Lest we forget the other

Every year as Australia celebrates ANZAC Day, I suspect the majority of immigrants like myself feel at a loss. I do not know anyone who has a relative who participated in the Gallipoli invasion,  so I am uncomfortable with this dramatic and dare I say expensive display of public outpouring of nostalgia.

Like many, I do not support nor believe we should be spending millions on the centenary of a humiliating military defeat in far off Turkey. In my country of birth, Malaysia, we do not celebrate the end of occupation from the Japanese and the British. We celebrate independence from colonial powers and try our best to forget the dark days of occupation. I understand it is supposed to be a recognition and celebration of valor, service and sacrifice, but I agree with the growing number of Australians that it has become an unhealthy obsession with the trauma of war and flag waving.

But there is a post  world war migration reality that this nation has yet to grapple with. Almost half the population was born overseas or have parents who were born overseas and there is a rapid shift in the ethnic composition of new migrants away from Europe towards east and southern Asia.

We are no longer a nation building society, so this preoccupation of ANZAC seems to be an anachronism and cynically driven by the need to persuade people to join the Australian Defence Force and building “feel good”  political capital for incumbent parties. Its time to move on. But maybe it masks a larger problem which is as a society we have not be able to come together and discuss what is Australia’s basis for national identity.

I agree that: a commitment to the rule of law: parliamentary democracy; equality of the sexes; and the freedoms we enjoy are a good start but differences in cultural practice that is not harmful and if it has no impact on other groups surely should be encouraged so that ethnic minority groups do not have to feel they must choose the dominate white culture to fit in but can happily navigate both comfortably. This in fact may the very reason why so many Australian Muslims are joining the Jihadis.

Perhaps a reinvigorated conversation around how aboriginal culture is shaping our identity as a nation is a good place to start. Secondly we need to have an understanding of what our communities of colour represent beyond a diversity in cuisines and restaurants. I do not see why cultural relativism has to be the pre-determined outcome of any discussion in exploring a different model of multiculturalism. Fears such as a push for Syariah law is misplaced. Syariah law has no place in a secular State. Singapore has a wonderful model of multiculturalism despite having a vibrant Muslim Malay minority. Syariah law was in fact instituted by the British during its handover to independence and not a demand made by Muslims and there has been no reported problems between Muslims and non Muslims. This is unlike in Malaysia where Muslims are the majority and now demanding Hudud laws be introduced. In the United States, the Jewish minority have seen the culture flourish through schools and synagogues with no backlash from the Christian majority.

We, who want to progress to a more strident multiculturalism, want to be able to access to more ethnic cultural and religious centres which not only helps shape identities and a sense of belonging for immigrants but allows other communities to share and understand and respect the diversity in language and culture in Australia. It will undoubtedly leave the establishment uncomfortable as it challenges White privilege and the status quo – but I believe this nation has the maturity to do so given the right direction from appropriate leaders. Either way, demographic changes will force this development, so why don’t we the people, lead this national project instead of giving the government of the day the opportunity to fill the gap with fear based political opportunism.


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