|A Svami who tried to purge Hinduism of
Svami Dayanand A Biography by J.M. Sharma. U.B.S. Publishers Distributors, Delhi. Pp. 283. Rs 350.
Fishy theme of a
|Third World man
is no commodity
World Orders, Old and New by Noam
Chomsky. Pluto Press, London. £12.95.
A Svami who tried to purge Hinduism of dross
Svami Dayanand A Biography by J.M. Sharma. U.B.S. Publishers Distributors, Delhi. Pp. 283. Rs 350.
PANDIT MADAN MOHAN MALAVIYA, the distinguished Sanatan Hindu leader and founder of Benaras Hindu University, got installed a small statue of Svami Dayanand in the yajnashala of the university Vishwanath temple. He also had the Svamis name inscribed on the temple wall, mentioning him as one of the five pillars of Hinduism the others being Mahavir, the Buddha, Sankaracharya and Guru Nanak. It was a great tribute to a man who in his lifetime was ridiculed, shunned and abhorred by traditionalists for his non-conformist views.
An intellectual endeavour to understand the celebrity, involving oneself in controversies and eager to fight the opinion of the majority is, in a way, an off-beat adventure. J.M. Sharmas biography of Svami Dayanand is not merely an academic exercise, heavy with adulatory cliches. In 20-odd chapters it examines the contribution of the remarkable sanyasi to initiating radical changes in the Hindu religion. After a decade-long effort and with flashes of scholarship, Sharma has examined the life story of the redoubtable Orion in a historical perspective.
Sharma divides the life of Dayanand into three parts: his years at home (1824-46), his wanderings and education (1846-63) and finally his years as a reformer. Born in 1824 at Tankara in Gujarat in an Audichya Shaivite Brahmin family, Moolshankar was the eldest of five children of a landlord-banker Karshanji Tiwari. The child got traditional religious education, but his inquisitive mind like that of Upanishadic Nachiketa, was restlessly seeking the truth in a maze of beliefs.
The mice defiling the Shiva idol created in him a doubt in gods power. The writer makes a significant philosophic statement on Shivratri being observed by the Arya Samaj as the night of enlightenment. It was actually, he says, the night of doubt. It is doubt that leads one to the threshold of enlightenment.
Deaths in his family shocked his already disturbed mind. He left his house when he was 22 to explore the realities of life and religion.
Dayanand travelled to holy places of North India, went up to Mana, the last village on the border with Tibet, was in Hardwar during the Kumbh in April, 1855, lived in the thick forests of the Vindhyas, conversed with sanyasis and yogis before he entered the grammar school of a Punjabi Brahmin, Virajanand Saraswati at Mathura in the last quarter of 1860.
After more than two years of study, the master made the pupil pledge that he would re-establish the supremacy of arsha (written by ancient rishis) over anarsha (by non-rishis).
Sharma repudiates the impression created by some biographers that Virajanand urged him to take up the case of the Vedas. Virajanands main interest was grammar. He regretted that Dayanand had not done anything regarding Paninis grammar. The guru was himself a student of the Puranas and recited daily the Dugra Saptashati. Except Dayanand, all his pupils were idol worshippers.
Dayanand owed the arsha-anarsha distinction to Virajanand, says the author, but its extension to the whole range of Sanskrit texts was his own idea, which helped him carve a way through the maze of cults and sects.
Dr Rudolf Hoernle, Principal of Benaras Sanskrit College, said that the most remarkable feature which distinguished Dayanand from other pandits was that he was "an independent student of the vedas and free from the trammels of traditional interpretation", which led him to believe that contemporary Hinduism was in entire and irreconcilable contradiction with that of the Vedic times.
Armed with the knowledge of grammar and arsha-anarsha distinction, he started his search for Vedic truth. But his final criterion was the authority of reason. He condemned idol worship publicly for the first time in a booklet at Agra. He debated with pandits at the Hardwar Kumbh in 1867 and declared that he would dedicate his entire life to the propagation of the true religion of the Vedas. He emphasised that the varnas were not hereditary; they constituted a functional division of society. He recited vedic mantras in the presence of women and the shudras, who were barred from hearing the mantras by the Brahmins.
