Cultures need not be competitive

Some years ago, childless couples in Australia were adopting babies from overseas. An Aussie woman opposed this practice. As she explained to the newspaper which published her letter, foreign babies bring ‘foreign cultures.’ The reality, of course, is that any foreign culture brought in would be in the baby’s nappy.

Culture refers to the ways humans behave consistently, traditionally; and the underlying values. I was brought up in a family and tribe of Hindus. Hence beef was not on the menu. We did not eat pork, although it was the main meat for our Chinese neighbours. We saw pork as hygienically unclean. Pork was not avoided because of religious beliefs, as with the Jewish faith and Islam.

During the racist White Australia era, Anglo-Australians complained about the odour of garlic, ginger, and curry spices used by Asian students in shared kitchens. The huge influx of Europeans soon stopped that. Young Aussies who had travelled overseas also took to Asian and European foods.

In the 1960s, I observed 2 young white Aussie girls buying from a food store owned by an Englishman the ingredients to be combined into curry powder. They knew exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, I bought a packet of imported curry powder. I had no idea of its ingredients. My mother had never told me; indeed, I had not been allowed into the kitchen.

Cuisine and clothing, as cultural markers, cross ethnic boundaries easily, in time. Prayer and associated religious rituals, while variable, are motivated by identical objectives – to seek succour from, and to express thanks to, God. Diversity in religious belief is not a barrier to close inter-cultural relations, as I have observed. Doctrine-bound priests may not agree.

In terms of day-to-day living, what differences in behaviour do we all display – wherever we are on the globe – which pose barriers to mutual tolerance inter-culturally?
British Malaya, with its ethno-tribal diversity during my development, was a multicultural nation-in-the-making. There was mutual tolerance, in spite of an original lack of a shared language. We lived our lives as guided by our respective cultures and, in time, through habituation, education, and some social interaction, became one people. Only politics can be a threat to social cohesion.

My own extended family includes Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, Burmese, Italian, and Anglo-Australian genes. We are the lamp-lighters to a new world based on a shared humanity, with any historical cultural tensions devoid of consequence.

 

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Social cohesion and ethnic diversity

With the invasion of Europe by very large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, a major policy issue for European nations is the successful integration of the new arrivals. Australia has successfully integrated its post-war immigrant intake, who worked hard to contribute to their chosen home, even as they benefited from being transplanted.

In sequence, Australia took in needed able-bodied workers, as well as war-displaced persons, from Europe; middle-class Europeans from the Levant; light-skinned East Asians (preferably Christian); humanitarian entrants from Indo-China; and (eventually) coloured immigrants and refugees. All of these settled in (or are settling in) smoothly.

“ It is an undeniable fact that Australia’s immigrants have never been denied the right to pray as they wish (other than to avoid disrupting their workplace); to eat their own kind of food; to speak their own language in public (the Aussie yobbo in the street excluded); to dress traditionally; to celebrate their national festivals freely; and to retain those of their cultural practices which are not inconsistent with the law, institutional practices, societal values, and behavioural norms of the host population.

They are thus required to accept Australia’s Constitution and the related institutions of government; of law, order and justice; the equality of genders; freedom of speech; and equal opportunity. They are also required to respect the nationally accepted cultural practices and social mores of not only the host nation but also of all the other cultural communities in Australia. They are further required to discard imported cultural practices such as spitting in public spaces, clitoridectomy, and such other practices which have been traditionally anathema to their host people. In the event, what other rights might immigrants or their descendants need?” … …

“The bid for a parallel settlement service, and (later) an inter-cultural relations policy, both to be controlled by ethnic community leaders reflected, in my view, an assertion of a newly-created right, rather than a need.” … …

“A parallel settlement service, delivered by language-specific ethnic social workers and controlled by ethnic community leaders, was essential, it was asserted. So, millions of dollars were spent for years in providing grants to ethnic communities under this new approach.

The ethnic grant-in-aid (GIA) social workers and, quite separately, GIA directors met regularly, in order to exchange experiences. As Chief Ethnic affairs Officer for Victoria I did attend a few of these meetings. I sensed that the social workers were pleased to be able to have a dialogue with an official who was a fellow-immigrant. Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs), being multi-ethnic in scope, were serviced in the English language by employees of ethnic descent. I wonder if the social workers manning the MRCs were aware of the apparent anomaly.

