By Harsha Prabhu
It feels strange to be arguing about the benefits of multiculturalism as a cornerstone of any modern society in the 21st century.
But this century has seen the rise of what one can only call monocultures, cultures that are opposed to the plurality of vision that multiculturalism embodies.
These monocultures threaten the fabric of civilisation as we know it, so it’s a good time to have this conversation.
Think about it this way: There are over seven billion people on the planet today. There is no way of calibrating how many different cultures this figure represents.
Even looking at it language-wise, we’ll be guessing: There are over 6,500 languages spoken today – from Aari, spoken in Southwestern Ethiopia; to Zuni spoken in New Mexico in the US.
If we accept that some of these languages share cultural roots and divide this number by, say, six, that gives us over 1000 separate ‘cultures.’ It’s just a guesstimate, but that’s the figure we are looking at when we talk of the scope of multiculturalism.
As a responsible global citizen, one could justly conclude that embracing multiculturalism is the true and proper response to acknowledging the diversity of the global cultural family.
Embracing multiculturalism is an antidote for ignorance. Ignorance breeds fear; fear begets intolerance; intolerance fans the flames of pogroms.
That’s why, to paraphrase American educator Howard Shorr: ‘Mankind must make global multiculturalism a cornerstone of education’.
Conversely, a failure to embrace multiculturalism results in monoculturalism, in preferencing some cultures above others; and, finally, in the exploitation of cultures and people to suit the ends of a few.
In other words, cultural imperialism ends in economic and political imperialism and the colonisation of cultures through war and conquest. That’s been the history of our ‘civilisation’ thus far.
The German writer Walter Benjamin nailed it when he said: ‘There is no document of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’ One culture’s treasures are another’s looted antiquities.
Culture – represented by the monoculture of monotheism – cannibalised the diverse goddess-centred cultures that thrived in the so called ‘stone age.’
Similarly, the monoculture of the Bible was the pretext for the enslavement of the ‘new’ world by the ‘old’.
And the monoculture of mercantile capital was the pretext for the colonistion of the third world.
Culture – represented by the monoculture that passes for liberal, capitalist democracy – was the more recent pretext for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the destabilisation of countries like Libya and Syria.
Theodore Roosevelt was candid about this relationship between culture and the gun. He said: ‘If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow’.
This became the campaign slogan for what the US did to Vietnam. Today’s leaders use euphemisms like ‘regime change’, but the agenda is the same: enforcing a take-over of another people’s resources, territory, economy and culture. But the opening salvo begins with a culture war.
Here is a statement from Hitler’s Mein Kampf: ‘the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew’. The Nazi ‘hearts and minds’ campaign against Jews, gypsies and other minorities preceded and led to the Holocaust.
Here is another quote: ‘[The Palestinians] are beasts walking on two legs’. This one is from former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, mentor to current PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
The demonisation of Palestinians as less-than-human has similarly preceded Israeli genocide against the Palestinians.
The ‘chosen people’, Aryan myths
The monoculture of Nazism’s obsession with a blond Aryan ‘master race’ finds its match in the monoculture of Zionist Israel’s racist narrative of a ‘chosen people’.
Here is another statement, this one more recent, by Mahesh Sharma, the Indian Culture Minister, a member of the Hindu fundamentalist government of Narendra Modi. Naming a road after India’s former President APJ Abdul Kalam, Sharma said: ‘(Abdul Kalam was) a great man who, despite being a Muslim, was a nationalist and a humanist’.
Replace ‘Muslim’ with, say ‘Jew’, and you get a taste of the culture wars being waged in India, where the BJP government is attempting to subvert Indian cultural plurality, including Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zorastrians, Jews, atheists and millions of animist tribals, and hijack this many-hued multiculture under a saffron flag.
Interestingly, Hitler and Mussolini are exemplars for this Hindutva ideology. Monocultures and fascism are cut from the same cloth.
Islam has it’s monoculture too, with the Saudi brand of Wahabism, broadcast from Deera Square in Riyad, aka Chop Chop Square, scene of many a public beheading.
Isis are only copycating a strategy perfected by their paymasters. While all eyes are on Isis, no one’s pointing out the fact that their Saudi, Turkish and Qatari paymasters have their patrons sitting in the White House and No 10 Downing Street. Peep through the curtains and we see two monocultures, Islamic fundamentalist and Christian capitalist, in bed together.
Here in Australia we have our own culture wars. First, it was John Howard’s attack on what he called ‘the black armband view of history.’
What he meant was Australia did not have a black history. Never mind the over 600 different languages spoken by aboriginal people at the time of white conquest, people who had lived on this continent for over 40,000 years, history in Australia began with white colonisation.
Further, according to this perspective, there was no challenge to this colonisation, no black history of revolt. This was in line with Tony Abbott’s recent assertion that Australia owed its existence to ‘a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land’.
Both Howard and Abbott were attempting to drag us back to the dark days of monocultural Australia, the Australia of the White Australia Policy.
