Multiculturalism:How a Pet Idea Became a Dinosaur
The following paper was first written and published in the IPA Review ( Institute of Public Affairs) in 1996, Vol. 49/2. It’s republished here as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel applied to Multiculturalism the last rites to its demise: According to the Chancellor, Multiculturalism is kaput. “The approach to multiculturalism to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other has failed, utterly failed.”
By Con George-Kotzabasis
Once upon a time an amateurish “astrologer” by the name Al Grasby, who happened also to be Minister of Immigration, discovered accidentally, in the Australian firmament of immigration a new star:the Star of Multiculturalism. Al was a man who had a lot of “pets”, “lay” ideas, but this one was going to be a whopper. Within a decade, it would become for wave upon wave of migrants who landed and settled in this country, their lodestar. It would provide guidance and solace for the travails they would endure in the initial stages of settlement, as well as give the celestial energy by which they would cultivate their cultures in their new homeland.
No one had suspected that this discovery of our amateur astrologer was from its beginnings a Fata Morgana and that before the end of the second decade of its chequered existence it would be a falling star. The idea that lay behind the discovery was magnanimous and filled to the brim with the ideals of humanity and the spirit of tolerance. But, like all ideas with such pe(t)digree it was impregnated with the seeds of its own destruction at its conception. This, however, was unbeknown even to its eminent founding fathers, who had spent, with such profligacy, prodigious amounts of corporeal and spiritual energy to give it wings. And it must have been a dolorous and painful experience for them to see that all that their huge efforts had led to was the tragedy of Icarus. But it would not be the first time in history that frivolity in the form of a pet idea would have had such an ending.
It would be stating the obvious to describe Australia as a country whose people are of an exotic provenance. However, to transform a descriptive term into a socio-cultural value, with which migrants would nurture and uphold their cultures in this country for the long duration, as well as transmit them to their progeny, would be an exercise in intellectual alchemy. To have believed that Australia, uniquely, could become a multicultural society was quixotic.
According to its founders, multiculturalism would not only encourage the cultivation and secure the continuation of this rich diversity of cultures, but it would also contribute to the creation of a uniquely tolerant society. In both of these two admirable aims, multiculturalism would be found to be wanting. The achievement of these grandiose aims was based on the premise that Australia somehow was chosen, by some sort of divine predestination, to break itself from the vise of history.
Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, one of the intellectual founders of multiculturalism, who since has abandoned it, asks the historically germane question regarding the concept of “Many Cultures One Australia”, as proposed by the Centenary of Federation Advisory Committee for the year 2000:“…can it represent a victory over the divisive atavism which has cursed the human experience for so long?” In other words, was it ever conceptually plausible that multiculturalism, or any of its variations, would exorcise this “curse” of history and function as equal before the cascading force of the culture of modern capitalism?
No lesser figure than Karl Marx, whom some of the protagonists of multiculturalism would be proud to consider as their mentor, predicted that the elemental force of capitalism and its culture would sweep away, on a vast scale, the dead weight of traditions and cultures that riveted their peoples to the obfuscation, ignorance, and bigotry of a hoary past. How could anyone be oblivious of the fact that the Darwinian natural selection process of the biological world also applies, with some modifications, in the cultural world, by means very often, of a ruthless competition of cultures, whose crown of victory ineluctably passes to the head of the stronger culture and to the one that is most suitable to the needs and aspirations of people living in a particular society? How could anyone with a modicum of knowledge of human history, disregard the “sanguine” fact that most wars were, whatever their other causes, at the same time wars of different cultures and religious beliefs? Even when there happened to be wars of the same culture, it was a conflict between different interpretation of beliefs, as the Thirty Year War between Protestants and Catholics in the seventeenth century illustrated. In view of the above, one must have had the “courage” of ignorance, to have considered and proposed the possibility of a multicultural Australia.
As to its laudatory goals of tolerance between different cultures and their flourishing within the strongly-established mainstream of Anglo-Saxon culture, to what extent are these goals feasible? There is no doubt that Australia has an exemplary record in its tolerance of different cultures. The strong sense of egalitarianism introduced into Australia by the early colonists, an array of judicious governmental and educational policies, and the experience of an expanding tourism in and out of Australia have combined to imbue Australians, despite some pockets of bigoted obscurantism, with a strong sense of respect and acceptance of foreign cultures.
