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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We really know nothing

Socrates reportedly claimed “I know nothing.” That statement resonates with me. After a sound colonial education, wide reading, thinking deeply about almost everything that affects us as human beings, comparing what the scientists are saying about cosmology with the beliefs offered by religions, and after a highly interactive and contributory life as an adult for 7 decades, I too feel that I know nothing.

But then, from about age 8, when I seemingly became aware that I had a brain with an associated mind, I began to ask myself “How do I know what I know?” No one could help me answer that question. The obvious answer? “I do not know!”

Continuing on a subjective plane of contemplation, are there not situations when one just ‘knows’ something, or about something? There are those who read the past accurately, or foretell the future accurately, or accurately read the thoughts of others, or see what is happening elsewhere (not always confirmable) – but seem untouched by their ability. It is as if they are merely conduits. My experience covers all these phenomena.

There are also those who communicate with the spirits of dead humans; and who say that the spirit realm influences – indeed, guides – some of us. As well, there is intuition, an understanding without perceivable cause; the so-called ‘third eye’ is often credited with this ability.

Is it therefore probable that those who seek knowledge, even through what we know as the sciences, can ever be certain that the explanations offered are (realistically) no more than theories, tentative in nature? What if some (many?) theories cannot be tested – ever? Does the use of mathematical calculations prove (that is, beyond challenge) any theory? Or, would a rigorous application of mathematical processes merely enhance the probability of the causal relationship being tested being potentially verifiable, were a process of verification to become available?

Since maths is apparently not created but discovered, does the human brain, drawing on only 5 senses (enhanced by some appropriate equipment), have the capacity to access the totality of the information which may be available? Worse still, the scientific method, which tells us reliably about the mechanistic material realm, is unable to deal with the ethereal realm. How do we obtain reliable information about matters neither measurable nor repeatable?

In reality, we puny humans can only hope to achieve a tentative understanding of matters of relevance to existence, by drawing upon what is set before us as knowledge, relying upon that ephemeral ability known as intuition. If only we could avoid being led into blind alleys by purveyors of faith in both the material and immaterial realms.

Knowing nothing, and awaiting hopefully for some slight infusion of insight from the ethereal realm may be sensible, while reconciling the tie to the material realm of Earth with that innate yearning for communing with the insubstantial Divine.

A Seeker of knowledge may thus need to settle for an understanding drawn from intuition, where the objective may actually be subjective!

An ethnic approach to minority communities

Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, an eminent sociologist, and Chairman of the federal government’s Ethnic Advisory Council, said (in a published article) 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 programs directed specifically to ethnics, irrespective of whether they lead to a cohesive or fragmented society”.

He says also 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 (also in a published article) by Sir James Gobbo, an eminent community leader (later Governor of the state of Victoria), 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.

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.

(This is an extract from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of multicultural Malayan in White Australia, written in 1994. Following Prof. Zubrzycki’s positive review of the book, he wrote to me a personal letter. He said “I agree with everything you have said, except on the issue of voluntary euthanasia.”

All the reviews of the book were fabulous. Refer book pages for Raja Arasa Ratnam on amazon.com’s kindle books. Refer also my other WordPress posts on multiculturalism. To me, multiculturalism simply defines ethno-cultural diversity; no policy is needed.)

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)

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 hegemonic empire – cheap to manage

A hegemonic empire is an empire of influence; not of direct control. The current hegemonic empire of relevance is that of the USA. Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA has kept the buccaneers of Europe (including Britain) away from Central and South America.

The nations of this southern region rule themselves. Democracy and human rights are far less important than the profits accruing to the USA through the latter’s over-sight, and some intervention – militarily or in a clandestine manner – of politics and production.

Since the end of the Second World War, the USA has extended its economic, political, and military influence throughout the world, enjoying its role as Sheriff of the ‘International Community’ of Western nations and their acolytes. It apparently made Britain the Deputy Sheriff of Europe, presumably because, as President Roosevelt said (in 1945) of Britain “Now we own the bastards” (through Lend-Lease arrangements). Presumably there are other deputy sheriffs, especially Australia (for the Pacific).