This immigration policy, preferencing immigrants from an Anglo-Celt background and discriminating against non-Europeans, held sway from 1901 till 1973, when Labor’s Gough Whitlam was elected as PM.
Whitlam introduced multiculturalism as a policy, which was further elaborated under Liberal’s Frazer in 1978. Support for multiculturalism was bipartisan and continued under Hawke and Keating.
This bipartisanship broke down under Howard and has been further eroded under Abbott. Both Howard and Abbott spoke of multiculturalism with a sneer.
Howard and Abbott’s sneer
Howard blithely announced its demise and Abbott danced at the wake, egged on by the racist invective of media shock jocks like Andrew Bolt.
Interestingly, Bolt also spewed vitriol on aboriginals, casting aspirations on their ‘aboriginality’ and defamed human rights lawyers advocating for asylum seekers.
Bolt was taken to court and lost on both counts. In the court of historical truth, no amount of vitriol can drown the fact that we stand on stolen, aboriginal land.
And no amount of spin can hide the truth that ‘Stop the Boats’ is just a continuation of the White Australia policy under a different name.
Both Howard and Abbott thrived on the politics of division and hate. Howard rode on the anti-Asian hysteria unleashed by the likes of Pauline Hanson; he also won an election by demonising boat people.
Abbott chose to demonise women in burqas and whip up an anti-Muslim whirlwind to promote his dystopian vision. Abbott and his colleagues on the back bench raised the specter of ‘sharia law’.
Sharia law in Australia! The Muslim population of Australia is around two per cent. Thanks to the racist propaganda machine, Australians, however, think it’s around 18 per cent. Never let the facts come in the way of a good story, especially if it’s going to get you votes.
This anti-Muslim whirlwind is an international phenomenon whose vortex lies in the Middle East and Africa.
The current refugee and asylum seeker crisis unfolding on our TV screens – the largest displacement of people since WW2 – is a direct consequence of this monocultural meddling in the affairs of several diverse cultures: from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Sudan, to mention a few.
By all accounts Syria was a multicultural, secular society before being rent asunder by the US and her allies, including Australia, via their proxies, including Isis, in their calamitous rush to bring down the elected government of Bashir Assad. In the process Syria has been dismembered and depopulated.
What’s been Australia’s response to the Syrian crisis? To arrest and deport Syrian asylum seekers. And to begin a campaign of bombing Syria. So great was Australia’s haste to join the coalition of the willing that Abbott phoned Obama begging to be part of this next misadventure.
Parliamentary debate in the senate was allocated a breathtaking four minutes, at the insistence of the Greens.
The election of Andrew Turnbull as PM has not changed the fact that bombing for peace remains Australia’s Orwellian foreign policy.
Once again, monoculturalism’s headless rush to mayhem has won over multiculturalism’s caution and insistence on looking at all the pieces in the jigsaw to seek a solution.
This includes what the peace movement has been clamouring for: a negotiated settlement with all the key parties and their backers to resolve all conflict. Not just in Syria, but in Israel, in Sudan, in Yemen, indeed in every war zone.
But the masters of war don’t want this. After all, war is good for business – over US$ 1.5 trillion per year worldwide and rising.
Endless war helps capitalism
And what better business than an endless war, with its concurrent global police state, to feed the paranoia of the gullible and the coffers of the corporate Tzars who run the republic of fear and loathing that passes for our civilisation.
Could it be that the wars being fought today, including the war on ‘terror’, on ‘free trade’, on ‘drugs’ are culture wars? Are they colonialism by another name, a continuation of the domination of the global south by the global north?
Indeed, if we take culture to include not just the built but also the natural environment, we can see the true horror of our monoculturalism.
The truth is, everywhere – from the depths of the Amazon jungle to the deeps of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the monoculture of the corporate-driven military-industrial complex is set out to devour and destroy what little cultural and environmental diversity there remains, all under the banner of globalisation.
Globalisation, which could have been multiculturalism finest hour, has birthed its greatest challenge.
Rampant capitalism, driven by it’s engine, globalisation, is the ultimate monoculture. Even Pope Francis was compelled to preach against this disease, calling it ‘the dung of the devil.’
Opposed to this are the myriad multi cultures, including the cultures of resistance to the Goliath of global corporate-driven fascism.
From the streets of Ferguson to the mountains of Chiapas; from the shores of Gaza to the forests of Bastar, globalisation’s hegemony is being challenged by a counter-narrative voiced by millions, some armed with megaphones and banners, others bows and arrows, catapults and guns.
Others fashion their weapons from ‘instruments, made from timber and steel.’ Included in these are the alternative cultures of the rainbow region of NSW who are dreaming up a sustainable future.
Monoculture is the nightmare from which the human race is trying to awaken. Monoculture breeds fascism. Monoculture leads to species extinction. For us, it’s either multiculturalism or the death cult.
Note: ‘Multicultural Nation,’ a new program on Bay FM, will go to air on Tuesday, 3 November, 1pm-2pm.