In a historical declaration published in Kanpur, he divided the whole corpus of Sanskrit texts into arsha and anarsha groups and rejecting the various sects, laid down a moral code of conduct for all and listed rituals which were vedic in origin. He rejected food taboos which he had practised earlier.
Dayanand faced a hostile Brahmin elite in Benaras, the citadel of Hindu orthodoxy. Even Bhartendu Harishchandra (Aggarwal), a noted Hindi writer, used his vitriolic pen to denounce him. But by now he had emerged a formidable crusader for reform. With the help of his followers he opened four Vedic schools in the Ganga-Yamuna plains for educating the youth on arsha lines, in which non-Brahmins were also admitted despite stiff resistance of orthodoxy.
The Svami was in Calcutta in 1872 during the period of Bengali Hindu awakening, throwing up of an amazing variety of conflicting ideologies and opinions expressed through a love for classical language and literature and a new pride in race, history and mythology. His meetings with leading renaissance personalities made him aware of the forces at work against Hinduism and the need for grappling with such social problems as child marriage, uplift of women and superstitions. He was alarmed at the proselytising programmes of Christian missions.
Realising that he could convey his ideas only through the language easily understood by the common people, Dayanand delivered his first lecture in Hindi at Varanasi in May, 1874. He published "Satyarth Prakash" there in 1875, a book not of religion but a manifesto of his beliefs, covering a wide range of subjects. The book, a critique of various religions and cults has been termed controversial. But it has to be assessed in a historical context when Hinduism was being vilified by Christian missionaries. His effort was to help people distinguish between truth and untruth.
He termed all anti-intellectual practices as untrue and condemned the "other-worldly" attitude of Hindu society. He pronounced that the world was not an illusion and moksha was not infinite. Thus he created a permanent interest for mankind in this world.
The Arya Samaj was established in Bombay (now Mumbai) on April 10, 1875, the day being observed as the foundation day, though it was at Rajkot where the first Arya Samaj unit was set up but it lasted only six months. Among the members of the Bombay Samaj was the famous revolutionary, Shyamji Krishana Varma, whom Dayanand had taught and arranged for his education in England.
Besides "Satyarth Prakash", the outlines of Dayanands mission was set forth through his numerous other publications. He rejected the Puranas and asserted that the various gods of the Vedas are the different names of one and the same God. He gave a clarion call to universalise the study of the Vedas, challenging the Brahmins who had made them their exclusive preserve. Till then Hinduism was considered a "happy hunting ground" for Islam and Christianity and there was a one-way traffic which flowed out of it; but the Arya Samaj began seeking converts from other religions.
Dayanand established the supremacy of the religion of the Vedas. It was perhaps in this context that Arthur Mayhew commented that Dayanand owed perhaps less to Christian (western?) influence than any other 19th century reformer of Hinduism. He was a champion of pure Hinduism with nothing eclectic about his worldview.
The Svami was in Punjab from March 31, 1877, to July 11, 1878, and within the period of about 15 months, he effected a new leaven in the Hindu psyche amidst numerous reform movements in the province. The Singh Sabha (1873), claiming a separate identity of the Sikhs, had left the Hindus groping for a place in the changed circumstances. They could not abandon their Rama and Krishna and they could not cease revering the Sikh Gurus. The Arya Samaj filled the vacuum created by a large-scale flow of converts to Sikhism.
At the same time Christian missions were actively engaged in evangelisation.
The Lahore unit of the Arya Samaj was established on June 24, 1877, by the Svami himself by conducting prayers and agnihotra at Dr Rahim Khans residence. The 20 rules framed for the Bombay Arya Samaj were dropped and their number was fixed at ten, which now constitute the basic creed of the Samaj. The effect of the movement was that while the Christian missionary activities were restrained, the flow of Punjabi Hindus to Sikhism was also checked.
Interest in the Sanskrit language was kindled. Dayanand utilised Hindi to link the minority Punjabi Hindus to the Hindi-speaking majority of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and MP. It was the feeling of being a minority in their own province that shaped the pre- and post-partition politics of Punjab. The Arya Samaj established a stronghold in Punjab and influenced the social, educational and political programmes in the state.
