Wednesday, 20 January 2010
While on the subject of Australia, I want to extend my commendations (for what they're worth) to retired General Peter Cosgrove for his remarks apropos racism in Australia, past and present, in his recent Australia Day address (I should note that General Cosgrove is a distant relative, but that has nothing to do with what is presently under discussion).
Cosgrove, an eminent Australian who might well be a fitting candidate for President if Australia did become a Republic in the near future, has had the courage to do what no politician or police commissioner yet has, and that is to place the current disgraceful spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney in the context of an undercurrent of racism that extends through our history and into our present. Australians, Cosgrove said, had shown by their collective actions at home and abroad in recent years that we are a compassionate and open people, but we have yet to squarely face up to racist elements in our past, most notably in the official treatment of indigenous people (official apology notwithstanding), and also acknowledge and overcome pockets of racism that still exist. He points to the Cronulla Riots in 2005 and the already mentioned examples of criminal violence directed against Indian students as examples of the latter.
Until recently I have been of the opinion that racism per se had an existence only on the very margins of Australian society, namely the extreme right, as it has in most Western countries, and I preferred to label the negative attitude of a minority of otherwise decent white Australians to those of a different skin colour as bigotry or xenophobia. Racism is a doctrine of racial superiority that I am confident most thinking Australians reject as "ratbaggery". Ethnic bigotry, of course, is more widespread and is based on fear of what is "other" or different. It is something visceral and non-reflective. Fortunately, ethnic bigotry can be rather easily broken down by exposing people to each other socially, so that they experience the common humanity of us all (unfortunately, ethnic bigotry based on historical grievances is another matter, but Australians have always made it clear that immigrants are expected to leave such grievances behind in their country of origin and begin with a fresh start here).
Racism though, being a pseudo-intellectual thought system, is a harder nut to crack, and I am afraid that it is raising its ugly head in Australia in a much less benign form than has hitherto existed in our society, even under the "White Australia" policy. The role of agent provocateurs from extreme right-wing organisations in events in Cronulla is now known, and in light of that fact it would seem likely that such "ratbags" may be involved in inciting or carrying out violence against Indians. Let us hope that the police and intelligence services are awake to this possibility, before it is too late. While Australia remains prosperous, organised racism is always likely to remain on the fringes of society, but if economic conditions took a turn for the worse, it could well be a different matter, and get very ugly.
In the meantime, one hopes for a word from the churches, who have to date said nothing on the matter when they are usually eager to pontificate on social questions, a word which will point to the Bible's testimony to the unity of humankind as a foundation from which to overcome racism intellectually, especially since many racial extremists make much of Australia's Christian heritage. That is, if the churches still believe what the Bible teaches on this important point(?). The appeal to the Biblical notion of hospitality to strangers and sojouners in the land, while relevant enough, might just not "cut it" with these hard heads, the address needs to be at the foundational level. It will be interesting to see what tack the mainstream churches, which are riddled with liberalism, will take if this issue continues to be in the headlines; it may reveal much about the state of their theology.
There is, in my view, a very definite link between the dominance of liberal theology in Germany in the first half of the 20th century and the impotence of the churches in the face of Nazism's demonic persecution of the Jewish people. It would be a case of history repeating itself if the churches in Australia no longer had confidence in the Bible from which to address the Word of God to society on this issue. Ideas have consequences in the real world, occasionally unintended ones, liberal theology included.