Wherever I am in the world I read the Sydney Morning Herald online. This is one of the newspapers published by the Fairfax Media group with a generally centre-left slant, balancing the definitely right-of-centre slant of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
I don’t pay anything to read this excellent newspaper, so when they asked if I’d take part in an online survey I agreed. The questions were mainly about my opinion on a range of social, moral and political issues and I had only to click one of five boxes on the scale ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’.
I was motoring along quite easily until I came to the question about multiculturalism. Has it gone too far in Australia? (I’m paraphrasing.) I hesitated, hand on mouse. I wanted to say, “What do you mean by multiculturalism?” But there was no-one to say it to.
When the term came into usage in Australia in the 1980s it was never, as far as I remember, defined. Some people thought it was just about having people from many diverse cultures living side by side, and having more kinds of restaurant to choose from. But that’s not an ‘ism’. I took it to mean that all cultures represented in the population would have equal status, which sounded OK and consistent with my own internationalist world view.
But at that time cultural diversity did not have the political and ethical connotations that it has today. The cultures we were thinking about were different but not contradictory. Italians were more family-orientated than Anglo-Celts, exemplified by bus-sized extended families that went to the airport to meet or farewell travelling members. Chinese liked gambling and pushing their children to get good grades at school. Indians drove taxis and opened corner shops. Nothing threatening there.
But what about today’s Muslims? And I’m not talking just about a tiny lunatic fringe. What about the 100,000+ demonstrators in Jakarta who called for a Governor to be imprisoned for allegedly ‘insulting the Koran’? What about the 52% of surveyed British Muslims who believe homosexuality should be illegal, and the 8% who sympathise with those who commit acts of terrorism for political ends?*
I will stick my neck out and suggest that in many respects mainstream Islamic culture directly contradicts that of Australia’s dominant population, which I would describe as secular with a strong Judaeo-Christian influence. Sharia Law is not compatible with Australian civil law. Islamic attitudes to women, LGBTI people, atheists and followers of competing faiths are quite out-of-step with prevailing attitudes. Equal cultural status is not possible.
I have on my bookshelf Mahathir Mohamad’s book The Malay Dilemma. I bought it in Singapore because it was banned in Mahathir’s own country of Malaysia. He introduces the concept of ‘definitive people’, meaning the ethnic group which may not have been the earliest to settle on the land, and may not now be in the majority, but whose language, values, customs and laws are generally accepted as those of the country and therefore have to be accepted by all other comers.
Now that we have progressed beyond the nation state to the multinational state, it is essential to have a commonly accepted set of rules. Mahathir’s concept is a useful one. As far as Australia is concerned the definitive people are my people, and I’d like to keep it that way.
I have nothing against Muslims, by the way. The great majority were born and brought up in Muslim societies and had no real choice. But I do have quite a lot against religion in general and Islam in particular. You might like to read my earlier post ‘Seeds of Evil’.
* Survey undertaken by ICM on behalf of Channel 4 and reported in the Guardian Weekly.