Despite all-round hostility, Dayanands movement gained a great deal of momentum. Propaganda was undertaken through regular meetings of the members and distribution of pamphlets. The Svami had convinced his followers that the way to freedom of the Hindus lay in a purged Hindu religion.
His revolutionary ideas and activities earned him the title of the second (Martin) Luther by the Pioneer of Kanpur, then owned by the British. He visited Rajasthan four times, probably to enlist the support of Hindu chiefs. He was hailed as a scholar but his radical views were resisted by the feudal rulers. He seems to have been poisoned on September 29, 1883, and he expired on October 30, 1883, at Ajmer on Diwali day.
Svami Dayanand was essentially an inspired champion of Hinduism and one of the most vigorous missionaries in our country. Though highly controversial, iconoclastic, harsh and unsavoury in rhetoric, a powerful leader like him was needed at a time when Hinduism was being almost smothered by other-worldliness, and casteism and mythologies had split the community into a number of sects and denominations.
It was in such a chaotic atmosphere of intellectual decadence that he undertook the self-appointed task of being the sole guardian angel of rishi culture, to recreate the golden past through Vedic dharma (good living). He gave his followers one form of greeting (namaste), rejected castes and granted the right to study the Vedas. He took the unusually bold step of making Hinduism a missionary religion. He encouraged the adoption of Hindi as a national language. It can be very well understood what a colossal work it must have been for a single man to undertake in those turbulent days!
After him, the supra-sectarian Arya Samaj engaged in reforming Hindu society without departing from his principles, realised the advantage of western education and science. Could anyone imagine in the pre-Arya Samaj days that the sons and daughters and the grandchildren of an American missionary, Samuel Evans Stokes, would become a Hindu as Satyanand Stokes and marry in a Brahmin family or Babu Jagjivan Ram, an ati-shudra by birth would get a Vedic funeral, even though Shivaji, considered a saviour of Hinduism, could not get a Vedic coronation? The untouchables of yesterday now officiate as priests in Arya Samaj temples.
Sharmas is a remarkable biography. His simple and direct style leaves a coherent and clear-cut impression. His justifiable interpolations with episodes and incidents make the racy narrative quite interesting. Should I say that the book speaks to you in composed harmony!
Mohindar Pal Kohli
Fishy theme of a migrant community
by Jaspal Singh
IN recent years short story has been the most popular genre of Punjabi literature and drama is the most ignored one. From the glorious tradition of folk theatre, drama acquired the modern social form with I.C. Nanda, Harcharan Singh and Balwant Gargi, etc. working hard at the initial stages to popularise it as a medium of aesthetic expression. But the second generation of playwrights and theatre workers was mainly concerned with political activism with the result that stage was used for ideological propaganda or satirical caricaturing of rival political formations.
Modern experiments with script, stage and acting were ignored as political message became the sole purpose. Of course this kind of theatre had its own role to play in the socio-political life of the people. But aesthetic form, thematic and experimental boldness became a casualty.
Now the third generation of Punjabi dramatists is in the field, though the first generation luminaries like Balwant Gargi and Harcharan Singh, both in their eighties, are still going strong. Atamjit seems to be one of the most important third generation dramatists in Punjabi, who as an experimenter has shown a lot of promise. Atamjit has a knack of raising controversies as well, which keep him in the limelight of sorts.
Recently he visited Canada and went on a cruise in the mighty Fraser (river) in British Columbia. On the bed of the river he saw thousands of dead fish. His host told him about the peculiar behaviour of salmon fish that abound in the Fraser. This fish breeds in the high reaches of the river. Old fish die after spawning (laying) eggs. The young ones swim to the sea, live there for a few years and come back to the place of their origin to spawn and to die.
They have to swim against the current in order to reach their breeding spots in the up stream recesses of the Fraser in the Rockies.
This peculiar behaviour of the fish exercised the playwrights imagination. The result is "Kamloops dian Machhian"(The fish of Kamloops), a full length play about the situation in Canada where a large number of Punjabis have settled and now the third or fourth generation is grappling with the problems of life in an alien land. The protagonist of "Kamloops dian Machhian" is a middle-class family of Punjabi immigrants in Toronto.
