Let’s speak up and defend our national identity
Australia is a country that has benefited greatly from diversity.
Being from migrant stock, I have personally benefited from migration and the infusion of other cultures into our nation. Yet, while our culture is drawn from many countries and customs, it is still one thing: it is a culture made up of a set of core values that should be reflected in every living room right across the nation.
These values are grounded in the rule of law, democracy, freedom of religion and equality of all people. So, when talking about a national culture, we need to focus on what binds us together, such as our language and social inheritance, for as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’
When migrants come to Australia we should, as Roger Scruton says, ‘welcome them into our culture, not beside or against it’.
It is not enough for us to be what David Cameron calls a “passively tolerant society” — that is, a society that says to people, “You can do as you wish, even if you breach our common social covenant, as long as it is within the law.” A country will never be united, it cannot be strong and confident, if it follows that path. Cameron went on to say:
… a genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.
It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.
Australians should always be ready to say “no” to the path of isolation and separatism and “yes” to embracing our common values.
It is right for us to ask therefore: what benefits come to our country when we encourage people to isolate themselves from their fellow citizens? How does separation help us to maintain a society that needs to be united by our shared values to be ready to tackle the future?
I will always, unashamedly, advocate for core Australian values, a strong and cohesive society and a united Australia. Yet, in today’s age, defending Australia’s cultural institution and values is not without personal risk. For to do so requires questioning the practices and ideologies that threaten Australia’s social compact and that threaten the things that bind us as Australians together.
Of course, we need to respect individual freedoms and we must also recognise that, as Australians, we share in and are all part of a shared culture, a shared language and shared values. But we must be able to critically examine actions and ideologies when they are at odds with our own standards.
While we can be colourblind in all aspects of our society, we cannot afford to be behaviourally blind.
Why then is it that when people question the values or practices or conduct of those who subscribe to beliefs that are against our way of life, our democracy, our values, it is to subject themselves to personal slurs?
If the cost of raising legitimate community concerns, whether or not others actually agree with the question raised, leads to lies, smears, irrational accusations of racism and bigotry then we really do have a problem with free speech in this country. Too often we see hysterical and empty responses rather than sober and rational debate that deals with the subject matter itself. The question is: why?
Are we so afraid to distinguish between right and wrong that we will not even allow debate to take place? What are we afraid of admitting or actually discovering? That perhaps morality is not a relative thing and that our culture is unique and is worth preserving and defending? That there is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other nations? Surely we can only do so if we can examine those errors in a critical and open light.
Frankly, I do not want to see Australians lose the things that bind us together. I do not want to see Australia go down the path of so many other Western democracies that are now struggling to maintain their national identity.
Take Britain, for example. Britain’s chief rabbi sums it up like this:
The British started seeing their own history as an irredeemable narrative of class, snobbery, imperialism, racism and social exclusion. It was in this atmosphere that, in the 1970s, multiculturalism was born. It said: there is no need to integrate.
This, says the rabbi, led to the disintegration of national identity. He continues:
Multiculturalism, entered into for the noblest of reasons, has suffered from the law of unintended consequences. By dissolving national identity it makes it impossible for groups to integrate because there is nothing to integrate into, and by failing to offer people pride in being British, it forces them to find sources of pride elsewhere.
Letting people separate themselves from society will not make Australia stronger. Allowing people to devalue Australian culture will not make us more united. Sitting idly by while our society becomes more fragmented will not make Australia a better place to live.
The “whisper zone”
A strong, confident Australian identity is a source of pride and provides a sense of belonging. So why wouldn’t we be prepared to fight for it? Why wouldn’t we challenge those who seek to undermine it? We simply cannot afford to be afraid to speak out against those who seek to undermine our national identity and our shared culture and values.
It is little wonder that Australians feel as if they are trapped in what I call the “whisper zone”.
What is the “whisper zone”? It is a product of political correctness. Those who speak publicly—normally these are people of a conservative or traditional viewpoint—are too often shouted down, mocked and derided simply for expressing a point of view that does not align with the prevailing PC orthodoxy. This has the effect of silencing people because they are afraid of being intimidated and ridiculed. In effect, they are reduced to whispering their views to others.
I have consistently defended the Australian way of life, including freedom of religion. I have also questioned the public indulgence of practices and ideologies that I do not agree with, and I have endured all sorts of abuse for simply voicing that opinion.
As a politician, I am not precious; I do have a very thick skin. I can handle the insults that are aimed at me and, indeed, exposing the hypocrisy of others is strangely empowering. But somehow it seems okay for other members of this parliament, including Senator Xenophon, Senator Bob Brown, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Senator Chris Evans and more, to voice their concerns about particular groups, but it is not okay for me to express my own concerns.
These are concerns that have been expressed right around the world — in many cases they have been aired too late to have done any good.
While words of abuse from this government, which demonstrate to me just how out of touch they are with mainstream Australia, do not bother me, I do worry about the effect that their actions have on the wider Australian community.
How many people have witnessed the personal slurs and illogical charges of racism and bigotry towards me and are now too scared to voice their own opinions for fear of being vilified too?
Every time I speak out in defence of our values I receive a wave of support from everyday Australians who share my concerns, but they tell me they are too afraid to speak publicly.
Time and time again we hear conservative voices—voices that seek to protect our traditions and way of life—shouted down by those who simply do not have room for another opinion. The important issues are lost in a blitz of character assassination, vitriol and misrepresentation.
I say: no more. It is time for us to break out of the whisper zone because what is at risk if we stay silent is simply too precious to lose.
We cannot afford to lose our culture or our guiding principles. We cannot afford to lose the unity that comes from our shared values and sense of community.
Compared to a financial balance sheet, a cultural balance sheet is almost impossible to restore once it is lost.
We have to take a stand; otherwise we risk going down the same path as some other Western nations.
Of course, we can continue to celebrate diversity but when uncritical tolerance undermines that which unites us, we cannot and we should not stay silent. As David Cameron said:
At stake are not just lives, it is our way of life.
Cory Bernardi is a South Australian Liberal senator. His columns and essays are available at his website.