Political vs. religious rights

“… religious persons are still citizens with an equal right to be heard on matters such as abortion and euthanasia as anyone else.” So said a Catholic professor of theology recently. As it only a political statement, it is thereby contestable.

Why are Roman Catholics who oppose these 2 practices, because their Church leaders require them to do so, entitled to deny non-Catholics a right to the practices? “I am not allowed these; so you can’t have them”: Is this how Australian multiculturalism is supposed to work?

Do man-made arbitrary definitions of human life and their ownership (which are not universally accepted and reflected in the dogma of the many religions available, have priority over alternative, equally arbitrary, values and beliefs of other religions, especially those seeking succour from the same God?

Or, would religious Muslims have a right to have a say about Catholic practices which they oppose? That is, could Muslims have a right to require legislation which reflects their edicts rejecting non-Muslim theologically-based practices?

More importantly, why would religious Roman Catholics have a right to interfere in the lives of others, when the values and practices of those others do not in any way impinge upon the freedom and lifestyle of Catholics?

Religious dogma divides a people – for no good reason other than enabling the exercise of authority by a controlling religious institution. Why would religiosity require control? Religion is surely intended to guide humans to God, and not to say whose God is superior, or whose theology takes one to God more quickly or with certainty.

Would it not be a measure of relative religio-political rights were each one of us to be free to follow a belief-path of personal choice, without interference from any one, or interfering with any one’s beliefs?

The available evidence shows that the basis of morality is significantly innate. Observe young children carefully. Throughout most of the world’s population, moral behaviour is also not engendered by a controlling priesthood. Humanity at large shares a culture of co-operation voluntarily. A family of atheists could easily guide their children to a spiritual life without any intervention by a dogma-driven religious institution; and aided by professional school teachers.

It is a truism that there will always be someone, or a group, or an institution, to tell us how to live our lives. We need to tell them to back off, leaving us free to make our own decisions about how we live.

I do believe that we are innately inclined to bond with fellow-humans, in the way we instinctively yearn for communion with the Divine.

I have also argued that the major religions are equal in their potential, in that they all share 2 core beliefs: that there is a Creator of all which exists; and that, as co-created, we humans have a bond with, and responsibility for, one another. While religious dogma may play a role in bonding the members of a faith, they surely should not be used to divide people – as has happened, and continues to happen. Who gains from division?

Read the endorsement for my approach to religions by the late James Murray, formerly the Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian’ in my book ‘The Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Refer my WordPress blog or amazon.com.

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.)

 

Back-door entry to Australia

One cannot obviously be a puritan in the administration of humanitarian entry (HE) policy. … …  .  This is also where back door entry policy, the admission of asylum seekers, also comes in.

Equipped with a passport from one’s country of nationality, a return airline ticket, enough money to cover the nominated period of the visit, a visa and other documentation identifying one as a businessman, visitor, student, etc., one can, after arrival, convert to asylum seeker.  The applicant cannot be thrown out as an over-stayer while awaiting a decision.  Then the repeated access to appeal courts, presumably at taxpayer expense, an access not so readily available to, or affordable by, an ordinary Australian citizen!

But, who feeds, accommodates, and pays the medical bills for these asylum seekers while they await this back door entry?  A Singhalese person claiming a fear of persecution in Singhalese Sri Lanka, or a Malaysian Chinese making a similar claim about Chinese-dominated Malaysia, indicate the waste of investigatory resources arising from such asylum claims, and the opportunism of applicants and their very vocal supporters.

The public has little to no information about what happens to those legal arrivals, the ones who arrive by air with an appropriate entry document.  These represent the greater part of these asylum seekers.  Reportedly, most of these applicants are allowed to remain.  On what basis?  Surely all those accepted could not have produced evidence of persecution or discrimination.  Were they also assessed as capable of earning a living in Australia?  Are the rejects only those who have failed security checks?  Who provides the necessary information?  The authorities from whom the applicant claims to be fleeing?  Since there seems to be no shortage of local supporters for these applicants, is this form of entry a variation of family reunion?

  On the other hand, we are flooded with information about unlawful boat arrivals.  Their very vocal Anglo-Australian supporters present them as a form of sacred cow.  For instance, we are not allowed to describe them as illegal arrivals!  Australia is not to be allowed to reject any, in spite of a seemingly unlimited right of access to appeal courts at taxpayer expense.  No reject can be sent home.  Indeed, there was that incredible claim that there should be a separate entry category for rejected asylum seekers!

