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.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

India's Crisis Could Be Its Opportunity

My friend Seshadri Kumar had this idea that I would like to expand upon, because I believe there is a real possibility of a breakthrough for India in terms of strategic security.

Consider this. As of late September 2016, India's security situation looks very troubled.

Kashmir has been in flames ever since the killing of Burhan Wani. Regardless of the view in much of India that Wani was a terrorist who deserved to be killed, the Kashmir Valley patently disagrees. The tough new Indian policy, of crushing popular protests with the hugely troubling use of pellet guns to deliberately blind young protesters, is exacerbating anger. Not only is Pakistan able to raise the Kashmir issue in many international fora, but its old allies in the OIC have stirred themselves as well. Turkey wants to send a fact-finding mission to Indian-administered Kashmir.

There has been yet another attack on an Indian military base (Uri) by what appear to be Pakistan-based terrorists. Pakistan defiantly denies all involvement. What's more, through word and deed, the country appears to be engaging in its characteristic brinkmanship by preparing for all-out war that could even go nuclear.

The US has indicated strongly that it will not approve of military action by India, nor does it support India's recent counter-gambit of raising the issue of Baluchistan.

There were initial reports that Russia had cancelled its first-ever planned joint military exercises with Pakistan in solidarity with India over the Uri attack. However, it turned out later that the exercises were going ahead.

China issued a veiled warning to India that it would not stand by and allow a military attack on Pakistan, nor would it countenance any disturbance in Baluchistan that would disrupt its plans for the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) that will link Kashgar in China with Gwadar in Pakistan's Baluchistan state.

Iran, a country relatively friendly to India, has expressed interest in joining the CPEC project. Besides, Iran also has a Sunni Baluch-majority province (Sistan-o-Balochistan) bordering Pakistani Baluchistan. If the Baluch get too restive, egged on by India, and begin to demand independence for themselves in the form of a "Greater Baluchistan" carved out of Pakistan and Iran, India's support for the Baluch rebels will put Iran seriously offside.

In sum, India's old friends (Russia, Iran) appear to have cooled off and are warming to Pakistan.
India's new friend (the US) is unwilling to go all the way in the country's support.
India's old enemies (Pakistan, China) are turning up the pressure.

It's a perfect storm .To put it bluntly, India appears impotent to deal with regular and unceasing low-level terror attacks against its people. There is growing popular impatience with the government, and increasingly loud calls for action, but the Indian government's actions are highly constrained. Nothing can be done.

In some ways, the country's crisis today mirrors the crisis in 1991. In 1991, the crisis was economic in nature. India faced a balance of payments crisis which required the government to airlift 47 tons of gold to the Bank of England and 20 tons of gold to the Union Bank of Switzerland to raise $600 million. However, the final upshot of the crisis was hugely positive. India was forced to liberalise its economy, and the results are for all to see. From less than US$1 billion in 1991, India's foreign exchange reserves today are in excess of US$350 billion. GDP has increased from US$250 billion to over US$1.9 trillion in 2015. Hence a crisis need not be a disaster. It could be just the nudge the country needs to take the painful but necessary steps to a better tomorrow.

What is the equivalent in today's terms to the country having to airlift its gold reserves to stave off a collapse?

If Seshadri Kumar is right, what will probably have to give is India's intransigence in its border dispute with China.

Consider that China has no quarrel with India apart from its territorial claims. It does issue periodic warnings to India not to meddle in affairs that do not concern it, such as supporting Vietnam in drilling for oil in the South China Sea, but these are relatively minor issues. The major sticking point in India-China relations is China's claim to the entire northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (which it calls South Tibet) and a part of Jammu & Kashmir state called Aksai Chin.

I believe the time is fast approaching when India will have to get creative about what it is willing to sacrifice to make the best of a pretty bad situation.

Consider that China once had border disputes with 14 countries, but has swiftly settled 12 of them. Only the disputes with India and Bhutan remain, and since Bhutan's foreign policy is managed by India, there is essentially only one country in Asia that refuses to negotiate with China.

If India is willing to swallow the bitter pill and discuss the issue of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin with China, the major source of tension between the world's two most populous nations might come to an end. Once the India-China border is agreed upon through a formal treaty, India can afford to withdraw the bulk of its soldiers from their ever-alert positions along that long border.

If the example of the 12 other countries is anything to go by, there is a possibility that China will be relatively generous with India in drawing the new border.

Beyond the border treaty, there are several benefits that could accrue to India. China sees fit to keep India off-balance primarily because India has positioned itself as a hostile rival. If India withdraws from a hostile position, China's interest in destabilising India automatically reduces. In fact, China is so anxious about the success of the CPEC that it would like greater stability all along the CPEC's path. Here is where India could prevail upon China to bring about a similar border treaty between India and Pakistan. Pakistan will not necessarily play ball in bilateral discussions with India, but it is very likely to listen to China. If the LOC (Line of Control) is frozen as the international border between India and Pakistan, then Pakistan also has no further territorial claims on India. It will disappoint the Kashmiri separatists a great deal, but it is equally likely that the Pakistani military will clamp down on them to oblige China.

If the two major border disputes of India are settled, and the Pakistani deep state is forced to maintain peace along the border (in the interests of the CPEC), that will benefit India as well.

Investments into the entire South Asian region will increase (including from cash-surplus China), infrastructure improvement in India can accelerate with the help of these investments, a SAARC free trade zone may become a reality, and standards of living can start to rise.