State-wide ethnic-controlled councils were then established to ‘coordinate’ GIA and MRC policies and practices. Naturally, a national body (FECCA) had then to be established. State governments also got onto the stage, offering career paths for some, including the odd freelancing academic. Ethnic employment through State or Federal consultative or advisory bodies became quite fashionable. Anglo-Australian federal public servants and I in DIEA (the Department of Immigration & Ethnic affairs) managed the machinery so established.” … …

“For a few years, I was responsible for the allocation of millions of dollars annually on the settlement services provided by this parallel structure. But I was unable to have anyone actually delivering the services tell us about the components of the services they delivered and the efficacy of these services. Basic data were not collected, because these workers said they were too busy. Process was all.” … …

“Mainstreaming, whereby all official agencies would now employ, where necessary, foreign language workers to deliver migrant settlement services (as before), was rejected by one and all in the industry, especially the State agencies established as multicultural policy. Even some academics took up the refrain, although I was not made aware of any research underpinning their assertions.” … …

“As for multiculturalism, the term is a big mistake. Even if the original intention was to encourage the ‘ethnics’ to remain in a separate sandpit, or just to garner the so-called ethnic vote, the refreshed recent emphasis on this term is a policy error.” … …

“What should be of great concern to one and all was the recent public statement by a spokesman for the newly established multicultural body in 2011 that he wished to ‘order’ (so said the news report) certain people to carry out a certain action. It was the tone of the alleged statement that reminds us that people from authoritarian cultures do need time to adjust to Australia’s egalitarian politico-social ethos. It also highlights the imperative of ultimately integrating strongly divergent cultural communities and individuals into one Australian people.”

The extracts above are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’ (2012)

 

Some issues of multiculturalism

“In 1995, The United Nations International Year for Tolerance (and the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act), the then Prime Minister of Australia claimed that there is in Australia ‘no language not spoken, no culture not understood, no religion not practiced.’ It must be true; it was in the news. In any event, this means that we the most culturally diverse nation in the world; or is it only linguistically diverse?

The Office of Multicultural Affairs also told us then that multiculturalism is a policy for managing the consequences of cultural diversity; that this policy confers upon us two rights and a responsibility. The rights are: to express and share our cultural heritage, and to equality of treatment and opportunity; the responsibility is to utilise effectively the skills and talents of all Australians.

The Office also identified certain limits to Australian multiculturalism: that we should have an over-riding and unifying commitment to Australia; that we should accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society, viz. the Constitution and the rule of law; tolerance and equality; parliamentary democracy; freedom of speech and religion; English as the national language; and equality of the sexes; and that we have an obligation to accept the rights of others to express their views and values.

All this is eminently reasonable and sensible, except that bit about ‘managing’. In addition, the chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation (Sir James Gobbo), an ethnic community leader of great competence and renown, said (also in 1995) that he looked forward to ‘the day in the not too distant future, when our cultural diversity and our policies of tolerance and respect in handling this diversity will be so much a part of the fabric of society, that we shall no longer need to use such words as multiculturalism and ethnic’.”

“This view parallels the mature view (also expressed in 1995) of the President of the Czech Republic that the best hope for a peaceful multicultural civilisation in the world is to understand and insist on ‘the shared spiritual values of our cultures’.”

“Another outstanding ethnic community leader (Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki) questioned (also in 1995) whether the term ‘multiculturalism’ is now out of date. … … ‘Many cultures, one Australia’ has greater attraction for him. While supporting the thrust of current multicultural policy, he raised two important issues: that ‘not all traditions, cultures and customs are necessarily equal’, and that wooing the ethnic vote throws the policy ‘out of balance’.

Where ‘some minority values are totally inconsistent with fundamental values of the dominant Australian culture’ (eg. where ‘the family takes the law into its hands to redress a wrong done to one of its members’), ‘it would be nonsense to say that every culture is equally valued and therefore legitimate’.