Asylum seekers should also not be kept in detention where they are provided with full board, education, health and welfare services, we are told.  But we are not told who will house, feed, and medicate them were they to be free to roam all over the country while they await a decision.  Will their supporters accept that responsibility?  Or, is the poor taxpayer expected to provide accommodation in the community (in spite of the thousands of Australian homeless people needing a warm bed), with cash support from Centrelink (the welfare agency) and medical services through Medicare?  Officialdom is apparently already required to provide public housing to those accepted as refugees.  Welfare benefits and Medicare automatically flow from acceptance.  Presumably, family reunion is then available.  Who wouldn’t want to be an asylum seeker!

The Anglo-Australian supporters of the boat arrivals claim that all asylum seekers are genuine refugees (how would they know that?) and that they have all suffered trauma and torture (anyone with any evidence?).  They seek speedy decisions in spite of the reality that almost all arrivals have torn up their identity papers and other documentation which got them to Indonesia.  What does that behaviour suggest?  That there is an intent not to be honest?  Why?  Could some of them be al-Queda or Taliban, or are members of drug or other criminal cartels?  How are our authorities to know?  We are told that detention has caused mental health problems;  but, were those with such problems sent by their families?

There is another moral problem.  How could anyone risk the life of a child or one’s womenfolk on one of the asylum seeker boats?  Is it then the case that the journey is not as dangerous as it is said to be?  In a comparable past experience, were the Vietnamese boat people arriving in Thailand and Malaysia as exposed to the sea and piracy as was claimed by their vocal supporters?  How believable is an economic migrant seeking entry by the back door?

 

(The above is an extract from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society,’ published in 2012. Since then, much has changed. Initially, a more open door to illegal entry led to a large number of arrivals. With a change of government, Australia’s borders became more tightly protected against arrivals by sea. What of legal arrivals claiming asylum?

There are claimants yet to be assessed, reportedly living in Australia. Then, there are those placed overseas. It is indeed a somewhat murky situation. I am not aware of supporters of asylum seekers willing to take them into their homes, finding jobs, and generally looking after them; except to assist them with their applications and review appeals; and to make loud public protests.

The taxpayer cost of supporting accepted asylum seekers seems high. 91% unemployment after 5 years is a very heavy load for those who cannot minimise their tax burden.

Back-door entry obviously needs to be denied; or the nation loses control of its borders. An integrated populace needs to decide who joins them.

    

 

 

Protecting national borders and ethos

Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants.  Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration.  This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy.  Awaiting for God’s Will may explain this approach.

However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or chose not to wait, for God’s Will.  Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees.  The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, would not pass our normal selection process. – which has worked well.

Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit every claimant for refugee status.  This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia.  Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note.  In the meantime, what are the issues involved?

To begin with, national borders remain relevant, notwithstanding that national sovereignty has been substantially fractured by the role of the UN, its conventions, and coalitions of saviours (whether or not operating with UN approval) engaged in the War on Terror.

Migrant entry, normally through some form of screening, is intended to benefit the receiving nation.  The post-second world war policy of seeking immigrants commenced with entrants from Britain.  It was extended sequentially to Europe, the Levant, East Asia, then other Asia, and finally became truly global.  Australia’s immigration program is now somewhat substantial.  This sequence of geographical sources reflected the gradation of acceptance from white skin colour to all other colours, and thereby to all cultures, as enabled gradually  by a growing public tolerance.

Family reunion, introduced only a few decades ago when sought by settlers from the Mediterranean, was intended to keep the sponsoring immigrant happy.  Because of continental Europe’s rapid economic development, few family members in the Mediterranean region could be persuaded by family in Australia to use the new program.  Instead, the early beneficiaries were the British;  later the East Asians.  Even if entry is restricted to nuclear family members, there may be little increase in the productive capacity of the nation.  All immigration has cost-offsets;  family reunion can represent a substantial cost.

Refugee entry is also selectiveAs with immigrants, refugees had to be seen to be able to fit into the national ethos.  For instance, rural people were not wanted.  Both categories represent front door entry.

The initial post-war batch of refugees (these were, in the main, real refugees) were Europeans displaced by the war.  I studied and, later, worked with some.  The first girl to befriend me in Australia had come out of a Nazi concentration camp.  A year later, I went out for a while with a lass who had a number etched on her arm, and got to know her family.  A country which had decided to collect immigrants had to take some of the displaced persons.  Australia did very well by taking its share.

The ones I met were middle-class, educated, skilled.  For a few years, in the 1960s, my wife and I entertained one of these, an elderly man.  He had, he said, 2 doctorates, but worked as a clerk in my agency.  I believe that he too was Jewish.  My Holocaust-survivor friends and I never discussed their experiences;  I felt very sorry for them.  My life under the Japanese could not have compared with their plight.  Yet, there was one exception.  In 1948, a Polish ex-serviceman and I talked deep into the night on a few occasions about his experiences as a resistance fighter.  I saw some of the false documents he had used.  Later, I also got to meet a few Czech and Hungarian refugees who had fled the Soviet invasion of their countries in 1956 and 1968 respectively.

