Globalization – Integration or Assimilation?

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(March 09, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) ‘Which side of this debate do I belong to?’ This question keeps springing up more and more in my mind these days. Am I Australian, Sri Lankan, Tamil, dual citizen or global person? The answer depends on my environment and the need of that environment.

I expect that many others would ask themselves similar questions. One of the first emails I responded to today, was about email confidentiality. The person, an Australian Tamil seemed concerned that others in the list could be forwarding the email indiscriminately and hence causing problems. The writer recommended that I use the Bcc facility. I wrote as follows:

“I do not use the Bcc field at all. If I know that someone does not want to particularly have their email addresses known to others, and they are within my circle of faith - I send them individual forwards. There are some from the Senior Citizens group in this category. Would you prefer yours to be in that category also? You are currently in the 'family' group and I believe that the rest in that group would not abuse each others' address.”

To me, common faith meant we were a family/institution/community. Without common faith, we were not common entity – however much we may seem to be common entity. Through common faith, we would share strengths and weaknesses and merge with society as a wholesome unit. Blind copies confirmed to me that the common faith within that group was weak. This meant we were ready for democracy and systems that promoted transparency. Without this, the work that we present including through emails is not of global value.

I received also an email entitled ‘Joys of Muslim Women’ by Nonie Darwish.

According to this email Darwish says ‘In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 7 year old , consummating the marriage by 9. The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy. …To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

Often after a woman has been raped the family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family. Husbands can beat their wives 'at will' and the man does not have to say why he has beaten her. The husband is permitted to have 4 wives and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion. The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.’

I recalled sadly that some of our Australian politicians had said similar in relation to Arab culture. One academic from the University of New South Wales asked me about the practice of Hindu women jumping into the husband’s funeral pyre.

These are ancient cultural practices that would not work in most modern cultural environments. In Northern Sri Lanka, Jaffna Tamils also practice/d Thesavalamai – customary laws of the nation – in preference to common law. Like religious laws, they are convenient in settling disputes within the community. But when we are outside that circle of faith and have chosen to live in other countries, we need to consciously apply the laws common to all in a particular group, when expressing ourselves. To me, it is still alright to practice cultural and religious laws within the home – so long as we integrate the value of our work with wider society. This becomes difficult if we are attached to the cultural status within these groups and thus we lose the value of our own work and are likely to feel isolated one way or the other.

Today I read the following statement by Ms Pauline Hanson :

“I have ... as an Australian ... a right to question immigration and multiculturalism, which I don't believe is helping our country.

I believe in people coming here, assimilating, becoming Australians and be proud of this country and abide by the laws of the land”.

Appendix 1 is the letter I wrote on 11 August ’98 to the Dean of Medicine, University of New South Wales, after hearing Ms Hanson on our National TV. I recall that it was during Nallur Temple festival back in Northern Sri Lanka. This meant that my common faith through Nallur was supporting me to be True to myself. Since then I have worked to include in my work, the needy in Sri Lanka. I am the only Tamil known to me, who fought legally against unlawful racism through the power of an individual. Due to many Australians including from the University of NSW and my other workplaces, I did not leave/abandon Australia. I realized gradually – working away from structured offices – that there were many who in their minds were ‘stateless’. They are really poorer than the Tamils back in Sri Lanka. In some instances Australian Tamils needed me more than Sri Lankan Tamils or Eelam Tamils. The entity from which we have benefited most is our ‘home’. To Ms Hanson this seems to be ‘White Australia’ – the same way to some Tamils, home is ‘Tamil Eelam’. To me, the whole of Australia or Sri Lanka comprising all races is ‘home’. Yes, there are elements that claim greater ownership but if we are really stronger than they – we would help them widen their worlds. To me, that is the whole purpose of laws against Racial Discrimination. In fighting against racism we must not practice racism by using cultural laws and practices outside their home borders.

Cultural laws, like in a family, give structure and positions through which we are able to invest in common. When we invest through positions, our investments would be common to all those who relate to the institution/family/community/nation through those positions. Beyond that any bilateral feelings and thoughts at individual level need to be strictly confidential and should not be through costs and benefits. Such an institution would be strong and reliable and it would integrate as a group with wider world.

