Aboriginal people who are, by build and features, essentially European. However, because they sport a nice tan, they are not part of the mainstream populace. I see so many healthy and happy looking indigenous people, with nicely behaved kids, just wandering around, presumably living on welfare. Others, most employed in Aboriginal organisations, are rarely seen in public.

Obviously, class differences exist amongst the indigenes, as with the rest of us. Collectively, though, they seem a separate caste — the Australian untouchable. Something, surely, has to be done to break this logjam of Aboriginal marginalisation. By providing jobs and skills training, governments and the private sector might induce some of the indigenes to integrate (but not necessarily assimilate) into the mainstream — ie to join the immigrants being integrated. Just as the immigrant ethnic communities are encouraged and enabled to retain those aspects of their tribal cultures which are not incompatible with the institutions and public mores of Australia, the indigene should be free to hold onto his Dreamtime or other cultural traditions, whilst integrated.

Integrating with the mainstream population should not require the indigene to reject, or disengage from, any Aboriginal self-determination service structures that exist or that might be introduced. After all, ethnic communities are free to have parallel settlement service structures (often funded or subsidised by governments), which are generally ethno-specific.”

The above are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ which was published in 2004. Hopefully, there have been increased opportunities made available since then to Australia’s indigenes to reach parity, in both economic and social terms, with mainstream Australians, without losing their status as the First Peoples of Australia.

The good news is that in dance, drama and art, our indigenes have made their mark. Have they had equal exposure in access to the public? Public exposure has, however, highlighted their great sporting skills. As well, a handful seem to have reached great heights in politics, the law, and academe, presumably through personal effort.    

 

 

 

“You people are always … … “

Wow! I remain ‘you people’ after more than half a century of having lived , as an adult, a highly-interactive and contributory life in Australia – which is becoming increasingly colour and culture-blind.

“You people are always having riots over there” (Malaysia/Singapore, my birthplace). The only riot in Malaysia was in 1969; the skirmish in Singapore at about that time was a minor one. Then, a retired war-horse, a Vietnam War veteran, claimed that “You people are always fighting one another over there.” ‘Over there’ was now south-east Asia. Both men were within my social circles. These 2 instances stand out in my memory.

What was their problem? They represented a people which had ‘lorded it’ over the Australian indigene; and did not like ‘uppity’ blacks (Aborigines) and other coloured people (Asians). The traditional ‘tall poppy’ syndrome, manifest in a tendency to cut down any achievers who had risen above their class (in an allegedly classless nation), had now to put down any coloured high-flyers. The underpinning psychological demons rattling the comfort zones of those who did not want ‘them’ to become ‘one of us’ is pretty obvious. Get over it, Guys!

More interestingly, some Vietnam War veterans (incredibly) want to commemorate, on Vietnamese soil, a battle which the Vietnamese lost to the Aussies. While this story always refers to the small number of Aussie out-numbered troops involved, little is written about the heavy artillery bombardment which was responsible for the many Vietnamese killed.

As well, it is a fact that the USA and Australia were driven out of Vietnam by the Viets. These 2 white nations had no business being there. The domino theory was a furphy. South-east Asia was in no danger of being over-run by non-existent communists. There is seemingly an urge by some Aussies now to celebrate a sole victory in a series of lost (and losing) wars since the successes of the war in the Pacific during WW2.

But – to commemorate this win in the land they unsuccessfully invaded? How sensitive!  The arrogance of the colonial-minded Westerner will not, of course, endure. I say this as a known anti-colonial and anti-communist. As my father repeatedly advised, freedom heads the list of human needs.

The ‘not-so-lucky’ country

‘The lucky country,’ by the consummate social commentator Donald Horne, was published in 1964, when Australia was struggling to grow out of its self-chosen superior white status. Since I had been in Australia since 1948 (except for one year), I could safely say that neither the people nor the government wanted to accept coloured people as their equals at that time. The new Asian nations, however, had an opposing view, having got rid of their never-wanted superior white rulers at last (with the assistance of Japan).