This is an extract from my book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia’ (1997)

Evidence of life after Earthly death

My personal evidence is as follows. After reading a large compendium providing an up-to-date summary of findings in the paranormal realm, I went to consult a clairvoyant. He had been recommended to me. I wanted to ask him (hereafter referred as C) how he went about his business.

At the doorway to his consulting room, C greeted me thus: “I have the spirit of your uncle with me. Will you accept him?” I was totally flummoxed. Since I had 3 uncles, and C could see the spirit, I had him describe the spirit. His description covered height, skin colour, clothing, and footwear.

Since he was obviously my no. 1 uncle, the oldest in his family, I naturally accepted him. He had also been the second-most important man in my life (after my father). But, as I could not see him, and as he communicated silently with C, I had to rely upon C to know what Uncle said.

I was told that Uncle had been sent by ‘higher beings’ to advise me, as he was “the one I was most likely to accept.” What Uncle said to C indicated that he knew what happened to my life after his death; he even described the cabin bag that I had brought to Australia from Singapore. He referred to his sister, my mother, in a tone of reminiscence; and advised me about my spiritual progress. Near the end of an hour-long session, he responded to a comment that I had made to C. That meant that he could hear what I had said. Since he could see C, I assumed that he could see me too.

It is undeniable that Uncle had retained his mind and his memories after his death; that he could communicate with C; that he see and hear me; that he could process my message and respond to it as if he had a brain as well; and that he could project himself in and out of the material realm at will.

An insubstantial entity had displayed his ability to relate to the realm of substance from which he had departed, using organs of vision, hearing, thought, and memory – which are Earthly facilities. How? All these organs had been cremated with the rest of his body years before.

What is significant is that C provided a comparable service to many others, including 2 of my friends. They confirmed to me that their experiences with the spirit realm through C‘s skills were comparable to mine.

To the professional intransigent sceptic I say this. It is pure folly to proclaim that something is not, or cannot be, without being able to deny real experiences of fellow-humans in a substantive manner. Think about those who claim that God is not, but without being able to prove that assertion.

C is clearly able to contact the spirit realm. He has told me that he obtains advice from the spirit realm through his own Spirit Guide before certain consultations. I suspect that, although he had no previous contact with me, he had sought advice about me. For that I am grateful.

I now have evidence that life on Earth and in what I refer to as the Afterlife has meaning. My Hindu religio-cultural inheritance in this life, suggestive of a continuity of Earthly life through many incarnations, should sustain me through alternative cultural milieus through time.

Following that consultation, I began to write about what Uncle had suggested – “to seek to contribute to building a bridge from where you came to where you are”; to wit, migrant integration into the nation of choice. My books are available as inexpensive ebooks at amazon.com (USA), and its international affiliates (Canada, UK, Australia, France and Germany).

Since that life-changing experience through meeting Uncle, I have had certain other exposures to spirits. I believe these to be spiritually uplifting.

Christianising a secular nation?

Thirty percent of Australians stated in the recent Census that they have no religion. The most powerful of the Christian churches in the nation can claim perhaps no more than 20% support. In reality, attendance at all churches is reportedly visibly low, except for a new expression of Christian faith.

Officially, Australia is a secular nation. There is no evidence that the behaviour of church-attending Christians (of whatever provenance) is more responsible than that of others who say that they are also Christians; or that Christians are more socially responsible than those who belong to other religions; or who are atheists and agnostics.

The crucial issue for society is whether ethical conduct is programmed by regular attendance at a place of worship; or through being taught about the religious beliefs of one’s family and community. Or, is it the case that children develop a sound distinction between what is right and what is wrong in conduct and thought, and what is fair and just, through the behaviour of their parents?

And, is there also not an innate sense of equality or fairness displayed by many little children, even through the tantrums of that stage of growth known as the ‘terrible twos’? Where does this undeniably inborn display of what is fair come from? A past-life intimation? Why not? And where do parents and teachers learn about ethical conduct? Surely through the above processes!

