Tuesday, 27 September 2016

If I'm Sceptical Of Multiculturalism, Am I A Bigot?

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal talked about "How Canada Got Immigration Right".

I posted a link to the article on Facebook along with the comment, "Australia is the same - a strong skills-based migration program means that most immigrants are legal, employable and employed, and integrated."

One of my contacts responded, "And yet racist and right wing. The re-emergence of One Nation, the new norm of conservatism making us spend $160 million at a time of fiscal constraint on a plebiscite most people don't want [a reference to a plebiscite on marriage equality]. The recent surveys showing a majority supports a stop to Muslim immigration - Australia is parochial and its multiculturalism is very superficial. You don't have to dig deep to find the taint of the white Australia policy."

This made me think a bit. While the comment resonated with me superficially, I was troubled because it seemed too simplistic a diagnosis. For example, I know many non-whites who would like to see a stop to Muslim immigration, so parochialism isn't necessarily a White Australia thing.

After I thought about it some more, I posted a lengthier response, which I reproduce below:

"While I find that I am in general a social liberal, I try to maintain an independence of thought (free of any ideology), so let me put on my devil's advocate hat here.

The duty of any elected government is to improve a country's economic well-being while preserving social harmony.

A combination of education/training schemes and a skilled immigration program are accepted contributors to economic growth.

Social harmony is a trickier beast. And here, let me say at the outset that multiculturalism is not an end in itself, nor is it a proven means to any end. To my mind, it seems to have become an ideological sacred cow that one may only oppose at the risk of being labelled a bigot or a racist. I'm not so sure that kind of reaction is justified. We need a more dispassionate study into the positive and negative influences of multiculturalism, and how it may be better managed, if that is at all possible.

There are studies, for example, that prove a correlation between the ethnic/cultural homogeneity of a suburb and the level of volunteerism in that suburb. Diverse neighbourhoods are less...neighbourly. So that's a clear downside of multiculturalism even without the phenomenon of ghettoisation. The presence of ghettos only makes multiculturalism less defensible. I have tried to find examples of the positive aspects of multiculturalism in practice (as opposed to theory), but apart from the ready availability of a more varied cuisine, I could find none.

I viscerally dislike Pauline Hanson and her party, but when I sat down to write a point-by-point rebuttal of her policy positions, I found it extremely hard to do so, in all honesty. If an ethnic minority person like myself with a dog in the race (pun intended) could not come up with a substantive rebuttal of Hanson's policy positions, is it any wonder that Australia-born whites should support her? I would therefore not leap to the conclusion that her supporters are bigots. They could very well be well-meaning, reasonable people who are genuinely concerned (and with reason) at the negative changes they perceive in their society.

I lay the blame at the door of the liberals for letting things slide to the point where bigotry is able to make common cause with legitimate criticism. 

Three examples:

1. In the late 90s, when Pauline Hanson first emerged as a popular voice, she raised the spectre of Asian migration. Her speech, although loudly denounced, did resonate. Entire suburbs, like Eastwood and Epping in Sydney, have been virtually taken over by Asian people. Of course, white people helped along with the ghettoisation by moving out (I understand that it's a well-documented phenomenon - whites move out when ethnic minorities in a suburb exceed 20%). All things considered, two aspects of ghettoisation rankled - that there were people in these suburbs who spoke no English and felt no need to learn English, and that a non-Asian (i.e., a white person) entering these suburbs felt like an outsider in their own country. One has to acknowledge the legitimacy of this reaction without labelling it bigotry. Liberals should have done more to discourage the self-seclusion of new migrants, and vigorously espoused integration programs and forced English language training as a part of naturalisation. It could have prevented ghettoisation and the resentment that propelled Hanson to initial popularity.

2. Liberals in any society seem well armed to tackle conservatism in their own societies, but they are strangely reluctant to take on illiberal conservatism in other societies (e.g., Islam). This is as true of India as it is of Australia and other Western societies. Liberals have strangely sided with religious conservatives among immigrant/minority populations even when those conservatives have denied basic freedoms to members of their own and the wider community. A prime example is the enforcement of the burqa on many Muslim women by their communities, often against their will. Another example is the violent targetting of apostates and perceived heretics within the Muslim community. The larger society (particularly the liberals) has failed to act to protect these "minorities within minorities". This is a dereliction of duty for which we are now paying the price. A strong defence of liberal principles by all parties in a host society, from the start, would have created a healthier multicultural society, and may have prevented much of the backlash we see today.

3. The spectre of Asian domination is again rising, this time because of the property buyout by overseas Chinese. There is a conspiracy of silence on this highly explosive issue. Housing is becoming unaffordable to ordinary Australians, while governments and the real estate and construction lobbies are conspiring with wealthy overseas Chinese to buy up properties and drive up real estate prices. Why would this not fuel resentment? Why are liberals reluctant to call out this issue that affects ordinary Australians?

In short, I would not be quick to label Australia a parochial, bigoted or racist society that has abandoned its liberal ideals. On the contrary, liberals have selectively abandoned the defence of liberal principles in the past, and what we are witnessing now is an understandable reaction. The reaction has to run its course until the pendulum swings back from the other extreme and hopefully settles in the middle.

My two cents."

This is clearly a debate that isn't going to go away. Much as liberals may hate it, conservatism is back in the mainstream. It's pointless trying to make it go away through name-calling ("racism", "bigotry"), etc. What we need is a more honest dialogue over multiculturalism, including whether it should be supported at all. During John Howard's time, there was a brief flicker of an idea that Australia should be multi-ethnic but not multicultural. In other words, discrimination against ethnic minorities will not be tolerated, but at the same time, immigrants must sign up to some core values and agree to give up certain others in order to be naturalised. I don't think that's necessarily a bad idea. While citizens of a democracy have the right to adopt any ideas they please (as long as those ideas do not translate into infringing on those of others), aspiring citizens do not have that inherent right. A country (especially a democracy) has the right to insist on the adoption of certain core values before extending citizenship to newcomers. It's not bigotry. It's just common sense.
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