It has been a boast of politicians of various political persuasions that that Australia is the most successful nation on earth regarding multiculturalism. Traditionally we have been able to assimilate migrants into the Australian way of life from very diverse backgrounds. They have contributed productively to our economy, enriched us with their cultural heritages but embraced our way of life. The post-war Italian, Greek, Chinese and other migrants enhanced Australian culture without threatening its liberal underpinnings.

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By and large these migrants integrated into Australian society, were law-abiding and were wonderful contributors to our economy. There were some significant perturbations however. We had to contend with the elements of the mafia, Vietnamese crime gangs and other imported criminals but never to the extent that our way of life was threatened.

Immediately after the Second World War, world tensions centred on the international battle between communism and capitalism. Then with the fall of the Berlin wall and seemingly the end of the “Cold War” many breathed a sigh of relief and concluded that international relations might now prove more amicable.

One of the West’s most eminent political scientists, Sam Huntington, did not believe we should be so complacent. He wrote, presciently, in 1996:

“In this new world the most pervasive, important and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between people belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilisations.:

The former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel agreed with this assessment. He observed:

“Cultural conflicts are increasing and are more dangerous today than at any time in history.”

And as we have seen in recent decades, just as Huntington predicted, the most dangerous cultural conflicts are those along the fault lines between civilisations.

[Now despite a rather benign history of immigration until recently, Australia had fair warning of the difficulty of negotiating cultural fault lines. It has been evident in the conflict that has developed between mainstream Australia and a cohort of our indigenous people.]

If you look at nations around the world it is clear that many of the major differences in economic and political development have been greatly influenced by their cultures.

As an example Huntington remarks on the following contrasting cultures:

“East Asian economic success has its source in in East Asian culture, as do the difficulties East Asian societies have had in achieving stable democratic political systems. Islamic culture explains in large part the failure of democracy to emerge in much of the Muslim world… (In general in post-communist Eastern Europe) those (countries) with Western Christian heritages are making progress towards economic development and democratic politics; the prospects in the Muslim republics are bleak.”

The difficulty in converting traditional Muslim societies to democratic processes was starkly demonstrated by the so-called “Arab Spring”.

Just over twenty years ago now there were a series of uprisings led by young people in Muslim countries. The revolt began in Tunisia but was soon mirrored in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Morocco. It has been conjectured that the ubiquitous reach of the internet and social media made young people in those Muslim countries aware that we in the West had materially better lifestyles and more freedom than those trapped in the theocratic confines of Islam. Despite the fervour of the young revolutionaries the uprisings were largely quashed leaving these countries to continue to languish under Muslim rule.

Muhammad, whose life spanned from 570 to 632 AD, was the founder of Islam. Islam has remained substantially unchanged since that time. It is essentially a medieval religious cult that has resisted all attempts to reform or modify it. By force of arms Islam spread from present day Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula. It was beaten back somewhat by a resurgent Europe post the Enlightenment.

I have written in the past how militant Islam evolved so I won’t go over that again. Islam has had a powerful impact on our lives in the last half century. But Islamism is not a unified coherent religion. It contains its own rifts and irreconcilable differences. Whilst we decry the impact that radical Islam has had on our Western democracies in recent decades, we can’t overlook the fact that its internal divisions have probably resulted in far more damage to Muslims themselves. The conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims has caused much violence and unnecessary death in the Muslim world. And of course the origin of this historical division in Muslim society results from disagreement about who is the rightful heir (in terms of religious significance) of Muhammad!

Now the radical Islamists are inimical to Australia’s liberal democratic values. In that respect allowing immigrants of that ilk into our country threatens our way of life. But surprisingly they have fellow travellers in the extreme left who also like to rail against colonialism and white privilege and support indigenous victimhood. In this regard they side with the radical Muslims in denigrating Western culture.

The mass migration of Muslims into Europe is putting a huge stress on traditional Western culture in many European countries.

I read recently that in Holland, for example, migrant populations are beginning to dominate in many major cities. The author claimed:

  • Amsterdam comprises 56% migrants
  • The Hague comprises 58% migrants
  • Rotterdam comprises almost 60% migrants

Most of these migrants are from African and Middle Eastern countries. They pose a threat to the continuation of Western culture and Western values.