In terms of the influence of religion, humans pray to God, or to spirits of one kind or another, for safety, succour, or salvation – instinctively. They learn codes of conduct through socialisation. What we are all taught about the religion of the family or tribe represents the following: a rationale for ethical behaviour; an explanation of what is observed and experienced in society; a guiding light for the journey of Earthly life; and a promise of what death may bring.

Each religion has its own vision, reflecting its historical origins and development. Together they light the various paths of existence. None can claim to be unique or even superior. How could they?

A full belly and material security may result in the negation of a religion, with some attracted to a spirituality which engenders a mutual respect for all human life (as well as all sentient life).

When Australia began to collect needed immigrants from 1948, it allegedly set out to gather Roman Catholics from Europe; and then from the Levant. When the White Australia policy was nominally ended, for about 3 decades the majority of Asians accepted were light-skinned East Asians who were Christian. (Refer Census data 2012). Preference was then seemingly given to Christian refugees and humanitarian entrants. Asylum seekers arriving by air and by boat, family reunion, and (possibly) poor selection led to other entrants.

It is probably the Anglo-Celts who have decided that they do not need religion. State schools enabling Christian lay-persons to inform students about Judeo-Christianity may turn the tide – mainly for the benefit of churches and Bible societies. An important issue is whether government schools in officially secular Australia should involve themselves with divisive, even competitive, religions?

Ideally, state primary schools could offer an education about the nature and role of religion. I recommended this when I was the Chairman of a school board; while my Board and the education authorities accepted my proposal in principle, it was not implemented.

All high schools could teach comparative religion – professionally; that is, without confusing cultural practices with core tenets of each religion. The objective would be to enable our youth to understand that all the major religions share 2 core beliefs; and that differences reflecting theological approaches are not barriers to mutual understanding that diverse paths lead to the one and only God of mankind.

Religious people of all faiths, as well as those of a spiritual mind, are good people; as are those who do not need religion to guide their behaviour.

When did citizenship become a right?

For many years, Australian citizenship was available to permanent residents only after a residence of 5 years out of 8. Choosing or accepting the citizenship of another nation led to the loss of Australian citizenship. That is, since citizenship required a commitment to the nation, its institutions, social mores, and cultural values, dual citizenship was not possible.
Then, in a competition for what was erroneously perceived as ethnic votes, one government reduced the waiting period to 3. Soon, the government of the opposing political colour reduced this period to 2! This was not only cheapening the value of citizenship, but also permitted those of a criminal intent to keep their heads down for 2 years before continuing on their chosen path – but as Australian citizens. They could not be deported.
Citizenship could be denied for security reasons; or because of a criminal record. Citizenship could be cancelled were it to be proven that the application for citizenship had contained a lie. Any child born in Australia did not qualify for citizenship when the parents were not permanent residents. That did not prevent some temporary-resident women giving birth in Australia, and claiming a right to stay.
Strangely, there is currently a provision for a temporary-resident child to apply for citizenship after reaching 10 years of age.
Worse still, a conservative government introduced the right to dual citizenship – apparently for political reasons; this effectively made an Australian passport only a document of identity. As well, an Australian citizen is now able to fight for the nation of his ancestors without been seen as a mercenary.
Then, there is no way that nations bound by the Napoleonic Code on citizenship will not apply that code. Under that Code, the descendants of a national person remain citizens of the nation of the parent (or other ancestors), no matter where these descendants now live, and their associated citizenship rights. China is a relevant example for Australians who had migrated from that nation.
Relatively recently, a Prime Minister and a State Premier together ended the prevailing emphasis on retention of ethnic cultures, and some ethnic empowerment, both embodied in multiculturalism policy, in favour of a shared citizenship; and the integration of imported ethnic communities into the national ethos.
Currently, there is a proposal to strengthen national identity through ensuring that citizenship is granted only to those permanent residents who accept Australia’s values, who seek to integrate into the nation culturally, and who will not be a burden on the taxpayer. Obviously, these should have been, and should be, priority requirements for acceptance for residence.
Permanent residence for 4 years to qualify for citizenship, and the denial of citizenship to the children of non-residents, will presumably remain core features of a tighter policy.
Citizenship is not a right. It needs to be earned. As the nation’s borders are strengthened, internal cohesion, through commitment to the nation, and what it stands for, needs to be enhanced.