All these enormous benefits will accrue to the Indian people, but first, they must be willing to overcome their nationalistic pride and think seriously about giving in to China on the border issue.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Culture Wars And Conspiracy Theories

I was recently pointed to an article on Swarajya mag titled "The Cultural War Against Hinduism". I knew what I was going to be reading as soon as I saw the title, and I was not disappointed.

The author (David Frawley) joins a long line of useful idiots from the West who, for reasons of their own, are happy to echo the conspiracy theories of the Hindu right, only in more articulate English. Others in this category are Maria Wirth, Koenraad Elst, Fran├žois Gautier and Michel Danino. Their Indian counterparts are Rajiv Malhotra, Vamsee Juluri and Sankrant Sanu.

Frawley's words are music to the ears of the believers. However, a slightly deeper analysis of his arguments reveals the contradictions inherent in them.

1. "Along with the spread of Western culture is found the promotion of Western monotheistic religions [read Christianity]. It was particularly true during the colonial era, but continues in a subdued form today."

A surprising statement, when Christianity can be seen to be in full retreat in its Western homelands, and churches are closing every year as attendance falls. Any number of verifiable statistics are available in the public domain to refute this conspiracy theory. Western culture (Western *secular* culture, that is) is alternately despised and feared by the church in Western countries. How can Christianity be promoted by the materialistic Western culture being propagated across the world?

2. "The West [...] defends jihadi Islam while ignoring indigenous groups like the Yazidis being destroyed by it."

Another surprising statement, when millions of Muslims around the world are convinced that the West is on an existential crusade to wipe them out. Is the mess in the Middle East a figment of our collective imagination? Aren't the millions of dead and displaced in the Muslim world the direct victims of Western intervention in their region? And what about the struggle between Western and Muslim cultures in the West itself? Witness the Swiss minarets ban, the French burqa ban, and in general the feedback loop between Islamic terror and Islamophobia. Only a Hindu conspiracy theorist could imagine an unholy alliance between two Abrahamic cultures engaged in a bitter internecine war of their own.

3. "Meanwhile, Western commercial culture turns traditional cultures into folk art for casual adornment and entertainment, forgetting their sacred dimensions."

What sacred dimensions? Surely Mr Frawley does not expect to win over a rational audience with an appeal to unsubstantiated metaphysical belief? There is nothing sacred about any Hindu religious belief. They are a bunch of superstitions, just like the beliefs of every other religion. Hinduism is in no way superior.

4. "With the Left is allied an aggressive judiciary in India that feels it has the legal right to rule over Hindu practices, including to ban whatever it feels inappropriate, however ancient or revered."

Excuse me? In a secular democracy, it is entirely by design that the judiciary has the right to rule over religious practices, including bans on what religious people may feel are "sacred". If the author does not like this aspect of living in a secular society, he must campaign to amend the Indian constitution. Nothing less will do.

5. "The same judiciary, however, will tread carefully with the inequalities or violence that occurs in Islam."

This is playing fast and loose with the truth, and there are countless examples to refute this, both positive and negative. As just one positive example, the Supreme Court of India in fact angered Muslim fundamentalists with its 1981 ruling on support for widows in the Shah Bano case, which the Rajiv Gandhi government cravenly overturned by passing the cruelly misnamed "The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act" in 1986. As a negative example, Delhi's Tis Hazari Court in 2015 acquitted all those accused of the murder of 42 Muslims at Hashimpura in 1987. It's hardly fair to accuse the Indian judiciary of being biased towards Muslims. Ask Muslims whether they perceive things the same way, and you will hear a story of victimhood that is the mirror-image of the author's.

6. "Caste and untouchability will be used to divide Hinduism, ignoring Hinduism’s own social reform movements"

That's a laugh. Genetic evidence (Moorjani et al) established that strict endogamy (caste restrictions on inter-marriage) began 1900 years ago. These are not Western assaults on Hinduism. They are endemic evils within the religion. Any Hindu reform movements are feeble and meet with stiff resistance (witness the reaction to the efforts of BJP MP Tarun Vijay). The most effective weapons against caste-consciousness seem to be urbanisation and a Western secular education. There are many more, but all stemming from modernisation inspired by the West. Hindu society has no homegrown remedies to the evils of the caste system, only apologism.

7. "Fortunately, the vastness of Hindu culture can ultimately prevail over the superficial cultural movements in the world today that lack an understanding of higher consciousness. Hindu Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda and its ally, Buddhism, are also spreading worldwide at a higher level of ideas, insights and aspirations."

Now here's an example of how an inferiority complex may often come intertwined with a superiority complex. So far, the article dwelt on "Hinduism in danger". Now the tone shifts to one of mocking superiority. How could something as superficial as Western consumerist culture hope to prevail against the "vastness" of one that possesses a "higher consciousness"?

I'm confused now. Is there a danger to Hinduism or not?

Ah, and Buddhism is now an ally? How cute, considering that Hinduism and Buddhism were once mortal theological enemies, and often wreaked violence upon each other's followers, until the Muslims arrived and slaughtered both of them.

Well, that fizzled out quickly.

I eagerly devour writings about cultures and cultural clashes, because these interest me a lot personally, but I am invariably disappointed with both the content and the logical frailty of Hindu right wing conspiracy theories. I'm sure I could do a far more sophisticated job if I were so inclined. Perhaps I will one day, as an exercise in parody. I will not be surprised if such a takedown goes viral thanks to people who cannot see irony. Right wingers are the same the world over. Their passion dwarfs their intellect and reason by orders of magnitude.