We are seeing increased levels of violence inspired by Islam fundamentalism in European countries.

Increased Islamic political influence is ubiquitous throughout Europe. In recent local government elections in the UK, for example, a couple of successful mayoral candidates were radical Islamists.

As a result of all this, Western cultural fundamentals are being eroded. The more militant of the Muslim immigrants have no intention of accommodating Western culture but have the clear intent of subverting it.

Many leftist academics purport to believe that conservatives are unduly “triumphalist” about Western culture and the study of Western culture denigrates the contributions that other cultures have made to human progress. So why is it so important to protect Western cultural values?

Now I am happy to concede that other cultures have enhanced human progress.

It cannot be disputed that the origins of democracy, the foundation of logic, and the creation of science was an outcome of Greek culture which can be argued is the antecedent of Western culture. But the dominance of Greek culture waned in the face of the rise of other societies.

And surely we owe a debt to Islamic culture, which in the depth of the European Dark Ages preserved much of what the Greeks had learnt when it was lost to the West because of a deepening of Christian fundamentalism. At that time, also, Muslims made notable contributions to science, mathematics and medicine.

But after the Renaissance in Europe came the Age of Reason which heralded huge steps forward in science, philosophy, and politics. Most of human progress in the last four or five centuries can be attributed to the fruits of Western culture.

As outlined earlier, the culture of Islam has essentially been locked into the form that evolved immediately after the death of Muhammad. There has been no reform in Islam as there was in Christianity which promoted the separation of the church and the state. Whereas the Christian tradition evolved to allow the development of democracy, Islam largely locked into its medieval concepts, including apostasy and the subjugation of women, and, with a few courageous exceptions, has largely championed theocracy.

At various stages in the history of humanity particular cultures have emerged to further the progress of the human journey. Many of those cultures arose to suit the needs of a particular people at a particular time of their development. It is unlikely with the changing nature of human history that many of them could remain dominant over long periods of time.

A brief study of the history of ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, the Aztecs and the Incas and many, many more attest to that. 

In Australia we have various indigenous cultural traditions that served their adherents well, allowing survival of tribal societies in an often harsh environment. These cultures are now often impediments to indigenous people flourishing in modern Australia.

Western culture has largely resulted in the creation of liberal democracies, the emancipation of women, the abolition of slavery, scientific advances that have enhanced our quality of life and lifted many from poverty, medical advances that have increased our longevity and many other benefits. That seems sufficient justification to preserve these norms.

Many on the left seem to think that we should be ashamed of our Western cultural history, (and no doubt we should acknowledge a few errors along the way). But in aggregate we should be grateful for its beneficial effects in progressing humanity. Accordingly we should celebrate our Western cultural history, but with the sure knowledge of past precedence it will one day, more than likely, be supplanted by something else. It would be a disaster if we allowed through the unfettered migration of fundamentalist Muslims into our community to allow our modern Western culture to retrogress into medieval Muslim fundamentalism.

But, you might ask, are these pleas to resist Islamic fundamentalism on my part an affront to religious freedom?

The seventeenth century English philosopher, John Locke, sometimes called the Father of Liberalism, argued strongly in favour of religious freedom.

Respect for freedom of religion is a form of respect for individual sovereignty. It is a manifestation of a belief that an individual should have autonomy in choosing their way of life whether others agree with that particular way of life or not. But importantly, if we believe in such a right, there must be caveat that the belief system chosen does not impinge on the rights of others to make their own such choice.

This immediately provides challenges for fundamentalists of all persuasions.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

For example, if I am free to choose my religious beliefs, then if through exposure to other belief systems, access to more or better information, increased life experience or whatever, I decide to change my mind about such belief, then that must be permissible as well! Hence, in any civilised society where individual freedom is promoted, apostasy cannot be a crime. But yet we still have Islamic fundamentalists who believe that apostasy is the most heinous crime and should be punishable by death!