(Comment: My work with the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs for nearly a decade was on all aspects of migrant integration. But I had considerable personal contact with refugees and immigrants before that. We foreigners were attracted to one another. The Europeans had respect for Asian cultures, and were colour-blind (including the women).

Careful selection by officials ensured that all entrants were interested in, and capable of, successful settlement. The record shows the success of this policy; the second generation had     reportedly done better in life than the offspring of the host people. I could believe that.

What I refer to as side door and back door entry policy subsequently changed that.)      

 

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ – Excerpts

Chapter 1       Black Looks in Oz

“…the assumption that Australia not only has

a history worth bothering about, but that

all the history worth bothering about

happened in Australia”

— Clive James

Be careful! Raj will give you a black look, if you don’t play well today.” When I first heard these words, I was mystified. There had been no reference to my colour for decades, certainly never in a stable social situation. Why now, in the mid 1990s? Anyway, it came to my notice that these strange words were being uttered somewhat frequently by Willy, a chatty old Aussie, in my presence. Yet, he never referred to any of the others — all white — as ever giving black looks.   Willy, typically self-confident, in spite of being relatively unlettered, and I were members of a group of elderly men (known as the ‘vets’) who played tennis three times a week.  Our ages ranged from a little under 60 to about 80. Most, like Willy, were ordinary folk, with no pretensions.

Chapter 2       The Power of Pigmentation

“It’s powerful,” he said.

“What?”

“That one drop of Negro blood

— because just one drop of black blood makes a man coloured.”

– Langton Hughes

Like most Asians, I do not take notice of variations in skin colour. When everyone around me sported a different colour, how could I be sensitive to such variations? This claim will no doubt surprise those with a need to detect, and possibly denigrate, anyone with any hint of colour. The way the mixed blood urban Aborigine is talked about is sufficiently illustrative. Since most parts of the world are multi-hued, differences in skin colour are generally not persuasive in human relations where whites are not involved. The exceptions are the caste-ridden, especially the Indians (eg ill-educated Hindu mums looking for ‘fair’ daughters-in-law); or those Euro-Asians who sought, generally by necessity, to identify themselves exclusively with their usually distant white progenitors.

Chapter 3      To Have a dream

“It is a great shock … to find

that, in a world of Gary Coopers,

you are the Indian”.

– James Baldwin

I can claim to know only one Aboriginal person. Indeed, I have met very few Aboriginal people over half a century in Australia. How am I to meet them? Our paths are so far apart. When a meeting does take place, there might be little of that communication that one might expect from people sharing the same stage. Are they keeping themselves apart, because they have been rejected by white society?

Chapter 4           Which  way  to  the  Cosmos?

“Now, my own suspicion is that

the universe is not only queerer

than we suppose, but queerer than

we can suppose.”

– J.B.S.Haldane

I well remember being taught, at about the age of eight, that the universe is without beginning or end. It was part of my acculturation. My mother, well read in our tribal language, and with a strong belief in our religion, started me on this path. She thus planted the seeds of a significant search — for understanding the meaning of life. This search was to stimulate and sustain me for the rest of my life.

Chapter 5        Peering  into  the  Void

“No matter how I probe and prod

I cannot quite believe in God.

But oh! I hope to God that he

Unswervingly believes in me”

–   E.Y. Harburg

On this fragment of the Cosmos known as Earth, there are those who seem to know what creation and existence are all about. Then there are those who claim to know, surrounded by that multitude who just want to know. Amongst the Hindus, there is that belief (expressed in the Upanishads) that, through meditation, one can realise Reality. Although this Reality cannot be described, one can come to know it by identifying with it (ie by realising it). It follows that, as stated by J. Krishnamurti, those who know cannot tell.  Those who claim to tell apparently do not — cannot — know. This unitary awareness, being experienced, is uniquely personal. It is non-transmissible, beyond words, beyond thought (so we are told).

Chapter 6        The  end  of  Tribalism?

 

“How can you govern a country

which has 246 varieties of cheese?”

— Charles de Gaulle

PART ONE — Foreigners Everywhere

  • The whitening of terra Australis

 Australia went from monochromatic to multicoloured; from mono-cultural to multicultural, and from monolingual to multilingual, all within 2 hundred years. This is quite an achievement for any nation, if one could only ignore the poor Aborigines, with their original diversity of tribes and tongues. This tri-level transformation of the country was, however, only the secondary change which the indigenes of the nation have had to contend with progressively. The most tragic impact upon the original black inhabitants and their abode was caused by their white conqueror, camouflaged as a seeker of discovery.

