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 interesting aspects of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is just another term for ethno-cultural diversity. The world over is largely multicultural. When that term was temporarily linked with the term policy in Australia, a vision of a separate sand-pit for ‘ethnics’ did arise, for some. Here are some interesting facets of experience.

“When ethnicity was in vogue, I asked publicly whether I, Australian by citizenship, Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by distant ancestry, and Indian by culture (Hinduism) could identify myself as an ethnic; and, if so, by what criteria. Even the academics were silent! What of those who are the products of marriage across nationalities or ethnicities? More and more of our young are marrying across parental cultures.” … …

“Cynically, I did ask some of the ethnic community leaders who were second or third generation Aussies if they spoke their mother tongue fluently; and with whom (other than their mums) did they speak. Did they read books, see films and attend plays in that language; dress the way their ancestors had back ‘home’ (except for multicultural festivals in Australia); and celebrate their tribal cultures in any meaningful manner? I also asked if their communities reached out to other ethnic communities as equals.

Then there is the issue of some Australia-born descendants of immigrants going back to their tribal lands to fight a traditional, or even a new, enemy. Further, if integration is rejected by them, would that affect their right to call on the equal opportunity that is available? And since social superiority is given little air in Australia, how would ethnic superiority be viewed? I believe these questions to be relevant.”… …

“In the early 1980s, I once observed 3 teenagers on a tram. Their heads suggested 3 different European regions of ancestral origin. They were dressed almost identically, and their speech accents were identically Australian. This was evidence of integration. Travelling through the city, observing, I saw few turbans, skull caps, head scarfs or face covering. Careful immigration selection was the explanation. Why is the situation different now?” … …

“By and large, were tribal leaders, that is, the priests and politicians, to keep away from the fields of cultural interaction, we the people will eventually reach out to one another? How so?

Excluding the exploiters, there is an innate human tendency – displayed so satisfyingly by children – to do so. In Australia, thanks to the public education systems, by the third generation, youngsters will feel, and behave as, part of a whole far wider and deeper than the family or an ethnic community. The gestalt effect will take over.

How does this work? Good immigrants will tend to retain their values almost intact, while modifying their behaviour as appropriate. Those of their children exposed to Australian values through the public education system will move a step or two away from parental values and practices; reciprocally, parental perspectives may also change, become less parochial. There is good evidence that this happens. The third generation is not likely to be influenced by the values of their grandparents, as peer group values begin to back up values inculcated through public education, socialising, sport, and habituation – unless the priesthood intervenes. Do religious leaders, their schools, and other institutions hinder integration?” … …

“Ingrained prejudice cannot be changed by propaganda. For instance, again in the 1980s, a senior public servant, an icon of his political party, denied accommodation in migrant hostels to British immigrants, thereby denying the most important on-arrival assistance the nation could provide to needed immigrants from other countries as well. The Minister did not note this denial. Are Ministers adequately awake when reading briefs?

This senior public servant also cancelled the planned posting of a Moslem employee to an overseas migrant selection office, and the promised promotion of a Hindu employee to a senior position. But he was not a racist; only a tribal. Tribals tend to look after their own, by discriminating against those who did not belong! And some burbling about the Eucharist!

Racism and tribalism (I have suffered from both in Australia), cultural and religious prejudice, and the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ attitude, like the ubiquitous bacterium or even crime, cannot be totally eradicated. The young priest who, in the mid-1960s, kept 5 Roman Catholic women away from their Protestant neighbour, is unlikely to have changed.

However, education, habituation, and media scrutiny will moderate extreme behaviour. Strengthening citizenship as a commitment to the nation and its values, as a measure of successful integration, will yet continue to make us one people out of many.”

The above extracts are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

The dearth and probable death of democracy

Democracy, as we in the West know it, is correctly referred to as Western democracy. Effectively, in this form of citizen-participation in the process of governance, electors vote for a political party. Political parties became involved in governance only about 400 years or so ago. Technically, electors vote for the candidate offered by their party of choice. Electors have no say in the selection of candidates. Even local party members have almost no say in the selection of their candidate. The political party controls all.

With compulsory voting, as in Australia, there can be many ‘donkey’ votes, some with added rude words. Interestingly, as eligible voters become disenchanted with the process, many reportedly do not even register as voters. Where non-voting by registered electors will result in a fine, non-registration seems to be substantially ignored. Not long ago, when the responsible poobah was asked about non-registration, a media report quoted him as saying that the public would not accept punishment for non-registration.

The whole process has lost its credibility. The political parties prefer playing politics rather than debate policies in parliament; that is beyond question. The Opposition of the day, and minor parties, can delay or deny necessary policies. Minority parties can be single-issue parties, cherry-picking potential winners in policy. Some politicians act as individuals, pushing their personal barrows.