There is a cocktail party in the house to celebrate the marriage of the elder son. The newly wed couple is on their way to Toronto from England where the marriage was solemnised. The father Harjinder Singh (Harry) and some of his close friends and relatives like Barjinder, Surjit, Joginder (Jag)and Karnail (Kally) gather in the house.
While discussing petty political issues, they pour drinks and raise their glasses in a toast. Suddenly they hear a loud voice from the basement. It is Harrys old father (Bhaia) who has been dumped there, and seems to have gone senile and insane. His consciousness is arrested and he thinks of only his village Pakharpur in Doaba (Punjab). He has lived in Canada for a number of years but now the "tyranny" of Canadian life, particularly of his daughter-in-law Binder Kaur, has pushed him back to the previous stage of consciousness (a relapse condition) of his happier and easier days in his village where people had genuine human feelings for him.
He clamours for the company of his humane, comforting neighbours of Pakharpur and believes that he actually lives there. The Canadian days have been completely rubbed off his memory, as a bad dream is erased by the mind.
Symbolically the basement is Pakharpur which has been consigned to the pit by Canada; a case of suppression of the unconscious that erupts like a volcano through insanity. So Punjab is disturbingly present in Canada by its absence.
Jag takes a drink for the old man in the basement, which he eagerly gulps down. Binder Kaur repeatedly tries to convince him that he is in Canada and not in Punjab but he disbelieves her statement and retorts, "You try to fool me. Is Canada like this? Are Canadians cruel as you really are? After all, Canada is a country of educated people, not of illiterate fools like you."
In all the eight scenes of the play the problems of the young, middle and old generations who fail to have a functional rapport are highlighted with the help of evocative symbols and sharp dialogues, and the inherent tragedy is laid bare. Every generation of Punjabi migrants is surrounded by problems which totally confuse them. When they cannot rationalise their situation, they appear in their true Punjabi colours, dig out their caste and communal affiliations and fight like wolves.
In the third scene there is a dig at Punjabi poets. Their weakness for alcohol is commented upon by Jag, himself an alcoholic, who offers to take charge of the visiting poets during a kavi darbar. Ravi, the younger son of the family, is a genuine Canadian. He has learnt the ways of western life.
He holds the gurdwara priest to be a hypocrite. Whatever, the priest preaches is callously violated, maybe by the priest himself, and by everybody else.The Sikhs drink though the priest says it is against their religion. They bash up their women though it too is prohibited by religion. They believe in castes and have separate gurdwaras on the caste basis, which is a religious taboo. They have VIP "langar" and ordinary "langar" though they profess equality at least in the gurdwara.
In fact, the hypocrisy of the old domineering generation is too blatant for the younger generation to swallow. The problem of Sikh fundamentalism in Canada and how it remote-controls the illegality associated with immoral marriage "adjustments" and illegal immigration is also brought into focus. The root cause of some of the present controversies is also discussed by introducing Surjit, an unscrupulous Sikh going about as a normal man.
Jag (Joginder), the alcoholic, is the most powerful character in the play, and his tragic alienation is caused by the system, not by his personal traits. In fact Bhaia, Jag, Ravi and Kaka (the infant) are genuine characters; true to their beings. They expose the established order where it hurts the most.
Now this play has been a huge commercial success in Canada. Perhaps this was the aim of the playwright/director. He has touched a sensitive nerve of the Punjabi immigrants and subtly persuaded them to loosen their purse. At places it gives the impression of being a soap-opera that follows successful market techniques by jerking the tear ducts. But this may not be a fault of the play.
The raging controversy is around different issues. Its critics, mainly Sadhu and Sukhwant (British Columbia) have rapped the writer for not exploring the dialectics of Punjabi life in Canada. Atamjit, according to them, has wilfully ignored the initial trials and tribulations of the Punjabi immigrants; their struggle for survival and equality in an alien environment in the face of cultural and racial prejudices.
