Inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style revisited

Through January I posted a loosely connected series on Being Australian. This post is a footnote/update in the light of recent developments in Europe and the UK. See Cameron right on multiculturalism’s failures by Pallavi Jain and Leaders are right to confront failures of multiculturalism by Gerard Henderson, who featured in a lack-lustre episode of Q&A last night. Henderson has been known to defend Aussie Multi in the past:

I used to be a strong supporter of multiculturalism and, at times, was critical of John Howard’s apparent disdain for the concept. However, on reflection, I am coming to the view that some of Howard’s critique was essentially correct and that Cameron and Merkel are saying what needs to be said in Europe.

The concept of multiculturalism worked well enough, provided it was understood that all groups within Western societies supported the system of democratic government and the rule of law that applied equally to all citizens. For the most part, this was the reality of Australian multiculturalism throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

The problem is that, particularly in western Europe, the rise of radical Islam has led to a situation where a small minority of Islamists reject the West while choosing to live within Western societies, where they enjoy economic, political and religious freedoms along with health and social security benefits…

And there Gerard nails it: the current discussion and reaction is about Islam. Indeed, to quote Gerard, it is really about “a small minority of Islamists .”

Now Gerard also said:

The concept of multiculturalism worked well enough, provided it was understood that all groups within Western societies supported the system of democratic government and the rule of law that applied equally to all citizens. For the most part, this was the reality of Australian multiculturalism throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

I would not stop at the 1990s. I would say it still works and will still work so long as we all understand that multiculturalism in Australia has NEVER been a blank cheque. It has always had the bottom line that ALL Australians have to respect our freedoms and our laws. Just because your granny was a cannibal in the old country you cannot plead cannibal rights in Australia. The same goes with desiring to blow other people up for whatever reason.

I am very wary of the dark forces on the right of the current debate. Go to any advocate against multiculturalism in Australia and you will find applauding neo-nazis in the wings, and often not just in the wings.

What we should be asserting is that a prime western value is the freedom to be who you are, so long as that does not threaten the freedom of others. That includes the freedom to wear hijab of you so choose. We are free to be Australian in a variety of ways, and what we have called “multiculturalism” really is just recognising that there is more than one way to be a good Australian.

Of course there are contested issues. For example, should there be under some circumstances a place for sharia law in a country like Australia? Obviously not if it involves stoning people to death, an ancient Jewish custom now in favour in parts of the Islamic world. But we do have precedents for allowing non-mainstream cultural laws to be practised here. One, to mixed reviews, has involved Aboriginal customary law. Another, less contested because we are either used to it or don’t even know about it, is The Jewish Court of Australia. The latter could be an analogue for a place within Australia for aspects of sharia. Why not?

Moral: let’s all keep calm about this, unlike the Europeans, and look at what we have achieved in the area of migrant settlement with maximum humanity (at our best) with some pride. Perhaps others could even learn from us.

Sadly, I don’t think others have much to teach us.

So, Gerard, perhaps you were right earlier. Think about it.

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