Australia does not have long-term policies: no economic policy; no population policy; no infrastructure policy; no housing policy; no policy regarding the objectives and outputs of tertiary education; no coherent and integrated social-welfare policies; no climate policy; and no energy policy.

‘Market forces’ influence outcomes in the economy, just as the USA influences defence policy. Without an ongoing inflow of foreign capital (with increasing foreign ownership of sound enterprises) Australia will sink. Worse still, we rely on cheap foreign labour (on short-term entry visas) in industries of no apparent interest to able-bodied, childless, unemployed persons.

Yet, we offer free hospital treatment for all residents, irrespective of capacity to pay. Then there are tax concessions galore, which benefit mainly the wealthy. These concessions require those who have no means of minimising their burden to also subsidise those who ‘create wealth’ (for themselves) by paying less tax. Overall, acquiring OP (Other Peoples’) money is a highly-preferred approach to achieving a lifestyle of choice.

To be fair, Western democracy permits a wider range of people to be subsided than those nations ruled by autocratic, kleptomaniac, rulers supported by a limited circle of supporter-beneficiaries.

Is there a fairer, or more efficient, or less-corrupt system of participation in the governance of a nation?

Speaking American English on Australian tv

For years, the Australian media has tended to follow any new developments in American media. For example, way back in the 1960s, when some radio advertisers in the USA began to shout their messages, Australia followed. Until recently, a particular presenter on Australian tv shouted his wares as if he had to rush off to void something.

Then, more recently, tv news readers on the national broadcaster and on the multicultural channel (part subsidised) began to interview reporters during the news broadcast. Unlike the olden days, when the speech sounds were (sort-of) British, the accents heard in recent decades were those of educated readers speaking Australian English.

Now, there has developed a new trend. Increasingly, some presenters and reporters are attempting to speak American English. I set out below a letter I wrote for publication in my local newspaper; it did not see the light of day.

“Speaking American English on ABC tv and SBS tv

It is fascinating to hear some Aussie newsreaders and reporters on ABC tv and SBS tv attempting to speak American English. They do this by accenting the first syllable; for example, Sah-hara (the desert), dough-nation, dee-fence. Increasingly, we also hear nairies and tawries, like ordi-nairy and terri-tawry.

Are we preparing for the privatisation of these two institutions? Or for that desirable shift from satrapy to new American state? Heh! Heh!

In view of the probable isolation of Australia on the edge of Asia, when mother hen progressively gathers the chicks wandering about on their own up north, as well as for a desirable shift in Australia away from policies based on welfare to individual enterprise and effort, and for us not having to pay for our military equipment, I have recommended in my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ that Australia should seek to become the next state of the USA.

Although my adopted nation (of which I have reason to be proud) is clearly a satrapy of the US hegemonic empire, rushing off to back the USA in any conflagration commenced by it, our media and politicos pretend that we a middle power. That we may be as well, but we cannot be an Asian nation.

I find it fascinating to hear how some readers and reporters try to emphasise that first syllable in what apparently is the way Americans speak. However, some words, like ‘missils’ (for missiles), pose no difficulty.

How do our school children cope with this dual approach to speech, with their teachers speaking Aussie English and tv offering American English?


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.

Racism and tribalism

When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, Australia could safely join the Family of Man.
However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?
My experience of Australia’s racism and tribalism is indicative of how far we have come in terms of tolerance. The credit for much of this improvement must go mainly to our school teachers, their students, and those Anglo-Aussies who reached out to us foreigners; as well as to us, the immigrants.
From the earliest times, groups or collectives of human beings would have necessarily fought one another to obtain sustenance or resources. Or, learn to work together for a common cause. Because an urge to dominate and thence to control (an inheritance from our faunal, that is, animal, ancestors) is found in some members of humanity, conflict is often unavoidable. Competition for resources (including women) would lead to inter-tribal clashes. Tribes may also split through the young bull taking on the old bull, or through an alpha-male going on the rampage.
Traditionally, an extended family (one sharing a common ancestor) would co-exist with other extended families, were they to be a settled people occupying a specific location, with a common language and shared cultural values and practices; they would represent a clan. A number of co-operative coherent clans would represent a tribe. A tribe would look after, fight for, its interests with vigour and cunning.
A typical example would be the Roman Catholics of Australia, mainly of Irish descent. They would do everything they could to keep separate from the Protestants; This included a separate education system. They would practice discrimination, even as they complained about being discriminated against. This was the divided Australia I came into in the late 1940s. Yet, both sides of this divide had one significant attitude in common; they were, in the main, tribal and racist.
The shared religious prejudice may now have been dissipated or become tactically subterranean. There is some evidence of an on-going strategy for supremacy by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Officially, the racism of the official White Australia policy has gone. The racism in the populace has been substantially diluted; only the yobbo expresses any ignorantly-held prejudice. Racial vilification laws exist to contain those who need to display their superiority.
(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’ This is an end-of-life rear-vision look at the progress Australia has made in its human relations.)