PART  TWO – The Merging

  • Rejecting the new unwanted

Australia’s infamous dictation test allowed officials to throw out anyone they (or their political masters) did not want, for any or no reason. This was achieved simply by finding a language which the applicant for immigration entry could not possibly know. This approach was clearly reflective of the utter ignorance and insensitivity of leading Australian politicians then. It was all so fatuous, contrasting with the currently impossible task of ridding the nation of queue-jumping economic migrants seeking asylum, especially the ‘boat people’.

Quaint interpretations of international commitments; the assertion of unlimited rights for illegal entrants to avail themselves of unending publicly-funded legal services and appeals; an unbalanced emphasis on the use of lawyers to present the unlawful immigrant’s case for admission to Australia (when he has carefully destroyed the documentation which authorised him to enter his port of departure to Australia); a reliance on the adversarial court process, with the lawyers not required to assist the nation by objectively searching for the truth; a claimed right for asylum applicants to live freely in the community (presumably at the Australian taxpayers’ expense) whilst their refugee status is being assessed; or, alternatively, to have community standards of comfort whilst in detention,  with education, welfare and social worker support thrown in; all these highlight the distance administrative and legal processes have traversed since the days of the dictation test and its policy parameters.

Those who landed on Australia’s shores by boat, in the 1990s, travelling in a highly calculated manner, can claim (through their Aussie advocates) more entitlements to legal aid, access to the courts and other services than are available to us taxpaying citizens.

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To conclude:

Adapting an Ethiopian proverb: when the spider webs of a nationalism based on a shared humanity unite, they can tie up the lion of tribal diversity. What Australians of all origins should now work towards is the evolution of a new national identity. In this objective, is there scope for each cultural strand of Aussie humanity to articulate what it contributes to this evolving national image? Could this possibly be done on the basis of what the collective soul says? In so doing, all past contributions of value to the human spirit would be recognised.

The new identity would thereby rely less  on highwaymen, failed excursions overseas, cross-dressing ‘wannabe’ humorists, caste, gender and religious wars, and the ‘deputy sheriff’ role (with its implications of a smug superiority on the surface, and a sub-surface insecurity).

The new identity would re-focus on communitarian aspects of society. Both individualism and tribalism would give way to community cohesion as the Aussie Family of Man.

 

 

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ – Reviews

The full title of this book is ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity: beyond tribalism and towards a new Australian identity.’ The book has two platforms: the relationships between immigrant communities; and the shared search for God (the Universal Creator) by one and all, but along diverse paths.

Implicit in this narrative is the folly of mutual antipathy (through divisive dogma) by institutional religion. It is my considered view that there are only 2 core beliefs within the major religions, irrespective of whether the religions were of desert or forest origins, and that these are shared by most of them. The core beliefs are: that there is a Creator of all that is; and that, as co-created, we humans are bonded to one another. Regrettably dogma, intended to bond adherents, has become instrumental in unwarranted competition between religions. The paths are indeed diverse, but surely lead to the single end-point!

As for inter-ethnic relations, I stress the importance of immigrant communities understanding, if not knowing, other immigrant cultures; and to tolerate differences in the mode and direction of prayer, and the associated tribo-cultural practices. It is, of course, expected that immigrant communities accept the institutions of Australia and its social mores, and not expect the nation they chose to enter to change to suit imported cultures which are incompatible with prevailing mainstreaming culture. Naturally, a national culture will evolve in time.

Inter-cultural marriage, fusion cuisine, teachers guiding successive generations to a shared citizenship, and (as I believe) a natural tendency for humans to reach out to one another, have resulted in a modern cosmopolitan Australia.

The wisdom of the Upanishads and that of a few wise souls is offered in the book as a means of recognising the co-creation of all humanity, viz. the Family of Man, my ideal for mankind.

Reviews

This is a well-written book and recommended for anyone studying comparative religion, sociology, Australian history, civil rights, and ethnic cultures of Australia. It would be appropriate for high school and college students, civil rights and religious leaders, and historians. The author uses a quote from Hippocrates made 2,500 years ago to make his point. There is one common flow, one common breathing. All things are in sympathy.”
Recommended
by Cynthia Collins for the US Review of Books

“This book portraits the author’s skilful narration on relationships between migrant communities and the shared search for God (the universal creator).  I am filled with admiration for the author who pens with so much conviction and confidence. It is partly an octogenarian’s memoir of his youth in Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia) and life then onwards, 6 decades, in Australia.

