While it is said that a really bad idea never quite goes away, we could surely try to make multiculturalism an exception to that unhappy rule. For nearly all its history, Australia got on perfectly well without multiculturalism, and developed an exceptionally free, peaceful, harmonious and democratic society.
Multiculturalism seems to have begun here as a vague idea during the Whitlam-Fraser episode – something like more Chinese restaurants, and colourful ethnic folk dances. It meant more jobs for the boys and girls and greatly simplified vote-buying: buy off the leaders of ethnic communities, however identified, with sinecures and grants, and their respective communities might be expected to follow.
Australia had from the first white settlement a large Irish Catholic population, but the sectarian troubles and violence that racked Ireland hardly existed in Australia except in minor and petty ways.
We did not have Scots festering with resentment over the atrocious Highland clearances. They got on with their lives instead. Highland gatherings with tartans, kilts and a bit of sword-dancing, bagpipe music and caber-tossing did no one any harm and added a bit of colour to life.
Who can be sure this would have been the case if the government had encouraged and cosseted a sense of Irish and Scottish national identity and with it, inevitably, senses of historic grievance?
Jews, not only General Monash and Sir Isaac Isaacs, but probably Governor Arthur Philip himself, occupied key positions in public life.
The first religious sermon ever preached in Australia, to a congregation of hard-bitten convicts and marines, emphasised in moving terms the equality of all men before God. The first civil legal action – in which convicts successfully sued a powerful ship’s captain – emphasised the reality of equality under law.
One day scholars may speculate on how what was previously regarded as a political good – unity – came to be replaced as a good by its opposite – ‘diversity’, with no attempt to define or analyse, let alone question or criticise it.
The Australian Defence Force, whose senior members have apparently never heard of Fort Hood, is also affected. The current Chief of the Army, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, states, ‘The Number One priority I have with respect to recruitment is increasing our diversity.’ Not, be it noted, maximising fighting ability, toughness, strength, initiative, bravery, patriotism or intelligence.
Like so many other things, an apparently innocuous and benevolent concept for adding a little colour to life, and perhaps for assuaging migrants’ homesickness, was taken over by the Left and became a weapon for destroying established and traditional structures. Similarly, there is now strong political pressure on Aborigines not to assimilate, though assimilation in the past gave many their best chance of a good and reasonably long life. Assimilated, they ceased to be interesting to the race-relations and multiculturalism nabobs.
Australia is at present going through what is for it a novel but certainly not a unique experience: in contrast to the wave of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, who were encouraged, very successfully, to become part of Australian society, the present wave of Muslim immigrants has been encouraged, in the name of ‘diversity’ not to assimilate.
Imagine if, a few years ago, a Vietnamese community leader had assigned the responsibility for rape as Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly did in 2006, blaming women for being raped: ‘If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside, without cover, and the cats come to eat it, whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.’
I suspect deportation would have been in the air if, in the 1970s a prominent Vietnamese had said something like that. But of course a Vietnamese community leader would not have said it. Nor would there have been Vietnamese bookshops selling texts advocating murder of unbelievers, rape of non-Vietnamese women siezed from their families and the annihilation of Israel or the Vietnamese equicalent ‘from the river to the sea’. Further, while I am very fond of cats, I feel a value system which ascribes to men no more self-control than a cat may not be something we wish to encourage.
Many Vietnamese have told moving stories of how, on arriving in Australia, churches, charities and private individuals as well as government instrumentalities welcomed them, and they responded with gratitude and a determination to succeed and make a contribution to their new home. Many were particularly warm in expressing their gratitude to Malcolm Fraser, who, in his finest hour, admitted them in considerable numbers in the face of Labor, Communist and other leftist campaigns against them. They did not respond with a demand that their hosts alter their culture and values to conform with their own, let alone launch jihad terrorist attacks on them.
Once our culture had more confidence. When Sir Charles Napier, a British General of the Indian Raj, was told that suttee – burning widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres – was ‘the custom’ he replied: ‘We too have a custom: when men burn women alive we hang them.’
I have no doubt at all that today there would be no shortage of commentators ready to attack the general for cultural imperialism and microaggression and as an enemy of diversity. Germaine Greer has defended female genital mutilation as an expression of cultural integrity.
Then there is Robert Manne, who believes: ‘There’s also the question of how much the Howard government stoked up hostility to mainly Muslim asylum seekers who began arriving on boats well before 9/11… So it’s not as if there was no hostility to Muslim migrants or Muslim people before 9/11. But everything went up several notches when that happened… That potentially led to a lot of ill-will in the Muslim community about Australian foreign policy.’
Who were the aggressors? Will the Muslims ever forgive the West for 9/11? Will the Germans ever forgive the Jews for Auschwitz?
Multiculturalism has proved anti-libertarian. Muslim women have lost many rights they should have had in Europe. Multiculturalism in Europe, with Australia moving in the same direction, has now come to be based on the legalisation of a parallel sharia society, which is founded on the rejection of Western values, above all rejection of equality and freedom.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free