Shrapnel damaged gate. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 2009

Every now and again I count my blessings.

I was born and live in a relatively rich and free country whose far seeing policy makers have recognised that multiculturalism is the best way forward to peaceful nationhood.

My recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina was a sad reminder of what a poisonous concept nationalism is.

Here in Australia there are those who feel that immigrants should become “Aussies”, which by their standards means Anglo-Celtic. The idea that new comers should assimilate is based on the erroneous idea that Aussies are white people of Anglo-Celtic descent. In fact the first Aussies were the aboriginals and what a lot of people don’t realise is that they weren’t a nation in the European sense, and in fact if cultural identity and language are the basis of our concept of nationhood, then Australia before European settlement was made up of about 260 countries.

Thanks to disease, slaughter and alcohol the Aborigines are no longer the dominant race in Australia. As the English repopulated Australia with their own kind, they came to think of it as theirs and that to be Australian was to be of Anglo-Celtic descent.

Eighteenth century attitudes of superiority and precedence coloured the way so-called “Aussies” saw themselves in relation to other people who didn’t come from the same background. Aborigines were marginalised to the extent that they weren’t even considered citizens in their own country until the late 1960s. Non-white races were discouraged to immigrate to Australia by the “white Australia policy” which was state sponsored racism that wasn’t done away with until 1975.

One of the arguments used by opponents of multiculturism is that they are afraid that “their way of life” which built our wonderful country was going to be swamped by “the yellow peril“; foreign ideas, customs and ideals which would lead to a fall in the quality of life as living standards and ethics went down the toilet. 

In my opinion, people come to Australia to embrace our way of life rather than to change it into what they left. I have quite a few friends of Asian descent and all of them are great consumers and supporters of the culture on offer here.

Back in the early 1970’s I left Australia because I hated it. I felt that is was a narrow minded red-neck backwater. I came back to Australia 11 years later in 1985 and I was amazed at the change.  In such a short time Australia had turned itself totally around. No longer was my country looking to the past for a vision of itself but forward into the future for a vision of what we could be.

Many of the changes that I saw could be directly attributed to foreign influences. Not only had Australia opened up its doors to people from all over the world, no matter what race, many Aussies had been overseas and brought back new ideas and tolerance with them.

What happened in Yugoslavia should stand as a warning to us all that being exclusive about who you want, based on race or creed,  in a society only leads to misery and weakness.

Multiculturism is just about doing the right thing, it’s also about doing the smart thing.

10 thoughts on “Shrapnel damaged gate. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 2009”

  1. I’m with you on this one but as a twist of historical irony, at the time you left Australia Yugoslavia was being showcased as a model example of overcoming ethnic frictions

  2. Grasswire.

    Goes to show that all a country needs to settle ethic tensions is a strongman like Tito…… or Hussien……. or Ivan the Terrible et al. Which brings me to the question, do some people only behave themselves and get along with others when they’re forced to?

  3. Well, razzbuffnik, this could be a subject for a full essay, but I will refrain… except to opine that much of the resentment and fear of the “other” is that the “other” might steal my dinner. In other words, so much of it comes down to economics. We are seeing that here now in the conservative xenophobic rage against immigrants from our southern neighbor.

  4. If I had to go some way I’d choose multiculturalism: there are still big hurdles but eventually everyone is going in the same direction.
    Eventually being the key word.

    It’s usually the last person in that wants to close the door for some reason.

  5. Donald

    Yep it is a hot topic in the US about the Mexicans working illegally there. I find it amazing that the rednecks think it’s a good idea to marginalise people to the point they are alienated and turn to criminal activities. People behave badly when they don’t feel like they “own” the society they live in and the government is missing out on a lot of tax money. It would be an interesting study to see the true cost of not giving amnesty to the illegals in terms of lost tax, higher crime and the ensuing higher cost of enforcement.

    The situation isn’t going to change until people realise they have to start paying the real price for the goods and services that they are purchasing. All the these cheap things that the first world takes for granted rely on exploitation of “others”. It’s us that’s stealing their dinner and subconsciously I suspect that we’re expecting some kind of nasty pay back.

    Ross

    I don’t know if you know this but multiculturalism is a concept that originated in Canada. you’re right, “eventually” is the keyword and it’s going to take a few generations in our countries and millennium in places like the middle east.

  6. Razzbuffnik: In response to your “People behave badly when they don’t feel like they “own” the society…” comment:

    In the same vein, people who feel unwelcome have more trouble assimilating (and even merely accepting) the new culture, regardless of their behavior. For example, there are people from over 100 countries in my small town in the US, and in talking to all these people it’s obvious that in general Mexicans are by far the least interested in learning English. They’re also the most targeted immigrant group, by far.

