Muslims are not the same as earlier immigrants
ALMOST everything George Brandis said this week about Australia's successful creation of an inclusive society "receptive and respectful of people of race and faith" is true.
In an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, the senator paid tribute to Australian tolerance by recalling his experience growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s. Amid the colonial terraces and semi-detached houses of Petersham in Sydney's inner west, Chinese, Greek and Italian families lived happily alongside their Anglo-Celtic neighbours, and half the youngsters at his local school came from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
The idea that Australia under the rule of Robert Menzies did not resemble apartheid South Africa or the segregated south of the US will shock those who subscribe to the popular view that the coming of Gough Whitlam changed everything.
Brandis usefully reminded us that a multicultural Australia pre-dated the official invention of that policy by the Whitlam government in the 1970s. He also reminded us that our proud and enviable history of integrating migrants since the end of the World War II is attributable in part to the essential decency of the overwhelming majority of ordinary Australians.
Australia became a successful nation of immigrants because the egalitarianism that is central to its national character -- the principle that Jack is as good as his mate -- was extended by "old Australians" to include "new Australians".
Hence there was no white flight from Petersham or other suburbs in response to the influx of migrants from southern Europe in the 50s and Indochina in the 70s because newcomers of all colours and creeds were made welcome and accepted into the workplaces, the schools, the churches and the sporting clubs of suburban Australia.
Brandis was also right to suggest that these achievements should not be put at risk by cheap populism that seeks to exploit prejudice for political advantage. However, the senator for Queensland went too far in trying to shut down the debate about multiculturalism.
The debate was sparked in Coalition ranks by the publication of Scott Morrison's alleged remarks in shadow cabinet about Muslim immigration and community concerns in western Sydney.
"I can still remember the playground taunting of Italian kids, from which I formed my lifelong detestation of bullies who pick on a vulnerable minority," Brandis wrote in a thinly disguised rebuke to his colleagues. "Whether they realise it or not, the same sentiment that drives those who bullied those kids then, animates those who beat up on Muslims now."
This is a variation on a common grievance aired by many members of the multicultural industry: "Australia is a racist country because kids teased me about what was in my sandwiches at lunchtime."
Judging how a civilisation treats minorities based on what eight-year-olds call each other is ludicrous. To equate this with a legitimate debate about the success or otherwise of Muslim integration is just as ludicrous.
This is especially so when this debate is belatedly being had in Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia, now that the evidence of non-integration and the failures of multicultural policy are undeniable.
Europe has discovered that a nation of tribes united by a common welfare state does not create the harmonious society multicultural theorists said it would.
Instead, divisions between native and immigrant populations have been entrenched and the social fabric frayed. Australia does not confront challenges on the same scale, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we have nothing to worry about.
From Petersham, it is a 15-minute drive southwest to Lakemba. It is 30 years since [mostly Muslim] refugees fleeing the civil war in Lebanon received asylum in this country, and still Lakemba and its surrounds remain ghettofied.
The usual pattern of dispersal by first-generation children of immigrants has not occurred to the same extent and the area is plagued with poor educational achievement, high unemployment and crime.
The community concerns that exist in western Sydney about Muslims and multiculturalism are based on these jarring realities on the disintegration of some parts of Sydney from the mainstream, and the failure to repeat the successful patterns of integration of other ethnic groups.
To blame racial or religious prejudice, whether formed in the playground or otherwise, is avoiding the real issue. So is reaffirming the national commitment to multiculturalism, as the Gillard government has done, as if that and the proposed anti-racism campaign will be a cure-all.
The conventional wisdom among most elites is that we should not discuss these issues because it will unleash the racist sentiments that still lurk in the hearts of most Australians.
I think the opposite is true. It is because most Australians believe in the immigration and integration of all comers that what is going on in southwest Sydney is of concern.
Perceptive politicians have picked up on this. Effective politicians will honestly address the issues and propose solutions. Ineffective ones will shut their eyes and lecture an unimpressed electorate about respecting "diversity".