Ms Hanson for example is herself a migrant in Australia, but is speaking as if she is an indigenous Australian. Ms Hanson is speaking through her cultural ways and practices, outside her position at national level. The only time that would be admissible is when it is based on Truth. My Truth as an Australian says that Ms Hanson is practicing racism due to her attachment to ‘White Australia policy’ seeking submission from newer migrants from Asia. As per my Truth – I have contributed more towards opportunities and benefits into the common pool from which fellow Australians draw, than I have derived from the pool. If Ms Hanson also has done that, Ms Hanson would not be seeking a position with leaders – for leaders need to be integrators and not assimilators and Ms Hanson is a follower because she believes in assimilation. In democracy, we are elected as part of our people and not because we are higher. Higher ones are appointed through merit. As per today’s news ‘Ms Hanson is making a comeback to politics, standing for a NSW upper house seat in the March 26 election’

There are many others in powerful positions who similarly believe in their private cultures of the past, due to their elevation of their own positions. Within their cultures - be they White or Muslim; Eelam Tamil or Sinhalese – these would help work their institutions confidentially. But when they come out – only the outcomes need to be produced towards integration with wider society. If the cultural laws are good and healthy – they would lead to our work values being naturally integrated at national and global levels.

I received also an email headed “The Noose Tightens Around Sri Lankan Leaders’ Necks” from Mr. Visvanathan Sivam of Malaysia. In this email Mr. Sivam says :

‘The Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and the US group Tamils Against Genocide has been spearheading the move to make Sri Lanka accountable for their crimes against humanity. They allege Dr Kohona, an Australian citizen and a Sri Lankan Official, complicit in the killing of the three surrendering LTTE officials, Mahindran Balasingham, Seeveratnam Pulidevan and Ramesh towards the end of the war in May 2009…………. Australia, which was silent on human rights violations in Sri Lanka all these years, also jumped into the fray. Laurie Ferguson, Member of Australian Parliament for Werriwa and Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, in his statement following submitting a private members bill for debate on "Humanitarian Issues During the War in Sri Lanka," Monday (28 Feb. 2011) detailed the egregious violations of human rights in Sri Lanka and said he supported eminent personalities, Governments, and premier Rights organizations around the world in demanding an independent, international investigations into Sri Lanka's rights violations. Australian MPs Ferguson, Randall, Bandt, and Alexander spoke during the debate on the private bill submitted by Ferguson’

There was no mention of this (Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam’s) Tamil’s actions on the basis of her position as Australian, through the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Federal Attorney General to eliminate Racial Discrimination through the Sri Lankan experience. Like with Pauline Hanson’s statements back in August 1998, I seem to be the only Australian Tamil feeling the pain believing it to be racial discrimination. I concluded that no other Tamil, including Mr. Sivam, was independent enough to recognize racism on their own. They seem to need their cultural groups to integrate. On their own they carry the risk of assimilation – especially with westerners.

Likewise, yesterday’s article in Sri Lanka Guardian, celebrating International Day for Women has been published under the name of an institution – the Asian Human Rights Commission – and not by an individual woman from within that organization. It’s the belief of the Individual that has universal power. All positions and structures are below that power in real terms.

Today I wrote in this regard to SBS ‘Insight’ program through which three women, now living in America, Singapore and Malaysia, were honored last night:

‘The question that arises in my mind is - do these ladies - all of them high achievers share their sense of belonging naturally with fellow Australians - especially fellow Australian women? If yes, why did they not stay at home in Australia and become global from here?

As Pauline Hanson is asking - Is there something wrong with our immigration system? Should we not be honoring those women who 'stayed' at home or are carrying the Australian Flag serving the needy in other countries ?’

Appendix 1
906/56, Carr St
Coogee 2034
11 August 98

The Dean
Faculty of Medicine
University of New South Wales

Dear Bruce,

This morning, in consultation with my husband, I made up my mind to return to Sri Lanka as soon as possible – to a place where I can perform as a Professional in all my creativity.

I heard Pauline Hanson on the 4 Corners Programme last night. Ms Hanson suggests that we go back to our countries of origin if we cannot be like them. It hurts that we even have to hear such things. In the name of ‘Freedom of Speech’ we – the new Australians are being made to lose our freedom to live as individuals. If the leadership of Australia is unable to turn it around – to make up for their negligence in failing to hear the cries of new Australians – one has to wonder whether Ms Hanson is expressing what these leaders (and employers) feel themselves in their heart of hearts. This is the million dollar question to which I have been seeking a favourable answer – that the leaders of the country to which we brought our children and made them call it their ‘home’ would ensure that it is ‘home’ for our children. But, my experience during the past 13 years has failed to deliver the answer that I have been seeking so desperately. When an educational institution such as the University of New South Wales also demonstrated that it was no different – I do not wish to waste any more time – hoping.

I am sorry if this causes you any inconvenience, but I am quite happy to handover to your satisfaction – to a person of your choice. I am not arrogant to think that I am indispensable. There are so many excellent Accountants in the market (might even ease the unemployment problem) and I sincerely wish you the very best – for you are a good leader.

Yours sincerely,

Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam
CC: Phil Kringas/Kerry O’Reilley
Managers, Financial Services Division
Vice Chancellor

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