Similarly, if we champion freedom of religion, then it automatically assumes that each of us has the right to believe in a different God or gods. Even if we agree that there is only one God (as per the monotheistic religions), we have the right to view that God differently and ascribe different characteristics to such a God. We should also have the right to believe in no God at all or to admit our uncertainty that any such God exists.

Now unfortunately, these options provide multitudinous ways of viewing (or not viewing) God. For the fundamentalist, unless my view of God aligns with his, he will most likely charge me with blasphemy. Again, in a society where religious tolerance is promoted, charges of blasphemy, on such a basis, should not be entertained.

So, if we are to embrace religious freedom, claims of apostasy and blasphemy, which have seemed to have worried most of the world religions for centuries, should be put aside.

When it comes to religious beliefs (or indeed any of our beliefs), very few of us reach independent conclusions that are rationally informed. We seem compelled to take on the belief sets of those around us, our families, our regions, our peer groups and so on.

If we understand this dynamic, we should be reluctant to be too critical of individuals for their religious beliefs. If we understand the nature of humanity, we must acknowledge that individuals have the right to make decisions regarding their religious affiliations (even though few of us consciously do so) and to deny them this choice would constitute a gross violation of their rights. And given the influences I have mentioned on our limited ability to choose, we should not be too surprised if some of those choices seem, at least to us, to be irrational.

The problem we have with religion is that, whilst most of us unconsciously adopt a belief system, too many of us believe such a belief is a large determinant of who we are. (This, of course, is true of all identity politics as well.) Once we believe that our religious belief is a major underpinning of our identity, we are bound to defend such beliefs tenaciously and often mindlessly. And because most of us come to such beliefs by accident (by virtue of our circumstances and history) we have little ammunition with which to defend our choice (which we, in any case, most likely did not consciously make). And so we find a challenge to our beliefs is very threatening and must be avoided at all costs if our sense of identity is to be maintained. In this sense, because our particular beliefs are largely accidental, we can’t afford to have them questioned. This deficiency in human nature has plagued us for millennia and resulted in much of the conflict that the human race has had to endure.

Indeed. most of the major world religions have this problem. Dissent from what each of them hold sacred is held to be blasphemous. But even though they have certain similarities in belief, the differences are such that every time they rub up against each other, there will be fertile grounds for claims of blasphemy. And the differences that spark such claims seem quite trivial to many of us. Their literature reflects their insecurities regarding blasphemy.

In Judaism prohibitions about idolatry and blasphemy are in the forefront of their commandments.

Christianity, which was built on the pillars of Judaism adopted similar sentiments. As it was laid down in the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), “No sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the profaning of His Name.”

The Koran reflects similar sentiments by posing two rhetorical questions: “And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allah or rejects the truth when it reaches him? Is there not a home in Hell for those who reject Faith?”

Some of this dubious dogma seems to be built on the assumption that blasphemy offends God. This to me is laughable. It reinforces the idea that Man was not so much made in God’s image, but God has been made in Man’s image. It is beyond my comprehension that a supernatural being, who is omniscient and omnipotent, could actually be offended! It is implausible to me that God should have an ego!

Yet on the other hand, if we honour individual freedom and a person’s right to choose their own religious beliefs, it is not appropriate that we should then set out to belittle people for the particular beliefs they hold. In a free society it should be just as intolerable to demean a person on the basis of their religious beliefs as it is to demean them on the basis of their political beliefs, their race or their gender.

In this regard we must avoid a society that runs to the extremes of either the exclusion of religion from the public space or allowing the public space to be exclusively dominated by one particular religion of belief set.

How to balance the conflicting demands in a modern democracy was addressed by two North American academics Jocelyn MacLure and Charles Taylor in their book Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. MacLure and Taylor argue that we can meet the challenges of modern democracies only with a model of political society that is “founded on the one hand, on an agreement about basic political principles and, on the other hand, on respect for the plurality of philosophical, religious and moral perspectives adopted by citizens.”

Yale based theologian Miroslav Volf believes that the following principles must be in play for a society to realise such an ambition:

  • Freedom of religion,
  • Equal moral value of all citizens,
  • Separation of religion and rule, and
  • Impartiality of the state.