As I wrote in ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ in the chapter titled ‘On empires gone – and going’:

It appoints so-called ‘deputy sheriffs’ to safeguard the interests of the West in their respective bailiwicks; it has trade and mutual-defence agreements with nations which seek protection from imagined foes; and it has military bases here, there, and everywhere to protect the nations of the West and their allies. The USA will fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere; defend itself from attack by enemies, real or creatively conceived; keep the sea routes open, thereby making other navies unnecessary; sell armaments (its primary objective?), and contain political threats, even imagined ones. This has given it the right to have a foothold in all sorts of places; we Aussies are grateful for such protection!

It also makes generous grants as strategically needed, to keep unpopular, even undemocratic, foreign leaders in power. Their job is to ensure that the needs of the USA, viz. oil and other resources, bases, access routes and export opportunities, are met. Its deputy sheriff Israel is furnished with the latest weaponry to prevent an Islamic resurgence. This includes the intended breakup of Iraq into three ethno-religious regions; so wrote an Israeli scholar recently.

A strong foothold on Iraqi soil will give the US power to oversight lesser nations and overlook the more powerful. The US has reportedly installed its satrap in Afghanistan to enable that desired oil pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean to be achieved one day. The US will also enable Israel to recover Judah and Samarra as that pure Jewish nation that their God decided was OK, even as it works assiduously to bring about ‘peace’ between oppressor and oppressed. Justice? Only the Court of Cosmic Justice can ensure that. And it will!

Ethnic cleansing, like ‘rendering’-with-torture, and assassination are acceptable, but only in the interests of protecting Western democracy. Australian politicians who visit Israel without being able to notice the plight of stateless Palestinians couldn’t possibly have any concern with this view of the Middle East of the future.” … …

“How long will this new empire last? Since it is only about 60 years old, who can tell? Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA assumed indirect control of South and Central America a long time ago. Would the US now install Monroe Mark 2 to keep any rising power away from its current spheres of interest? If so, how?” … …

“Yet, this neo-colonising nation is the only major power which has shown any inclination to protect a minority here and there in the world from being butchered.” … …

“Thus, the USA can become a moral leader for mankind. Should we Aussies hold to this hope?”

 

 

Cheapening Australian citizenship

For years, the residence qualification for citizenship in Australia was a total of 5 years out of 8. Then, reflecting a quaint policy of harnessing ethnic votes, including offering some ethnic empowerment, the qualifying period began to be reduced. One government reduced this period to 3 years. The other government educed this period to 2. Just like competition in the retail sector.

Reducing the waiting period for permanent residents to apply for Australian citizenship from 5 years out of 8 to 3, and then to 2, may not have captured the ethnic vote. The reality is that immigrant voters engaged in business tended to vote conservative; the workers generally voted labour. However, this diminution of the value of citizenship allowed those with criminal intent to keep their heads down during this period. With citizenship, they could not be deported.

Prime Minister Howard’s 4-year residence requirement was a pragmatic solution. Was lawful temporary residence included in the qualifying period? Currently, a total of 4 years’ residence, with a minimum of 1 year’s permanent residence is required. As a consequence, now there is a perception that a 1-year residence as a permanent resident should be enough, even without any prior temporary residence. What are the risks for the nation?

Dual citizenship (introduced for political purposes) had already diminished the value of our citizenship. Australian citizens can now fight for their country of origin, if they have dual citizenship.

To re-clad citizenship, which requires a commitment to the nation, it is surely desirable that 4 years of permanent residence be a primary requirement. A secondary requirement is that those seeking our citizenship should demonstrate clearly that they wish to integrate into the nation. What is unfair about these requirements?

(I was the Head of the Citizenship Branch in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, whose expert team conducted the first ever review of our Citizenship Act – in the early 1980s. It was my recommendation, which was accepted by the government, that no one should govern, administer, or fight for the nation without Australian citizenship.

Beware those who want to make citizenship easy to access. Ask ‘Who benefits?’

I am also the author of a number of books, under my author name Raja Arasa Ratnam, on the successful settlement – integration – of immigrants and refugees. Refer amazon kindle)

 

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