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.
“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.
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.
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………..”