There is no mention whatsoever of the legendary Ghadar movement and the Kamagatamaru tradition in the play, not even at the unconscious level. How the earliest Punjabi settlers colonised the semi-colonised parts of Canada about hundred years ago the tale of their hardships, their struggle against a hostile structure, leading to their present ease and comfort has not been unfolded by the author with all its epistemological ramifications.
The land, the fauna and flora, the climate, the sniffing and frowning of the earlier white settlers, their culture and their hegemonic institutions, everything was predisposed to reject or eject the new element in the structure at that historical juncture. But the exemplary persistence and perseverance shown by the newcomers wore off the resistance of the forces representing the established order, yielding space to the new element in the structural dynamics of the system.
This precisely is the intervention that brings about historical changes and at the conceptual level gives birth to a cognitive "mythology" of a people to intellectually deal with its collective unconscious. This intersection of history and mythology has been conveniently overlooked by the dramatist.
Well, Atamjit cannot be blamed for not doing what he has not done and for not touching the problematics which may have been beyond his intellectual equipment or training. He is not at all expected to have a cosmic vision of a Sophocles or a historical vision of a Brecht. His concerns seem to be more empirical and pragmatic that peel off the raw nostalgic feelings of the old generation so that their present predicament vis-a-vis the new generation is highlighted. Obviously Sadhu and Sukhwant are barking up the wrong tree.
One thing about the metaphor of salmon which does not fully explain the predicament of the old man rotting in the basement, longing to go back to his native village in Punjab to die. The fish goes in search of life, i.e. for spawning, and dies only after bringing up a new generation. The Atlantic salmon may have several rounds up and down the river. The act of "going back" to the place of origin may have a vague semblance to the human psyche afflicted with nostalgia in an alien environment. This similarity being a superficial analogy, does not carry the force of a metaphoric image.
The success of the play lies in the fact that Atamjit has produced what sells in a particular market, metaphoric relations apart.
Third World man is no commodity
World Orders, Old and New by Noam Chomsky. Pluto Press, London. £12.95.
IN spite of the integration and disintegration in Europe, or the fissures within the USA and the global impact of its monolithic culture, there is no western interest visible in Third World cultures except to grab what they encounter and put it to immediate profit. In a remarkable analysis of world politics in "World Orders, Old and New", Noam Chomsky has come out with a scathing critique of conventional definitions of the "new world order" drawing our attention to the ingenious piece of "historical engineering" which upholds the significance of the western agenda.
The USA, which to its admirers is a "nation of almost unimaginable perfection", will not be what it is not at the present: the guardian of its own and its allies interests to the detriment of the rest of the world.
The area of struggle between conservatives and utilitarians is getting increasingly defined in relation to a set of conflicting attitudes towards the colonies. The new political language involves the formulation of aesthetic attitudes which were an important component of imperialist views. The politics of imagination had a lot to do with the defining of cultural identities, with which political languages were preoccupied.
Chomsky is of the view that after the destruction of the indigenous populations of the western hemisphere and almost the complete subjugation of Africa, "the fundamental themes of conquest retain their vitality and resilience, and continue to do so until the reality and causes of the savage injustice are honestly addressed". The great task of subjugation and conquest has changed little over the years.
Analysing Haiti, Cuba, Latin America, and different pockets of the Third World, Noam Chomsky, in his previous book, "The Conquest Continues", had drawn parallels between the genocide of colonial times and the exploitation associated with modern-day imperialism, in which there is a correlation between aid sent by a great power like the USA and the human rights climate.
A leading academic scholar, Lars Schoultz, discovered that US aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to those Latin American governments which torture their citizens". Though the concept of universal human rights is inherent in modern-day democracies, "fierce savages" have not been spared throughout the history of encounters.
James Mills views and Hartleys associational psychology stand rejected within the paradigms of his analysis. The human mind is undoubtedly a tabula rosa at birth, and education moulds the mind of the individual by inculcating the ideas best calculated to further individual and general happiness. But the analogy cannot be applied to the primitive or oriental societies which definitely cannot be shaped according to utilitarian dictates.