ETHNIC CONFLICTS WITHIN AUSTRALIA
But whilst the host culture can be genial and tolerant, one cannot say the same for the “metic” cultures. The tolerance of cultures, like the characters of persons, are tested and adjudged in critical and difficult circumstances. Conflicts and historical hatreds between Arabs and Jews, between Greeks and Serbo-Macedonians, between Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats, between Turks and Kurds, have been transplanted into this country. The extent to which these conflicts can mobilize these hostile communities against each other and induce them to lobby governments in support of their countries, furnishes a striking example that multiculturalism and its ideals are a mirage.
What is more disturbing, however, is that governments, for electoral reasons, can become hostages to the “blackmailing” demands of certain ethnic communities, who have the advantage of numbers. Hence, governments in Australia can become unofficial allies of certain countries which are embroiled in hostilities, or even in war, through the pressure resident communities can exercise upon them. The reality, therefore, is that leading organizations of ethnic communities, whose countries back home are engaged in hostilities or war, can become surrogate diplomatic corps, negotiating and acting on behalf of the interests of their own countries with Australian governments.
It’s obvious therefore, that a nation under the umbrella of a multicultural society, cannot be protected from the thunderbolts cast by the atavistic wrath that some nations have against each other. The idea of a multicultural society, from the day of its inception, was child’s play, building castles in the sand. It was an idea that should be stillborn. But, due to a mushrooming crop of ethnic communities and councils along with their leaders’ adeptness to coax and seduce politicians and governments, who felt that in return for their political favours they would be rewarded with the ethnic vote, it continued to flourish. Thus it was that ethnic community leaders were able to ensconce themselves within the precincts of political power. As a result of governments’ willingness, especially that of Labour, to adopt and implement many of the schemes of the supporters of multiculturalism, a swarm of drones and mediocrities, both from the ethnic and Anglo-Saxon communities, invaded and captured ministerial and departmental positions, which were cast as the incubators from which would rise the policies of multiculturalism.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), in the Prime Minister’s office under the Hawke government, was the hatchery par excellence. Thus came into existence the teeming breed of the “professional ethnic”. To solidify the hold they had upon governments, they needed to have the “august” voices of academia speaking in favour of their multicultural proposals. And for those multiculturalists who entered the universities and upon whom some benign force allotted them professorial chairs, Plato’s proviso for his academia, that no person without knowledge of mathematics should enter here, did not apply. It was not surprising, therefore, that nothing profound emerged from those noisy, creaking wobbly chairs. Moreover, few academics– with some exceptions, like the courageous professor Blainey–would dare to “pluck the wings” off this flock of intellectual usurpers. Even today, despite the abandonment of the concept of multiculturalism by such eminent persons as professor Zubrzycki and Justice Gobbo, cackles about multiculturalism still can be heard in, and out of, the rooms of academia.
THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF MULTICULTURALISM
The Gordian knot of multiculturalism was tied by its four principles, as outlined by the Australian Council of Population and Ethnic Affairs: “Essential for a successful multicultural society were social cohesion; respect for cultural identity and awareness of Australian’s cultural diversity; equal opportunity and access for all Australians; and equal responsibility for, commitment to, and participation in Australian Society.” The achievement of each of these principles however, depends on the acceptance of the social, economic, political, and philosophical values of Australian society, i.e. the cultural values of an advanced technological democratic society. But many of the cultures of our ethnically diverse population do not espouse these values. Therefore, if those four basic principles were to be realized, these cultures would have to debunk a great chunk of their own values and adopt the values of Australian society. Ironically, the realization of these four basic principles would not lead to a multicultural society, but to a society of one dominant culture, which fits the requirements of a modern society, with moderate variations, however, in its original cultural milieu. As through a syncretic process, the home grown culture will absorb the best that other cultures have to offer, but like a river with many currents, it will be the mainstream, the stronger current, that will determine the meandering course of its direction. It’s certainly correct to believe that the diversity of cultures enriches the experience and enlightens the minds of people. But it’s erroneous to believe that you can build a society or a nation on a medley of cultures.
Al Grasby’s pet idea was destined to have a transitory, but nonetheless, a grotesque existence, for it was written in its star that it would share the fate of the dinosaur.
The article was first written and published in the IPA Review (Institute Of Public Affairs) Vol. 49/2 1996
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