    Of all Spanish-speaking people, Puerto Ricans learn English the fastest and develop the highest level, all while remaining thoroughly Puerto Rican. Same linguistic background, different relation to host country, wildly different results.

    I’ve heard that apart from student visas, it takes up to 15 years for a Mexican JUST to get a visa to travel to the US. If that’s not a middle finger I don’t know what is. I’ve met Mexicans who’ve lived in the US for over 20 years who still don’t speak English. If that’s not a middle finger, I don’t know what is.

    As for assimilation: I love seeing people wearing panyas/dhotis, love shopping at the international food stores, love the cultural events and variety of languages, love being with the people most of all. I don’t want people to adopt local dress/customs (unless they so desire), but I expect people to learn the language if they want to live here. I find it suspect that a person would move to a new land in search of new opportunities, while intentionally rejecting the #1 way of maximizing one’s opportunities in that place.

    (Traveling/passing through, that’s fine.)

  7. Nicolaï

    I think you’ve hit on some important points here and I’d also agree that if you feel unwelcome you’d probably be less inclined to learn the language of the people who treat you so rudely.

    I’ve been to a few Spanish speaking countries and for the most part I’ve been really impressed with what friendly and good people they are. In all my time in those Spanish speaking places, the locals treated me with kindness, respect and patience as I’ve mangled their language and it breaks my heart to see them get the slap in the face they get every election time in the US from the various rednecks and the politicians willing to exploit such such a large voting block.

    There has been a long history of messing the Spanish speakers around. Texas was invaded and land stolen, the Californian goldfields saw wide spread murder and jumping of Spanish speaker’s claims. Even as recently as the 1940s when the US government took the land around Los Alamos to make the atomic research centre there, from the Spanish speaking sheep farmers, the farmers had to fight for decades to get any compensation.

    As a matter of fact it shocked me when I was in the south west of the US at how long the Spanish have been there (From the early 1500s!) and how that history has all but ignored. Some people would have us believe that there was no American history until the war of independence.

    I don’t make these observations as a total outsider, as I lived in the US for about 2 and a half years and have been there on various trips about another ten times. In my time in the US I have been to about 45 of the states.

    In my experience as an Anglo-Celtic Australian, I found the average American to be very, very friendly and decent but I have been surprised by how selective that decency can be when someone isn’t of the same background as the Anglo majority. I suspect that many immigrants feel the need to assimilate quickly because they know that without the language they’ll be left out of the mainstream and become isolated.

    I can kind of understand why some people take so long to learn languages and I had a similar experience when I lived in Japan for a year. I spoke a rudimentary Japanese that enabled me to buy things and get around, but I wasn’t able to discuss anything in any depth like an adult. So I can understand why some people retreat into their own communities where there feel welcome and they can have conversations at an adult level.

    If you’re interested, I’ve written some things that you may find interesting about some experiences I’ve had in this area of discussion:

    In Australia
    http://blog.allthedumbthings.com/2008/04/11/cabramatta-sydney-nsw-australia/

    In America
    http://blog.allthedumbthings.com/2007/05/09/how-to-get-arrested-in-houston-texas/

  8. Razzbuffnik:
    I found the average American to be very, very friendly and decent but I have been surprised by how selective that decency can be when someone isn’t of the same background

    Spot on. Kindness and decency, at least in the south, are based on perceived group-identity.

    Thanks for the related links. Language/culture are among my main interests. The story about Houston is exactly why I don’t go to the south. It’s a different country, and a mediocre one at that. The other story, about Sydney, is a good example of the complexity of learning a language in a new country as an abused immigrant.

    Regarding your year in Japan: do you think you would have made a bigger effort to learn Japanese, if you believed you would be spending the rest of your life there?

  9. Nicolaï

    I would’ve made a much greater effort to learn Japanese if I could’ve stayed there. Japan isn’t interested in having foreigners stay. Even Koreans who have been there for 4 or 5 generations are still required to register as foreigners and have to carry an alien identity card with them at all times, plus they have to show up at a police station every six months as well. At least, that’s what it was like when I was there years ago.

  10. Razzbuffnik: My girlfriend is Taiwanese and has told me similar things. Her last trip to Japan was only a few years ago. In her experience, Japanese people (not just the government) make an effort to make non-Japanese remain outsiders. The line is clearly drawn.

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