Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hanrahan's Christmas

It is difficult to see how my 'hood could be more multicultural. Stand on a street corner for a while and the whole world passes by.

My neighbours are an alphabet soup of nationality, ethnicity and language, so that the ability to decrypt signage and decode menus are handy, and air sculpting and body language are essential aids to navigation and especially shopping. But most have a smile on their face, and the goodwill that represents is easily understood.

I had no idea there were so many ways to wish a merry Christmas, or so many in the world who even care what Christmas is. And every Christmas my world grows, just a little, with unfamiliar but welcome expressions of goodwill, and shrinks a great deal as boundaries of ethnicity, nationality and language dissolve in a sea of smiles.

My 'hood in the heart of one of the world's most livable cities seems leagues from any desperate struggle of cultures stalking urban Australia. But, according to conservative politicians, I am on the front line.

Christmas, I am assured, has been cancelled. And truth is every year some bureaucratic scrooge is headlined dismantling a nativity tableau or wishing happy Kwanzaa or something, and talkback radio spins tales of multicultural woe.

We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

The specter of a cancelled Christmas was raised on national television again this week, during the debate about cultural difference I wrote about before.

News columnist and blogger Andrew Bolt mocks my 'hood as a "tribal society".

"...we now encourage people to stay in tribes, while we mock the “sterile Anglo” culture that attracted them"

According to Bolt, we'll all be rooned because

Multiculturalism ideology, backed by government programs, that took off here in the 1970s...It is an ideology that envisions a society in which many cultures thrive almost independently of one another, or at least separately, as does French Quebec in largely English Canada, from where we’ve imported this folly.

One example of this folly, backed by government programs, I can think of in my 'hood (and paid for by my taxes) is signage, of all kinds, in languages other than English. A recent local controversy over multilingual signage involved the compulsory display of information about services available to prostitutes working in local brothels outside their workplace. This, we were assured, was government gone bonkers.

There is controversy in an adjoining 'hood about the allocation of a couple of hours a week in a neighbourhood house to a prayer group. The issue is the prayers are spoken in Arabic.

According to the Jewish News, "An application to hold Muslim prayer services at a community centre in the heart of Jewish Melbourne has been welcomed by Jewish leaders."

However, national TV news reported with a more or less straight face, that

It is well documented that in many parts of the Islamic world, Friday prayers are noted for escalating violent outbursts towards non-Muslims. The gathering of a large group of Muslims in East St Kilda will likely strike terror into the hearts of local residents.

South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernadi writes we'll all be rooned because

...demands by strict Muslims to live according to the doctrines of Islam...has resulted in a cultural clash that has brought almost unprecedented levels of social unrest.

Living in a tribal society with almost unprecedented social unrest certainly exacts a toll. And if the smiles on the faces of my neighbours in the 'hood are anything to go by, next Christmas will bring some especially ruinous happiness to all. Barring Hanrahan, of course.

1 comment:

  1. In 1956 I began my first year at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Power Street, Hawthorn (the building is now a care centre for elderly people). Italian, Greek and Polish friends would invite me to their place, where I ate Hungarian sausage, large green pickles, salted cabbage, potato with onion, puffed biscuits and lots of other fare I'd never tasted before. The Anglo-British fare served up by my grandmother, who I lived with, just didn't compare to the complexity of tastes, music and different cultures that I was being exposed to.
    But I remember my grandmother didn't like people who were different. She referred to every Asian person we encountered (and there were not so many in Australia back then) as 'slit-eyed and couldn't be trusted', a legacy I suspect from her fear of Japanese invasion of Australia during WW2 and the fact that her two son's had fought against them.
    Blacks (anyone with dark skin) were considered inferior and when a baby of dark skin was born into the family it was spoken about in soft whispers. I never did meet that relative, who was born in Papua New Guinea. So, I struggled, as many have, against racist ideas and stereotyping that has been inculcated into our thoughts by those who raised us.
    The Muslim/Islam situation is different. I think that there are many who still cannot forget images of the 9/11 attacks and more recent bombings that involve extremists and wrongly assume that all Muslims are potential terrorists. Fears associated with loss of life, liberty and freedoms dominate people's lives and it will take a lot of work before the Muslim population earns the trust of those who refuse to accept difference.