The book has been cleverly written with much passion and personal experiences and observations. His early confrontations with the white Australian policies and their superiority attitude and how with the coming of the new arrivals into this totally white nation, gradually taking another turn. He writes frankly, with no prejudices, with the ultimate aim of creating an Australian Man !!

In dealing with race and colour issues, he also deals with the aborigines of Australia who were originally stripped off their rights. Their stance is being legally looked into and that is something ongoing.

It is a great read for foreign students, people seeking refuge, historians, religious leaders and travellers abroad and both governmental and non- governmental organizations. Gives an insight and background of present day well organized Australia.

He is emphasizing the need for multicultural understanding and inter-ethnic tolerance in order to foster a sense of unity in a country that started off as an all-white country with one religion, Christianity. Once again, all this with the aim of creating an Australian Man !! Special emphasis is given to the situation of the Aborigines and their plight for their rights which were originally stripped off them.

He strives to achieve an Australian Man and the creation of all humanity by offering and quoting words from wise men and the Upanishads. A recommended read for any newcomer to Australia.

S. den Drijver, The Netherlands.
 

 

 

‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

Appraisal

“What a beautiful mind!  Hidden Footprints of Unity is a substantial work from an intelligent and spiritually perceptive man. Arasa has skilfully navigated his way through a vast array of subjects: the ‘strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites … the search for the Divine … the desire by some to peer into the Void … the issues of a divisive tribalism and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity’.  He has produced an eminently readable memoir, uplifting, provocative, and well written. He writes with a light touch on complex issues. His use of pertinent, often amusing, quotes adds a further dimension to his vision of the inter-connectedness of mankind.”

Arasa’s ideal is the Aussie Family of Man, evolving from the recently achieved cultural diversity. There are signs (footprints) that exist, but we must seek in order to find them. This memoir by an Asian immigrant reflects half a century of observation and analysis during an intensively interactive life in a fast-changing Australia.”

Synopsis

A memoir by an Asian immigrant. He offers his observations after more than half a century of an intensively interactive life covering an unusually wide range of activities in Australia.

Deposited by Destiny in a strange mono-cultural, mono-lingual, mono-chromatic nation which displayed contradictory attitudes towards fellow humans (derived from a misguided perception of the significance of skin colour), he has observed and analysed his fellow Australians whilst adapting, in a substantially contributory fashion, to his new home.  This record is not, however, a litany of whinges about the difficulties of life in Australia for a coloured person (especially in the early period) or even a recital of personal achievements and contributions – but some details of his personal experiences naturally provide some relevant ballast. It is neither effusive in gratitude, as might be expected from an imported ‘blackfellow’  who has had, on balance, a good life in a white nation; nor is it  exprobratively critical, although his cultural values are, at their core, somewhat at variance with those currently displayed by some fellow-Australians in key areas of human conduct.

Instead, this record focuses on the realities of life in the two principal areas of human significance: inter-community (especially black/white) relations, and the universal search for the Creator. Commencing with a look at that strange sensitivity to skin colour by most adult whites he has encountered, his narrative moves onto that rather weird competitive urge displayed by mere mortals in their search for the Divine, and then onto that understandable desire by one and all to peer into the Void of the future. Finally, it touches upon the issues of a divisive tribalism, and the imperatives of an evolving new Australian national identity.

Endorsements (pre-publication)

Chapter 4 – ‘Which Way to the Cosmos?’

                “I find the concepts in ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ most appealing, coming as they do from an agile mind which has managed to embrace cultures usually seen as competitive, or even enemies. This book should prove a precious contribution to mutual understanding”.

  • James Murray, SSC, recently retired Religious Affairs Editor, ‘The Australian’

Chapter 5 – ‘Peering into the Void’

              “As for your writing, it takes us out of our norms, our comfort zones, and reminds the reader that what we assume is objective historical reality is often mere permeable ideology, an arbitrary sense of order imposed upon the flux of life”.

              –    Paul Sheehan, Columnist, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and renowned author.

Chapter 2 – ‘The power of pigmentation’

              “The value of Chapter 2 lies in its use of personal experience of living in Australia. One is struck by the author’s sincerity and, at times, magnanimity in recounting the lack of tolerance at the hands of colleagues and acquaintances.”

  • Jerzy Zubrzycki, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, ANU

Chapter 6 –  ‘The end of tribalism?’

               “No question is more likely to provoke a quarrel between friends than some aspect of population policy. Are there too many Australians? Are the ones we have the right kind? Raja Ratnam is doubly privileged to reflect on such matters. He was a Malayan Hindu arrival when White Australia prevailed. By the 1980s, he was a senior public servant dealing with high policy.