Side door entry to Australia (Part 2)

The Labor Party then sought white left-wing  HEs (humanitarian entrants).  So I was informed.  We found them in post-Allende Chile.  However, there soon developed a flood of applicants from all of Central and South America.  Then the Vaticanites enabled East Timorese to receive HE admission, even when they were living in Portugal, their country of nationality!  Our senior bureaucrats and Ministers can indeed be very flexible in their decision making.

All of a sudden, Poles living within Poland could qualify as HEs!  How influential was the Polish Pope?  Then, for a while, ‘White Russians’ came from China as HEsThese had fled the arrival of communism in Russia 60 years before.  An all-white colleague of mine used to claim proudly that he was Chinese; he was born in China of White Russian parents.

There were also Jewish Russians who had been permitted by the Soviet Government to join close family in Israel but who, on arrival in Vienna, sought El Dorado in Western nations.  The Prime Minister of Israel in the 1980s was not happy at having up to 85% of potential citizens deflected elsewhere, mainly by professional recruiters from the USA.

Then, contrary to policy, presumably through Ministerial discretion, a number of Jewish Russian women married to non-Jewish men were permitted entry to Australia.  They had left Israel because they did not like their experiences as second-class citizens of Israel.  There are two other classes below them, as confirmed to me by my good Jewish Australian friend who had spent some time in Israel.  (My friend is not ‘self-hating,’ is knowledgeable, and observes the Jewish traditions.).  One of these Jewish Russian women subsequently worked for me in the Department of Immigration;  she was a worthy immigrant, who also told me a great deal about Israel.

When a global HE policy replaced the Middle Eastern HE policy, the first batch approved overseas were not Baha’is, as expected, but Afghan carpet merchants from Pakistan.  Some of Australia’s visa-issuing embassy staff were very flexible.  At that time, the Baha’i were the only people known to be persecuted in the Middle East.  A little later, we accepted a number of Bahai’is.  As with other HEs, they were placed in a migrant hostel in a city in which resided members of the same community. These had agreed to assist the initial settlement of the new arrivals.  A kind hostel manager had arranged for a local imam to greet the arrivals.  The next day he rang me to ask what he was to do with the halal meat.  This was the measure of the care we gave all new arrivals.

Some Ministerial approvals were also so flexible, that I was threatened by an ethnic Australian sponsor of his relatives overseas when I pointed out that I did not have the authority to approve entry outside policy.  The sponsor himself had benefited from an earlier flexible Ministerial approval.  Eminence in one’s profession can engender uncivil conduct!

For a short period only, the Tamils of Sri Lanka had entry as HEs;  not surprisingly, the majority approved seemed to be disproportionately Christian.  Yet, this was a generous entry policy, as even migrant entry from the Indian sub-continent had been constrained for years by positioning a strong arm against the entry door.  This was achieved by limiting the Australian immigration staff over there.  Two of those who had worked in this region subsequently worked in my team, one after the other.  They were not posted overseas after unwisely protesting to the head of the department about this discriminatory practice.

Eventually, I was directed, but at my initiative, to close down the White Russian and East Timorese policies;  they were not needed.  The other ethno-specific regional HE policies were far too sensitive politically;  our global HE policy did not obviously pay adequate respect to the tribo-cultural sensitivities of the communities affected.

There had to have been great flexibility in approvals at certain overseas posts.  Why?  Because, surprisingly, many HEs, especially the Poles, subsequently returned home to obtain jobs in keeping with their qualifications (such jobs not readily available in Australia).  Vietnamese HEs who had allegedly fled the takeover by the communists went back to Vietnam as Australians to conduct businesses.  So much for their earlier ‘genuine’ fear of persecution or discrimination!

 

(The above is an extract from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’

Only careful selection of applicants for migrant entry to Australia, by Australian officials assessing their potential for integrating into the nation, can ensure subsequent inter-community cohesion. Acceptance of Australian institutions and social mores and values, and an ability to learn English, were essential pre-requisites. Applicants were also discouraged from introducing their tribal prejudices into Australia. Side-door entry was not as stringent.)