Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 29 - No 3 Contents 61
POLICY • Vol. 29 No. 3 • Spring 2013
Since Soutphommasane thinks the presence of
racism indicates the amount of work still to be
done on our hearts and minds, it is no surprise
that he goes off in search of it. For instance, he
could have headed the third chapter, ‘Is Australia
A Racist Country?’ instead of ‘How Racist Is This
Country?’ But that is a risky question to ask if
one’s livelihood as a multiculturalist intellectual
depends on a certain answer. Multiculturalism
needs racism as its lifeblood, and indeed, one catches
a sense of panic in the universities as racism scholars
scramble to introduce updated concepts such as
‘cultural racism’ and the ‘new racism.’ Racism is now
no longer the denial of equal rights but the denial
of the right to be different. Whereas it was once
thought to determine culture, racism scholars now
say race is simply a means of classifying culture.
It’s a neat trick. ‘Race is now the quality that
marks supposedly abhorrent cultural differences,’
Soutphommasane explains patiently (p. 88).
Do you have a problem with FGM? If you do,
you are likely to earn a rebuke from him for an
act of ‘racialised cultural hostility’ involving
a negative stereotype of Muslims. Yet
Soutphommasane insists that multiculturalism
does not entail cultural permissiveness because
a right to express one’s cultural identity must always
respect the rule of law and parliamentary democracy.
But Tim, if I judge a cultural practice to be
unacceptable, am I not being a cultural racist? Not
so, he says. ‘ What multiculturalism requires—this
is the nuance that isn’t always understood—is that
any refusal is done in the right way’ (p. 94)—
that is, through a process of collective dialogue or
deliberation, monitored, no doubt, by ranks of
professional racism scholars and multiculturalists
to ensure no judgment about cultural identity
slips into racial vilification.
One grows weary following this kind of meandering.
The book begins to have the feel of a conversation
you might hear around a dinner table in Sydney’s
Inner West. One contribution provokes another,
an anecdote or two are recounted, and then it is
as if the first speaker regains the group’s attention
but is slightly distracted by the host having
produced another bottle of Penfolds Bin 407.
David Goodhart offers a more incisive analysis
of the development of multiculturalism in his
No questioning of this publicly funded policy
of multiculturalism can ever be tolerated and
it is always seen as an attack. Any reduction in
funding to ease the burden on the taxpayer is
never less than savage. And nothing provokes the
indignation of Soutphommasane and his companion
bien pensants quite like the impudence of
‘mainstream’ Australians should they presume to
question the moral authority of the sophisticates.
The only way to check this miscreant behaviour is
for the state to be empowered to act, to reinvent, to
correct, and to educate.
Soutphommasane’s version of multiculturalism
goes well beyond the more neutral sense of the
presence within a country of distinct cultural
groups. After all, Australia has long comprised
many such groups that have lived together, more or
less in harmony, enjoying everything this country
has to offer. Rather, he says that at the heart of
multiculturalism lies the idea of liberal citizenship—
by which he seems to mean a form of cultural
accommodation by the state—but he finds it hard
to define it. The most he can say is that it ‘involves
some set of group-differentiated rights or policies
targeted at minority groups who have traditionally
been excluded from the nation state’ (p. 49). In his
view, this means the state must be called upon to
judge the relative values of cultural identities.
A multicultural state isn’t bound by the
idea that laws must be applied without
any differentiation between members of
a community, as a matter of impartiality.
After all, to what extent can any state ever
be neutral? (p. 50)
wBut of course states are not neutral about values.
That’s why there are laws banning cultural practices
such as FGM. Rather, the state must not differentiate
in the application of its laws and norms between
different members of the citizenry. Soutphommasane
does not agree: ‘Fair and equal treatment by the
state doesn’t mean identical treatment’ (emphasis
in original) (p. 51). This is nonsense, however, and
contradicts his earlier claim that the right to express
one’s culture must be set within the wider context
of Australian civic culture, which includes the
rule of law.
Links Archive Policy Vol 29 - No 2 Policy Vol 29 - No 4 Navigation Previous Page Next Page