His comments strike me as contrary and contradictory. He can be as anachronistic in his portrayal of Aussie customs as he is penetrating in his glimpses into how all Australians have managed the personal strains of living in a new place with even newer-comers. He is at his most perplexing when retelling his professional involvement with immigration policies. No one will read through this chapter without crying out “Too right” before having to stop themselves slamming the book shut with a shout of “What rot”.

Yet his retrospect and his prognosis are conveyed in a congenial voice, one that should contribute more to the sense of communal responsibility that he champions. Meanwhile, his neo-Liberalism seems set to demolish what Australia retains of these values.”

               –   Humphrey McQueen,  historian and renowned author.

 

 

 

‘The Karma of Culture’ – Overview

Chapter 1       Be  True To Thine  Self

There is a tide in the affairs of men

which,  taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

  • Shakespeare

I am an integral part of a nation founded in fear. It lives in fear. While it struts the world stage – for example, as a “wannabe” mediator between two nations with nuclear warheads, or as an effusive preacher on human rights to any Asian or Pacific nation which might listen – it continues to be a little fearful.

Chapter 2           Unity In Diversity

She tried to found a salon

but only succeeded in opening

a restaurant

  • Oscar Wilde

My relatives and friends, whether living in  South East Asia, the USA, Britain,  or  Australia, speak a lot of English at home and in their ethnic community relations. Some have given away the Hindu religious taboo against beef. Some ignore the social taboo against pork. Yet, in almost every way, their life in their countries of residence is governed by their social customs and cultural traditions.

Chapter 3        A  Silent  SlippagePeople will not look forward

to posterity, who never look

backward to their ancestors.

  • Edmund Burke

Anyone brought up surrounded by what is known as Asian values, in that escalating culture war between East and West, will be quietly despondent about the deterioration in Australian families. What are the changes which have emerged, like a slowly rising volcano from the deep seas of a violently disrupted ocean? When and how did these changes come about? What impacts of these changes are manifest, and what are their consequences?

Chapter 4        Keeping The Bastards  Honest

 All animals are equal

but some animals are

more equal than others

-George Orwell

A colonial subject dreams of the day when the hated, arrogant, oppressor has gone. His people will be free to rule themselves. But, before his reluctant departure, the coloniser sets up a new form of government. In doing so, he is quite certain that the people are not yet ready to govern themselves. Has he not been preparing them for that great day when they are able to rule themselves in an acceptable manner? (I was told that this was taught to children in British schools.)

Chapter 5      Here  Comes  The  Neighbourhood

Her frocks are built in Paris,

but she wears them with an English accent

  • Saki

For more than half a century, I have watched with amazement (and some embarrassment) at the way the official Australian, his media acolyte, and many ordinary citizens, hold, so assiduously, onto that antiquated “whitefella” view of the neighbourhood beyond the nation’s shores.

Chapter 6      We  are  one

“The whistle shrilled and, in a moment, I was chugging out of Grand Central’s

dreaming spires,  followed only by the anguished cries of relatives who would

have to go to work. I had chugged only a few feet when I realized that I had

left without the train,  so I had to run back and wait for it to start.”

– S.J.Perelman

 

In spite of some quibbles and a few strong criticisms, I do aver that Australia is a wonderful nation. It is indeed the nation of the future. We, the people, are a mix of diverse origins living together amicably. As one of the very large influx of post war immigrants, I can say that most of us work very hard to improve ourselves and thus have a positive impact on the nation. Both by choice and by opportunity, I myself have made a small contribution to the direction taken by my nation over the last half century.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

To conclude:

The desirable pathway for us is clearly visible, without further elaboration. Notable Western leaders and learned writers have contributed to defining this pathway. All that we need is a little more maturity, courage, and responsibility from our future leaders; as well as a vision of what we ought to be as a people and as a nation- state.

Such a place and position might be as a sovereign state, relating as an equal to the sovereign states of Asia, without any crap about white multicultural man in the southern hemisphere leading the multi-tribal coloured Asian heathen towards the light. Neither Christianity nor the ultra-West’s vision of democracy has a claim to be unique or even durable. There are many paths to our Creator, as the tolerant forest faiths of Asia have demonstrated for more than two millennia. The paths to political freedom have to evolve, not to be imposed. And more equitable treatment of our indigene, with equal opportunity for all coloured people, is a must, lest the Creator finds us wanting!

We might then expect that there will be less divergence from the intent and impact of Asian values as against Australian practices in all spheres of human action. Then we can all claim to be equals, and our babies can continue to wiggle their toes at us with mutual joy.

 

(Comment: Although written about 15 years ago, Australia’s relationships with our Asian neighbours need more tweaking. When the nations of South East Asia join up with China in a co-prosperity and security pact, we do not want to be an isolated outpost of the Christian West. Our national sovereignty cannot also afford non-integrated cultural diversity.)     