(These principles are self-evident and I don’t have the opportunity to expand greatly on them in this essay. If you want to know more, refer to Volf’s book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalised World.)

But I would submit that these are excellent principles that we would do well to formally adopt, and in general in Western liberal societies we have..

As a consequence we could use them as a template to inform immigrants of what our society expects of new arrivals and our expectations for them to integrate into our society.

Now I believe it is our right as Australian citizens to mandate the conditions under which immigrants are accepted and it is not unreasonable (in fact I think it would be very helpful) to be explicit about the values we hold which we would expect new citizens to conform with.

So what might these principles mean in practice.

  1. Every Australian has the freedom to choose a belief system (religious or secular) subject to the caveat that that chosen belief system must not restrict the freedom of others to make their own choice. As well, any attempt to coerce others, through any means whatsoever, to comply with a particular belief system must be repudiated.
  2. All Australians regardless of race, gender or belief are equal under the law. With respect to beliefs, no religion should be given special opportunity to either advance its cause or to avoid debate and public scrutiny about its inherent fundamentals.
  3. There must be absolute separation between the state and any particular belief system. The only role of the state in this regard is to ensure each religion or system of secular belief might peacefully pursue its ideals provided they are lawful and don’t impede the rights of others.
  4. The state may not legislate or act in any way to promote or impede any lawful system of belief except that it can demonstrate that it does so in the national interest.

Now these tenets are largely shared by Western, liberal democracies. They are the very principles under which multiculturalism has thrived in Australia. But in recent times these principles are being eroded. And they are being eroded for political reasons.

Currently we are seeing this being manifested by the support of Palestine in the current conflict in the Middle East resulting from the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel in October last year. Israel shares Western values and is governed by the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel is a tolerant, modern society where women have equal rights to men, homosexuality is not vilified and minority groups in its population participate in its democracy. Gaza, run by Hamas, displays all the illiberal manifestations of fundamentalist Islam.

in the aftermath of the Gaza war we have seen a huge increase in the public display of anti-Semitism in Australia. Immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel we saw Islamic fundamentalists triumphantly celebrating the terrorist atrocity. That was soon followed by demonstrations supporting Palestine. And then, predictably, our universities have been taken over by pro-Palestinian protesters who have been largely supported by left wing academics.

The Albanese government has refused to to take action against this anti-Semitism. This is largely because they rely on holding seats in Western Sydney which have significant numbers of Muslim voters. As a result they have been cowardly in response to attacks on Israel in international forums and if they criticise anti-Semitism they are quick to criticise Islamophobia. This is a pathetic attempt to suggest equivalence between Israel’s response to terrorism with Hamas’s horrendous attack on Israeli civilians. Every day now in Australia we see aggressive acts of anti-Semitism but little indication of Islamophobia.

It is indeed appalling that the Albanese government is making partisan political decisions that impact our international standing to appease a domestic Muslim minority. Surely governments must act for the best interests of all citizens.

And now we have the International Criminal Court (ICC) calling for the arrest of not only the Hamas leaders but also the democratically elected leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, for war crimes. This an absolute travesty to equate the actions of the terrorists with the justifiable defensive response by Israel.  Alarmingly, our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese has refused to defend Netanyahu against this heinous charge, presumably because he does not want to offend the Muslim voters in Western Sydney. He has made some appalling decisions or resisted making necessary decisions in his Prime Ministership but this has to be the worst and the most cowardly incident.

In the wake of this I would predict that multiculturalism is now dead.  When one of the subcultures in Australian society is given such unwarranted political protection it must be at the expense of all the other multicultural elements of our society. When one specific culture has the ability to manipulate the government in its favour, it is obvious that the government has abandoned multiculturalism. If this trend goes unchallenged it won’t be long before we, like many European countries, have succumbed to the unyielding demands of radical Islam.

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Ted Scott AM was awarded an Order of Australia in 2004 for his contribution to industry, and was named one of Australia's top thirty business leaders in 2001 by AFR's BOSS Magazine. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and Economics and had a successful career in management in the electricity generation industry in Queensland, managing many power stations. Ted is a writer and the author of several books.

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