Though John Stuart Mill was influenced to an extent by Benthams "Corrigenda of Laws in Genera", he conveniently left out Benthams moderate view that some amount of consideration must be given to indigenous systems, using them as far as possible to bring about reforms rather than substitute them indiscriminately. Nevertheless, Benthams view was also a subtle imperialist strategy.
Mill also feared the idea of Coleridgean imagination which could be used to define cultural and national identity. Both Benthams and Mills projects were based on the premise that cultural differences were insignificant, but in the late 18th and early 19th century, there was a major shift to the opposite: cultures were being increasingly defined in relation to newly discovered literary, historical and mythological material.
There is, in fact, a connection between the erosion of the implicit or explicit universalist claims of western epistemology and ontology and the increasing impact of other cultures on European thinking. Other cultures are to be encountered by means other than domination. Given the extent to which European post-modernism and Euro-American post-structuralism stressed cultural relativity as an insight in some of their most radical thought, it is a blatant irony that the label of "post-modernism" is increasingly being applied hegemonically to non-European cultures and tests.
Appropriation of colonial texts which continuously react to such hegemonic control brings about a crisis of European authority, and its epistemology and ontology operates through such labelling to relegate the non-white world into a subjugated position. There is need to dismantle and unmask such systems of knowledge and labels which underpin the imperial enterprise and go towards building a master narrative that works towards cultural control and limits any post-colonial definition of the self.
The "curse of Columbus", in the words of Basil Davidson, an African historian, spreads all over the world. It all began with the union of warfare and trade.
Brutal wars were fought to gain monopoly over trade and power. To cite an example, the USA-backed the Indonesian army in 1965 by supplying the names of thousands of Communist Party leaders who were promptly executed. Apart from this inside information, Indonesia was also given critical military and diplomatic support for its monstrous crimes.
While intellectuals in the British universities lecture on the value of their traditional culture and the new world order in the post-cold war era, British aerospace and Rolls-Royce entered into a trade agreement with Indonesia and became one of the largest suppliers of arms to any country in Asia.
Interestingly, under the cover of the Gulf crisis, the world was kept in the dark about the US-supported atrocities and large-scale massacre of the aborigines of Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Western idealism and its counterfeit discourse on international law and justice proceeded unhindered by such events. No notice is given to the fact that Indonesia is supported by Australia, Britain, Japan and the USA in its exploitation of oil wells in Timor Gap.
What would the world feel if western powers had joined hands with Iran in exploiting the oil wells in Kuwait? In fact the war against Saddam was not waged to save democracy, of which the Wests Arab allies have as little as the Iraqi leader. The sole aim of the conflict was to prevent the control over oil to pass into the hands of a country which is not a protege of the West. The western stability and civilisation depends on the free flow of oil. This is no secret.It only "shows the mechanics of the white mans strategy of incorporating non-whites into their hegemonistic programme."
Neo-colonial relationships with a country like Brazil meant industrial development only if it did not interfere with American profits and industry. It is a "logical illogicality" that governs the American global policy: control over military supplies to Latin America, an economic and political leverage enabling the USA to deter nationalist tendencies and counter "subversion". The motives always remain the establishment of predominant US military influence in many countries of Latin America.
Global developments over the past 50 years have made outspoken representatives of previously subdued or unrecognised subcultures turn the cultural laboratories of ethnology, literature, folkloristics, cultural anthropology, history, and socio-psychology into a battlefield of group identities, making full use of the traditional materials and creating new ones. The problems of hegemony, colonial discourse and the writing of literary art forms takes up the oppositional consciousness of the tongueless other and posits nothing less than new objects of knowledge and new theoretical models which alter the "prevailing paradigmatic norms". The intention is to end domination and coercive systems of knowledge by exposing the Wests contempt for human rights.
After all, it is not only the Third World that has lawless dictators who need only to see the birth of all totalitarian ideology in western civilisation during the past 100 years. White mythologies need to be deconstructed to understand the western grip on the psyche of the oriental.
Chomskys book is a remarkable work on history and world politics, written with one humanist motive that man is not condemned to become a commodity. It re-examines not just the past but sheds light on contemporary realities of racism, domination and exploitation.
