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Mixed loyalties don't negate Australianness


In his Australia Day speech in 2006, Former Prime Minister John Howard spoke about Australian values which were based on 'a mix of Judeo-Christian ethics, the spirit of the Enlightenment and British political institutions and culture'.

Coloured ropes combineIt seems to have been a prevalent attitude at the federal level. Howard's words were echoed on numerous occasions by Tony Abbott, who in 2014 was happy to find $226 million for an expanded school chaplaincy program while slashing funds for education, aged and health care.

I can't help but wonder what this attempt to narrowly and exclusively define our democratic values means for many non-Christian, non-British migrants whose ancestral homelands never experienced a Western European style enlightenment.

That includes many Catholics, Orthodox Christians and fast-growing Hindu and Buddhist populations.

For my own parents, becoming Australian meant being eligible to apply for a passport and receiving a citizenship certificate. It was the early 1970s, and my mother had spent most of her life in India. British political institutions were already familiar to her. I arrived in Australia at the ripe old age of five months. My first passport has the words 'unable to sign' typed in the signature section.

I learned Australian values by a process of gentle osmosis. Many Indigenous Australians learned these values in a less gentle fashion. Many were forcibly removed from their families in the most un-Christian manner, separated from their parents and from a culture far more Australian than British.

The first piece of legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act, which restricted migration to people with European heritage and white skin. Many existing settlers were former Irish convicts whose loyalties were hardly to the British Empire. Irish Catholics fought at Gallipoli and in other battles. However, this wasn't enough for them to be regarded as 'real' Australians.

In his ANZAC Day address in April 2015, Abbott acknowledged: 'History records that the Gallipoli campaign was a failure from the start'. He spoke highly of Keith Murdoch, who boldly wrote of the failure of British military tactics that cost so many Australian lives. But this didn't stop the Gallipoli generation from feeling British.

In 2010 Frank O'Shea wrote for the Canberra Times about Irish Australian returned soldiers causing major controversy when they marched in 1920 under the Australian flag, not the Union Jack. In doing so, they effectively declared that 'they had fought for Australia rather than for Britain ... the Irish in Australia were Australians as well as Irish whereas the loyalists were British first and Australian second'.

Australian nationalism was co-opted by a marginalised group to assert their rejection of dominant loyalties. Catholics were accused of having a dangerous transnational loyalty to Rome by detractors who themselves had more loyalty to London than Australia.

Refugees were also subjected to prejudice, largely due to the perceived threat of terrorism. In a chapter for the 2009 book Lines in the Sand, Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Dirk Moses recalled how politicians and tabloid journalists succumbed to popular prejudice against European Jewish refugees in the 1940s and 50s, despite the fact that Jews had settled in Australia since 1788 and had achieved high office.

European Holocaust survivors were treated as queue-jumpers. Their loyalties to the British Empire were questioned. Many were regarded as having sympathies with Zionist militias in Palestine (then under British mandate) responsible for violent attacks and assassinations on senior British officials.

Jewish refugees were also regarded as unable to be assimilated. 'The Liberal Member for Henty in Victoria, H.B. Gullett, for instance, declared that "We are not compelled to be a dumping ground for people whom Europe has not been able to absorb for 2000 years".' These sentiments were repeated in parliament, on the opinion pages and in letters to the editor of mainstream newspapers.

And if you're wondering why this all resonates today, consider this statement by the authors:

'Jews then, were regarded in terms that were eerily similar to the attitudes towards Muslims in Australia today: as queue jumping refugees, economically parasitical, clannish, and associated with terrorism. "Frequently the [Jewish] terrorist violence in Palestine", one historian noted, "was linked, irrationally but potently, to the prospect of Jewish refugee migration to Australia."'

So much for our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Today, many Australian Jews show a strong loyalty to the world's only Jewish state. Others feel less inclined to do so. Still others combine loyalties with other ancestral homelands. Australian Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindus have similar broadened loyalties.

Exactly how such loyalties make them any less Australian beats me. Why should Australians subscribe to some ethnically restricted British set of values? How does a shared 'white' culture make a huge island just south of Asia more secure?

I'm not suggesting we wholesale abandon the Common Law, parliamentary democracy and all the other wonderful things that have made Australia so secure and prosperous. But in a globalised and globalising world, monocultural paranoia makes little economic sense and even less political sense.

Australia is open, multicultural and cosmopolitan. If you don't like it, leave the door open behind you.


Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.

Image: Shutterstock 

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Australia Day, Islam, Tony Abbott, multiculturalism, John Howard



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Existing comments

"What on earth is the use of repeating one plus two equals three?" From "The Confessions of St Augustine".

AO | 22 January 2016  

Well said. All of it.

Jim Jones | 25 January 2016  

Interesting with much food for thought and generally OK once I ignore the perceived bias. My ethnicity is sourced in Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and France and my values are anything but British. I like to think I have Australian values that reflect the changing cultural mix of cosmopolitan Australia, albeit witrh a base based on history. I am offended by the suggestion that they are British values. No doubt the British monarchists amongst us would like to think he is 100% correct, but how dare he suggest that all other cultures have had minimal impact on our values! My Australian values reflect the way in which some of my ancestors had no choice when they came to Australia whereas others migrated with optimism. They reflect the influence on my family of friends of the many ethnicities and religious beliefs from many countries and races. Perhaps the author does not understand the extent to which many "long term" Australians mix with people of other ethnicities, religions and colours, including the indigenous. I could go on, but as to the suggestion that if I don't like the open, multicultural and cosmopolitan Australia, with my ethnicity, just where should I go?

