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conservatism, multiculturalism, democracy « Previous | |Next »
January 16, 2007

Senator Brett Mason, a Liberal senator from Queensland, has an op-ed in The Australian on multiculturalism entitled, 'Nation must get precedence over ethnicity'. In it he outlines his conservative understanding of multiculturalism:

It looked really good on paper. Immigrants would be encouraged to retain their distinct cultural identities on condition that they subscribed to the tenets of Westminster democracy...The Australian brand of multiculturalism intended to maintain a fine balance between sectarian rights and mainstream responsibilities. Minority groups would be free to follow their creeds as long as they did not contravene the values of democracy. And in the event of such a conflict, the tenets of Australian multiculturalism mandated that individual rights, gender equality and religious freedom would always reign supreme.

The phrase that 'minority groups would be free to follow their creeds as long as they did not contravene the values of democracy' suggests that you cannot question the 'values' of democracy or have different values. Critique of liberal democracy is off limits.

What Mason ought to have said instead of 'values' is the rule of 'law '--thus ''minority groups would be free to follow their creeds as long as they did not break the law of the nation state. ---In replacing the rule of law with values Mason covers up that strand of conservatism that is anti-democratic and authoritarian.

Mason then repeats the standard conservative critique of multiculturalism that claims conceptual shortcomings mar the core of Australian multiculturalism and have have spawned hesitancy and confusion in its application.

At its core, the word multiculturalism implicitly elevates ethnic tribalism over national commonality. The term makes express reference to factionalism without specific mention of the unifying factors that are supposed to be the pride of this policy. It sends the message that diversity is an end in itself, rather than merely a means to the end of a better Australia.

That duality position ignores a middle position in which you can affirm your ethnic community and Australian democratic values. 'Ethnic tribalism' is like religion in a liberal democracy---it's a personal matter premised on the public private distinction. So Australian Muslims are more than happy to comply with the secular rules of Australia because these are the best guarantee for religious freedom.

Mason of course rejects the liberal account. He sees Sharia Law in opposition to the rule of law in Australia:

In several European nations, Muslim leaders have begun to press for the application of sharia law to their communities. And because sharia constitutes a distinct legal code, there is nothing in the strict definition of Australian multiculturalism that would preclude such a demand in Brunswick or Lakemba. In fact, that is precisely what the radical Muslim Hizb ut-Tahrir movement is doing when it calls for a Taliban-style Islamic caliphate in Australia.

This ignores the conflicts in interpretation over Sharia law within Islam. It ignores that several of the countries with the largest Muslim populations, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, have largely secular constitutions and laws, with only a few Islamic provisions in family law, or that Most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance.

How is the latter different from the way that Christianity works in Australia? Isn't Mason denying religious freedon to Muslims or the existence of Islamic reformation in Australia?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 05:20 AM | | Comments (3)


heh Nation must get precedence over ethnicity

State gets to dominate individuals - especially politically weak minorities. Multiculturalism is the liberty for an individual to pursue their cultural interests without coercion.

The state has no horse in that race. Mason's argument is statism.

yes conservatism stands for big government in the name of national security and national cohesion. It always has.That is why it is different from liberalism, and a critique of liberalism.

Dear Gary

Thanks for bringing Senator Brett Mason’s comments to my attention. Your comments, in contrast, are balanced and sensible. We badly need to hear from the Labor Party on the issues of multiculturalism.

This is not the first time we have heard from Senator Brett Mason on multiculturalism. He is part of a group of Liberal parliamentarians who are deliberately exploiting fear among Australians who are not Muslim against Muslim Australians. John Howard, Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson, Sophie Panopoulos, Bronwyn Bishop, Phillip Ruddock and David Jull immediately spring to mind as members of this group.

John Howard has never liked multiculturalism and has frequently spoken out against the idea. He also made a ‘premature’ speech on his opinion of Asians settling in Australia in 1988. He has associated himself with the secretive Exclusive Brethren cult when he received donations for the 2004 election, and recently recorded a talk for Catch the Fire Ministries, known for incitement against Muslims and currently being charged with several offences. He is now promoting the idea that it is OK to have people flying Australian flags at the Gold Coast Big Day Out, knowing that this confrontation will provoke a violent response.

Peter Costello associates with the ‘prosperity gospel’ Hillsong Church and has made his own intolerant remarks. This sets the agenda for his intended bid for the Prime Minister’s job. Brendan Nelson told Muslims they could “clear off” if they disagreed with his narrow bigoted views of the Australian ‘values’ he was pushing into Australian schools. Sophie Panopoulos and Bronwyn Bishop were quick to voice some very hostile remarks about Muslim women’s’ headscarves. National Party MP, Dana Vale said she was concerned that Muslims were out-breeding non-Muslims. Thankfully this was so extreme that she received an outraged response from some of her more moderate colleagues.

What can we say about Phillip Ruddock, the ultimate tormenter of asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan? Here was a man who flaunted an Amnesty International badge whilst inflicting mental illness and suicide on people who sought protection in Australia. The ‘toxic culture’ of DIMIA has a lot to do with the directions and priorities that Phillip Ruddock gave as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. As Attorney General he has been in the forefront of exploiting the fraudulent war on terror to introduce some of the most repressive anti-terrorist legislation.

David Jull exploited anti-Muslim sentiments in the 2004 election, when I stood against him as a Green in the seat of Fadden. He was definitely ‘playing the race card’ when he told the people of Paradise Point that Afghan refugees stepped ashore at Ashmore Reef with two Malaysian Airways business class briefcases. He also told the mainly elderly audience that they could even expect a terrorist attack in their quiet affluent beachfront suburb.

You would have to ask yourself why Allan Jones has not been charged with the offence of inciting actual physical violence in the media just prior to the Cronulla riots. It could not have anything to do with his close friendship with John Howard. To be fair, the Howard government found those events just a little too scary and backed off somewhat. But ‘dog whistle politics’ being what it is, I am sure we will see further evidence of the real agenda of the Howard government. I have called it a “Kristallnacht in slow motion”. It is the antithesis of an inclusive diverse society, which is what I believe most Australians want.

Willy Bach

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