‘The Karma of Culture’ – Issues

Modern Australia is collecting immigrants with a shopkeeper mentality. It is as if the world is running out of people. We also collect deserving refugees, and accept reluctantly economic migrants who claim asylum, and who cannot be sent home because of an out-dated UN Convention. We have enough taxpayer money to give to uneconomic unviable entrants for years at a time so that the shopkeepers remain viable. But we are kept afloat as a nation only because of foreign capital inflow, which increases foreign ownership of Australia.

Against this economic policy, we expect new entrants to integrate into the nation. But there can be cultural barriers to this hope. The hither-to successful combination of habituation, public education, and community acceptance may now become eroded by official tolerance of efforts by new entrants to adhere to cultural values more in tune with practices in countries of origin, under the guise of an ephemeral ‘multiculturalism’ policy.

A viable immigration policy requires new entrants to adapt to the institutional structures and societal mores of the nation they chose to enter. Other adaptation may be advisable in order to access the equal opportunities available in Australia, underpinned by its traditional ‘fair-go’ ethos.

The following extracts from the Preface to ‘The Karma of Culture’ highlight the issues in immigrant adaptation.

“One’s culture provides the template for dealing with life. Its base is laid in childhood, through the values imposed by family and community. The cultural practices of one’s tribe reinforce these values and associated perceptions. The impacts of nurture (experience) upon nature (inheritance), as one passes through life, are filtered through this network of cultural values.”

“In the migrant-receiving countries of the Western world, the core issue of a conflict between a sustained attempt by immigrants to retain their cultures and the osmotic force of equal opportunity offering  an earlier and  smoother integration into the values and mores of the host people bobs up and down in the seas of social policy.”

“The need for an immigrant to reconcile inherited cultural values and associated practices with the predominant values and practices of an adopted nation-state can create stresses on both cultures. The issues which arise from this cross-cultural impact are those of : equal opportunity; whether  a unified people can arise from widely divergent tribes; whether the individual or the family unit has priority in terms of rights and responsibilities; the definition of family, and its role in society; cultural and political sovereignty in a globalising nation-state; the place of the Creator in modern life; and whether Australia’s “fair-go” ethos needs an infusion of Asian values.”

The following extracts from the final chapter have relevance for the future.

“ Yet, that Anglo-Celt ethos prevails; as do the political and other structural institutions inherited from Britain. These are accepted without challenge by that army of post war immigrants, not all of whom had much prior exposure to these valuable mechanisms. Just as the diverse tribes from the British Isles formed themselves into the modern Aussie, without significant erosion of core cultural traditions and values, so we immigrants are re-shaping the nation-state and the national identity, to produce a palimpsest. Core characteristics of the Anglo-Celt Aussie inheritance will therefore not be swamped.

This outcome is being achieved only by goodwill, by both hosts and new settlers. We settlers recognise and value that which has been made available to us.  Many of us understand the anxieties generated in the host people by the relatively sudden huge influx of a very great variety of outsiders. In turn, many of our hosts realise that, while nothing can remain the same, the changes triggered by us will prove to be beneficial in the long term.”

“At least, some of us have improved the colour of the nation! Through the positive impacts of ethnic and cultural diversity, we are also better equipped to relate to the coloured nations to our north. And we do need to relate to them with mutual respect. And to intrude less into  their socio-political structures, and their cultural institutions. Hopefully, we will become less apprehensive about their religious beliefs, as we become better educated.”

The following is an extract from the professional appraisal of the book.

“This book provides a thoughtful and fearless approach to some important and highly topical questions. What constitutes Australia’s nationhood? What is her role in Asia and in the world? How can, and should, the burgeoning economies of Asia contribute to the development of Australia, not just as foreign investors and trading partners, but in terms of cultural and spiritual values? What is the nature of democracy, and how can democratic ideals be realized in Australia and in its Asian neighbours? What is the meaning of multiculturalism in the Australian context?”

 

(Comment: The issues of immigrant integration in a nation at the edge of Asia are quite profound. Regrettably, Australian politicians are known more for their politics of survival – while adhering to their cultural values – than for their ability to implement sound policies for the long-term betterment of the nation. The needs of electorates are submerged by party politics or by personal idiosyncrasies. However, Asia will change Australia for the better.)    

 

 

‘The Karma of Culture’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM

Australia, throughout its brief history, has experienced 2 ethno-religious cultural challenges in its efforts to achieve and maintain a secular society. The first, the early divisive influence of Roman Catholicism, has seemingly been tamed. The keen observer will, however, note that the social policies of the nation are dominated by the Vatican’s values; for example, compassion is constrained by so-called pro-life edicts.