Mike | 25 January 2016  

Love the accompanying illustration. Rational comment but why is it so difficult to get across in our society?

GAJ | 25 January 2016  

One of the over-riding lessons from the history of life on earth is ‘adapt or die‘, perhaps better put positively as ’Adapt and Thrive’. Those in power rarely relinquish their supremacy, and cling doggedly to outdated twisted and tangled traditions that seem to support their status. Among these is the appeal to Judeo-Christian ethics, based on acceptance of the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible of the origin of the 10 Commandments, even though they were superseded by the Hammurabi Code hundreds of years earlier. The traditions we really rely on are Greco-Roman. The first Christians were a break-away sect, driven away by the Jewish Rulers, but embraced by the Greeks and then by the Romans, each of whom adapted the beliefs to accord with their own traditions. The Infancy stories of Jesus are adaptations of those of Mithra, whose long established ‘birthday' on December 25th was usurped for that of Jesus. Only when we recognise and accept WHO we actually are, will we evolve and establish true Australianness.

Robert Liddy | 25 January 2016  

Loyalties, values ethnicity, nationality. Does loyalty to the 'motherland' dilute loyalty to Australia? Must a nationality or ethnic group pledge loyalty to a religion? Must a group loyal to a religion impose its demands on others who don't share its practices? Must it resort to violence in foreign lands that have accepted them? We all share the same values. It's not the country. It's what you choose to do in the country that makes the difference. No amount of griping will change that.

DonaldD | 25 January 2016  

About an hour before reading Irfan Yusuf’s article, I watched the Ethics Centre IQ-squared debate on “Racism is destroying the Australian Dream”. Stan Grant’s passionate and persuasive contribution made it patently clear that “the Australian Dream” was not the dream of the original indigenous people – arguably the dream of the white newcomers destroyed the aboriginal dream. To my mind however, no-one at the debate (on stage or in the Audience) was able to satisfactorily define what actually is the “Australian Dream” – or, in fact, what it “means to be Australian”. For Irfan Yusaf ‘s parents, “becoming an Australian meant being eligible to apply for a passport and receiving a citizenship certificate”. Irfan himself says “that he learned Australian values by a process of gentle osmosis”. He then proceeds to account for the prejudiced and racist treatment of a range of other non-whites, including Aborigines, the Irish, Jews and Catholics. These, along with Australian Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus often have broad loyalties to ancestral homelands as well as Australia. But nowhere is anyone really defining “Australian Values”. Many people (encouraged by governments and the media) revere “Aussieness” as a set of special values, behaviours and culture that is somehow unique in the world. This “unique” Aussie culture is most often defined as everyone getting a fair go and also by what it is not – showing prejudice, racism and intolerance. Being “Australian” is also so often placed in the context of the natural environment: sun, sea, bush and desert – which may be a fortunate happenstance, but actually has very little to do with how we are as a people… I cannot help but feel that the growingly overt identification with a superior, unique “Aussiness” – which is evidenced in Australia Day’s patriotic and widespread waving of the (semi-British) flag to celebrate largely British events – creates an exclusive sense of “we” and “us” that is actually quite divisive. The important and most basic moral values and ethical behaviours of people of goodwill in all races, religions and cultures include: Understanding, self-awareness and integrity Empathy, compassion, sympathy and kindness Patience, tolerance and honesty Generosity and philanthropy Justice (informed by compassion) None of these are uniquely “Australian” – but it would be great if they could be earnestly embraced by all peoples, including Australians – but without all the patriotic (nationalistic?) razzamatazz.

Richard Heggie | 25 January 2016  

I reckon that some are afraid of difference and some embrace it. That seems to me to account for most of the problems

arielM | 25 January 2016  

John Howard's concepts of Australia and who could genuinely belong here seem very similar to the concepts of Canada and what it meant to be Canadian held by that country's recently defeated Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Howard lost his seat due in part, I believe, to a large number of the electorate he represented not wanting him to be their sitting member because of the views he held. Australia has changed a great deal since Federation. So has the world. History has happened and I am grateful we have the sort of society which exists here today. That does not mean it has no faults nor that historical injustices did not occur. I think you are right to bring them to our attention. Your sort of constructive criticism, if taken on board, can help to facilitate needed change. Obviously this is part of the ongoing conversation we all need to be part of as to where this country is going.

Edward Fido | 26 January 2016  

(1) I for one think John Howard;s words are true - and I am not a Liberal, Green, or a Labor supporter. (2) I do not believe in "multiculturalism" at all but am not therefore leaving our multi-ethnic land despite the writer's offensive concluding words. (3) I respect the strong democratic elements in Israel and especially those Israelis who do seek for justice and peace in their region but I do not believe in a "Jewish state". Israel itself is multi-ethnic, a significant minority of its people Christian and Muslim Arab people.

John Bunyan | 29 January 2016  

Irfan: Whatever you write makes sense to me - and I loved the irony in the use of your final suggestion when more usually the version is the one I saw on bogan T-shirts last Tuesday (Australia: Love it or Leave it)! Both my parents were born in Australia (as was I) and that's almost unusual in to-day's Australia. But whether born here or not should make no difference to our identity as Australian - born here or "naturalised" - as we used to say. But the issue of other loyalties - absolutely understandable - no one comes to Australia without bringing aspects of ancestral cultural values or goes to other countries or goes and comes back from anywhere, really, without carrying affections and understanding from the one to the other. Loyalties. For me those places are various corners of the UK, Germany, Spain and Japan. But as you point out - it doesn't (nor should it) detract from my own sense of being Australian - not one iota!

Jim KABLE | 29 January 2016  

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