Is Pauline Hanson an Asian?
Is Australia an Asian Country? by Stephen FitzGerald. Allen & Unwin, London. Pp. 191. Singapore $ 19.90.
This book examines the preparedness and capability of the Australian elite to deal with Asia, East Asia in particular. At the same time, it also examines the parallel issue of how Australians can nurture the pluralistic and democratic traditions of their society. It is in this sense that this book is an argument about Australias future and the challenges that the nation is likely to face in the next 30 years.
Written by Professor Stephen FitzGerald, the book raises hard questions and seeks answers to these questions. FitzGerald is Australias leading authority on relations with Asia and heads the Asia-Australia Institute at the University of New South Wales. This institute is Australias foremost vehicle for "second track diplomacy" in East Asia. The Professor was also Australias first Ambassador to the Peoples Republic of China. This experience has given him rare insights that are obvious in this book.
The author defines Asia as it is generally understood today. Thus, it includes the two geographical regions of East Asia from Mongolia in the north to Indonesia in the south, "and, one hopes, also Australia and west as far as Myanmar." South Asia includes India and its neighbouring countries and in the west Afghanistan.
The book begins with the fundamental issue "Do we belong to Asia?" A momentous meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996. At that time, "Europe" in the form of the European Union had come to sit with "Asia" a coalition of states from East Asia. At this remarkable meeting, Australia was not included on either side. The underlying message of this omission was obvious. Europe was not an option for Australia while Asia was not open to accepting Australia in its fold. This meeting raised some key issues "How could this have happened? How could Australia not have foreseen such an event? And how could Australia have missed the signs of an emerging Asia?"
Professor FitzGerald points out eloquently, "ASEM is not the end of the line. It could be the beginning of the end of the line, but I think not. I hope not. But even if it was only a close brush with destiny, its intimation of a possibly less than fortunate future for Australia must never be forgotten, and for that reason I have taken it as a leit motif for this book."
It is not the exclusion of Australia in the 1996 ASEM summit that is worrying; what is worrying is the question whether the same thing would repeat itself in the year 2000 or to stretch it even further in the year 2020. It is not so much the failure to anticipate a momentous happening like ASEM, rather it is the failure to see the phenomenon that resulted in ASEM that was so seriously wrong about the Australian idea of what was happening in Asia in the 90s.
The author interprets this as a "failing across the total spectrum of Australian elites", a few exceptions notwithstanding. There has been no national consensus about an Australian future in Asia. What has been ignored in the process is the fact that the Asian challenge for Australia is not economic or commercial; rather it is intellectual and the issues are political and cultural. If the leadership had been open to other perspectives, they would have seen and known the significance of these developments when it all began, in the late 60s. As the issues at stake are intellectual, what Australia makes of its future with Asia depends on how the elite applies its mind to the resolution of the issues.
In the chapter "China as touchstone", FitzGerald raises another pertinent question: "What is it about Asia that Australia so lacked?" The answer is quite simple. It is the lack of ones history or a sense of history. To have that sense, however, requires considerable knowledge and a sustained interest in history and how it has made contemporary society what it is and what it wants to be.
What is needed to achieve this is not just adding Asia to the existing curriculum; what is needed is an opening of the Australian mind. While there are several challenges that Australia will face, the author believes that the following are fundamental: "What is non-negotiable? Do we have people who can manage our future? Are our personal values and relationships in the region strong enough and can we handle a dominant and totally different political culture?" For each one of these, strategies are needed to ensure survival in circa 2020.
Getting to the survival stage demands wrestling with the two opposites of Australian nature. As the Professor points out, "We have to start to be intellectual, forward thinking and long term... We have to find our pilgrim soul."
Contemporary events bear testimony to the fact that there have been several hurdles in this process. The book makes a passing mention about the "statements of an inconsequential MP". The Pauline Hanson debate as it has unravelled, has proved to be anything but inconsequential. How Asian countries adapt to Australia in the coming years would to a large extent depend on how the Australians conduct the race debate. How this debate progresses will also determine the Asian countries perception of Australia.
The critical race debate is one issue that the book fails to address effectively.