The other challenge to the institutions and social mores of the nation has recently arisen from a tiny segment of the immigrant Muslim intake. Since Islam makes no distinction between the secular and the religious, some Muslims seem to experience difficulty in adapting to the nation they chose to enter.

Australia’s achievement in the past half-century has been its success in integrating a very broad spectrum of culturally diverse ethnic communities into the Australian ethos. We will not regress. My book deals with the principal issues, in the context of Australia’s surrounds of Asian spiritualism.

Endorsements pre-publication

“Writing from the perspective of an Asian Australian, Arasa addresses some of the fundamental questions confronting human kind at the present time. The clash of collectivism and individualism is seen as an East/West issue. Here is available, perhaps for the first time, an insightful ‘take’ on Australian society written by an ‘insider’ who, paradoxically, is an ‘outsider’ as well. …enormously interesting and not uncontroversial …” — John Western, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Queensland, Australia

“Ratnam’s book is a wake-up call for a more independent national policy on immigration and multicultural policy. Coming from a well-informed former migrant, who has embraced this country as his own, his message has particular value. … Impressed with the depth of (his) analysis” — Professor Bob Birrell, Director, Centre for Population & Urban Research, Monash University, Australia.

This is a book that every Australian should read. It provides a unique insight into the society and culture of contemporary Australia from someone who has been both an insider and an outsider in Australia. It has a refreshing honesty in an age in which ‘spin’ and euphemism too often combine to hide the true nature of things. You may not always agree with what the book says but you will be compelled to sit up and think more deeply about our contemporary world. I think that the book has that element of honesty and insight that much of what is currently published does not. I hope that it will be read widely.” — Associate Professor Gregory Melleuish, Head, School of History and Politics, Wollongong University, Australia.

REVIEWS 

The US Review of Books

Karma of Culture by Raja Arasa Ratnam

reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“It is now Anglo-Celt Australia which therefore has to change. It needs to rebuild its communities to enable the close inter-relation- ships between individuals, which used to prevail before individualism took over their souls.”

This is an enjoyably erudite text that will mean most to thoughtful Australians of all cultures. Ratnam served for nine years as Director of Policy on Australian migrant settlement related issues. Surprisingly, to an American reader, his descriptions of some of the worst ills of current Australian society sound almost exactly like the ills of American society: a large and seemingly expanding lower class of people dependent on government subsidies, subsidies in the main funded by an increasingly burdened middle class, while a small number of very wealthy people look on and offer no assistance to either.

To inhabitants of eastern Asia, Australia beckons, its welcome including housing, health care, and other aid to newly arrived immigrants and even more to those who stay longer. But sadly, despite this open door, old biases remain intact: “The most ridiculous manifestation of such prejudice relates to attitudes to study displayed by Asian children. They are accused of studying inordinately hard, and not developing a rounded personality through participation in sport.”

Ratnam makes a plea for a true multiculturalism that does not force one group to tamp down its cultural practices or religious beliefs (many Asians claim to be Christian upon immigrating, change their diet or manner of dress, in order to make themselves more acceptable to the dominant group) and does not take the color of one’s skin to be one’s only calling card.

Ratnam’s Hinduism is reflected in the book’s title; he says the book came to him as a suggestion “by the spirit world.” It would be hard to find a more cogent and simultaneously engaging treatise on this subject, so neatly organized and neatly phrased that even a neophyte can readily grasp its essence.

The Karma of Culture will, one hopes, be read by serious students of Australian politics, culture, and sociological issues, and by some ordinary people who want to be better informed and can see the correlation between the problems in Ratnam’s Australia and those of rest of the so-called civilized world.

RECOMMENDED

 

Appraisal – pre-publication

“This book provides a thoughtful and fearless approach to some important and highly topical questions. What constitutes Australia’s nationhood? What is her role in Asia and in the world? How can, and should, the burgeoning economies of Asia contribute to the development of Australia, not just as foreign investors and trading partners, but in terms of cultural and spiritual values? What is the nature of democracy, and how can democratic ideals be realized in Australia and in its Asian neighbours? What is the meaning of multiculturalism in the Australian context? These questions are raised in an intelligent and thought-provoking way.”

“You give us valuable insights into your own experiences as an ‘outsider’ in a predominantly white ‘Western’ environment, who has been able to become part of that environment without losing your deepest links with your own culture. And you demonstrate that the influence of Eastern philosophers – to which Australia is uniquely exposed among Western countries – has the potential to counteract the West’s slide into materialism and the spiritual impoverishment that provides fertile soil for cultism and fundamentalism in all their forms.”

“This is a hard-hitting, insightful book that will appeal to academics, public servants, students, and many members of the general public………..”