Horne coined a sardonic term which has been intentionally or ignorantly misrepresented. Penguin Books Australia offers the following commentary by another great social commentator, Hugh Mackay.

‘Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.’

“The phrase ‘the lucky country’ has become part of our lexicon; it’s forever being invoked in debates about the Australian way of life, but is all too often misused by those blind to Horne’s irony.

When it was first published in 1964 The Lucky Country caused a sensation. Horne took Australian society to task for its philistinism, provincialism and dependence. The book was a wake-up call to an unimaginative nation, an indictment of a country mired in mediocrity and manacled to its past. Although it’s a study of the confident Australia of the 1960s, the book still remains illuminating and insightful decades later. The Lucky Country is valuable not only as a source of continuing truths and revealing snapshots of the past, but above all as a key to understanding the anxieties and discontents of Australian society today.”

A media release titled ‘The Lucky Country’ by the Australian Government said:

“He was thinking about things like Australia’s cultural cringe, its foreign policy and the White Australia Policy. He was, to paraphrase those words, talking about a ‘not too clever country’.

I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry-over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.

Australia, Horne argued, developed as a nation at a time when we could reap the benefits of technological, economic, social and political innovations that were developed in other countries. Those countries were clever: Australia was simply lucky.”

What can one say about Australia today?

I offer extracts from the Preface of my 2012 book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’

“Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948. Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted). Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured …  and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cos­mopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins … official policies …  As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this. I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform.

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colo­nial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their human rights record is deplorable.

These very nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us. The intent of this approach is the destruction of trib­alism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-nominated individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere. Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’ These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, e.g. asylum seekers. Communal responsibility and per­sonal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach. Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies – the current batch presenting themselves as the worst I have experienced – the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.”

Has mankind’s collective morality been improved?

If – and there is always an ‘if’ to any belief – the process of reincarnation is intended to offer each human soul repeated opportunities to refine itself morally, Earthly life by Earthly life, one would surely expect the level of accumulated morality in humankind to rise progressively. A rising tide of new souls should not have any long-term adverse effects.

Looking at the behaviour of people, including my extended families, in my place of birth in south-east Asia and in my country of adoption:

  • social behaviour was both courteous and considerate in both regions in the early post-war years, when I migrated
  • yet, the East is communitarian, while the ethos of the West is individualism
  • in both regions, those on the bottom of the socio-economic scale then became better off progressively through official social policies.
  • participation in civil society (community groups contributing to the betterment of those in need) has increased everywhere
  • however, increasing impersonal welfare largesse in Australia (including some middle class welfare) has led to the transfer of responsibility from family to state; and to the virulent rise of demands for heightened services reflecting a new ethos – of expectation that other peoples’ money (taxation) should provide whatever is sought
  • but, in spite of Westernisation in social behaviour, the state is not standing in the shoes of family in Malaysia and Singapore
  • and personal effort continues to be necessarily high in the Asian surrounds, while the unemployed in Australia are seemingly free to reject jobs offered, while living on welfare. Three generations of unproductive families reportedly live reasonably comfortably
  • this ethos is said to been readily adopted by most of Australia’s ‘boat people,’ the asylum seekers, aided and encouraged by irresponsible Australians, some in high places (see unemployment data)
  • as well, illegal arrivals, who cannot be sent home in spite of not satisfying the UN’s definition of a refugee (“in genuine fear of persecution”), are apparently better off in Australia, while living on other peoples’ money, than they were back home.

Overall, the level of morality has lessened in Australia, in my view, through welfare and the increasing role of the state. Such a change has not been evidenced in Malaysia and Singapore, according to my relatives.

However, the close bonds manifest in my generation within the extended family has weakened in subsequent generations. Westernisation and wealth have weakened clan links. Relatives do not know one another to the same extent. Societal relations are wider and more complex. Perhaps globalisation is responsible.

Nevertheless, at the individual level, one’s morality will continue to reflect one’s progress through lifetimes. That is the hope for mankind, while we are led into wars which are unnecessary, with millions of innocent people being obliterated, and damaged physically and psychologically. Most of those responsible for such holocausts are probably new souls – who have not learnt why they are on Earth.