No room for boat arrivals in Abott’s “Anglosphere”

I had the privilege of sharing many fascinating conversations with the late Vin D’Cruz, Adjunct Professor at the Monash Asian Institute, and co-author of ‘Australia’s Ambivalence towards Asia: Politics, Neo/Post-colonialism, and Fact/Fiction‘. Vin was my thesis supervisor while at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He was a very peaceful, soothing person who guided me and helped me collect my thoughts and manage to produce a sound piece of work despite a traumatic car accident and the arrival of my second baby, Aidan.

So, thank you, Vin.

The Anglosphere

Postcard, 1925

Last week, Vin came to my mind, as he often does, when I heard the comments by Australian opposition leader Tony Abott in a radio interview: “Instead of swanning around in New York talking to Africans, [Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard] should be in Jakarta right now trying to sort out the border protection disaster.”

Besides the obviously offensive language used by Mr Abott in that sentence, (and the fact that he neglected to mention that the Indonesian Prime Minister was, in fact, at the same time in the same place as Indonesia’s Prime Minister :)), his words mirror the very disconcerting position constructed by Liberal leaders in Australia to recall pre-multiculturalism White Australia policies. This notion, “The Anglosphere”, seems to be gaining more and more resonance in liberal ranks these days, particularly after Abott referred to it in his book Battlelines:

“The absence of tribalism is one of the key characteristics of English-speaking countries. The bonds between the countries of the Anglosphere arise from patterns of thinking originally shaped by Shakespeare and the King James Bible, constantly reinforced by reading each other’s books, watching the same movies and consuming the same international magazines. It’s solidarity based on ideas in common and even mutually shared differences of opinion rather than on race, religion or economic self-interest.” (p.159)

Vin would have had given it a somewhat different light and had argued that the Anglosphere, in the case of Australia, is a construct used by Australian politicians to prove that they belong to a fraternity of English-speaking democratic nations of this world, despite being geographically right smack in the middle of the Asia-Pacific basin. In order to keep on proving to the other nations in the group that Australia is still worthy of its membership, the island nation needs to show its superiority over its neighbours (and now too, over some of the upcoming BRIC nations with who it needs to compete financially).

So, as Vin explained in his book Australia’s Ambivalence towards Asia, in order to prove one’s own superiority, one needs to treat others as inferior. It is providential that in Australia’s case, these ‘others’ are close by, in Asia and the Pacific, and in its own land. The feeling of superiority overshadows even Australia’s intended good gestures towards its Asian neighbours and its own Indigenous people, and refuses to fade away though it is clear that it is causing considerable offence.

For instance, this is how Mr Abbott himself, discussed multiculturalism, inclusion and the superior Anglosphere in Battlelines:

“As a journalist in the 1980s, I had attacked multiculturalism for eroding Australia’s distinctive identity.[…] I was too defensive about Western values that turned-out to have near-universal appeal. Migrants from non-European backgrounds have taken to Australia as enthusiastically as their forebears from the British Isles. […] At citizenship ceremonies in my electorate, council officers take pride in reading a list of all the countries whose citizens are becoming Australians. Far from diluting ‘Australian-ness’, this influx is evidence of its appeal. Far from emphasising the diversity of the Australian people, it shows people’s enthusiasm to join our team.[…] This is why there is so little risk that the Australian version of English speaking culture will be “swamped”, as I once feared it would be, or indeed, that the global sway of the anglosphere is likely to diminish much.”(p. 162).

The boats

Oh no, Vin would not be happy, I know… But I imagine Mr Abott must have changed his views since the publication of these words in 2009, as we constantly hear him utter the words Stop the boats and prevent Australia from being swamped by illegal immigrants.

La Trobe RAC banner - Refugee Children in Immigration Detention Protest Broadmeadows

Just like many of us, Australian author and barrister Elliot Perlman questions why a nation like Australia, with only some 23 million inhabitants, has become so obsessed for the last ten years “with a problem that sees, at most, 6000 desperate people caught trying to come to Australia without permission? It can’t be the number itself because 6000 out of 23 million is insignificant. Let’s be honest with each other. We know, […] it’s the kind of people who are trying to get here. What kind of people are they? They’re brown, they’re Asian, sometimes they’re black, they’re poor, they don’t speak English. This is not really a national problem deserving of the almost relentless attention it’s been getting in the Australian media for more than ten years: more attention than the Indians who get bashed and sometimes murdered on our streets; more attention than the massive disparity in life expectancy, educational and employment opportunities between indigenous Australians and the rest of us; more attention than the fact that our farmers are getting squeezed till they can barely afford to stay on the land and the country towns they’re from are losing their young; more attention than the fact that 47 per cent of adult Australians are functionally illiterate; more attention than the exporting of jobs offshore; more attention than the destruction of our manufacturing sector to the point where we don’t really make anything here but lattes and hairdressing appointments; more attention than the disguised unemployment that sees just under two million people wanting to work full time now or in the next four weeks having either no work or too little; more attention than the more than two million Australians who live in a household where no-one has a job. These are among Australia’s real problems. These problems really matter. Then there are the environmental problems that are just our own and the existential problem we share with the rest of the world—climate change.” (in Meanjin, 30.9.2012).

Mr Abott has used his monosyllabic calls ( ‘Stop the boats! Stop the boats!’) to instill fear, particularly during election time because he and his party know there are votes to be had by exploiting the latent xenophobia in most of us. And so they compete with each other in their exclusion of the weak and persecuted with a different skin colour or different religion.

The future of the Anglosphere

In the New World Order, a study published in November 2011 by the London-based Legatum Institute, author of  the 2010 best-selling The next hundred million: America in 2050, Joel Kotkin and nine academic associates conclude that the anglosphere will remain the ascendant player on the world stage for a long time to come. Along with the anglosphere, Mr. Kotkin explains, the sinosphere (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) and the indosphere (India) will emerge as the three most important spheres of influence in the 21st century.

The anglosphere accounts for 26.1 percent of global GDP ($19-trillion U.S.), the sinosphere accounts for 15.1 per cent ($11-trillion) and the indosphere 5.4 per cent ($4-trillion). On a per-capita basis, the anglosphere leads by $45,000 per person, compared to the $7,500 per person and $4,000 per person in the indosphere.

Besides, in this new world order, the anglosphere is predominantly a union of language, culture and shared values,” Mr. Kotkin says, with a population of 400 million. Beyond the anglosphere itself, two billion other people live in countries with a strong English-language bias: the countries of the Commonwealth, for example, and Singapore – which, its Chinese population notwithstanding, is a country where English is dominant. Besides, he believes much against my own prediction, in the consolidation of English as the world’s world language and its ascendancy in Asia where the number of Chinese who speak English will soon outnumber the English-speaking population of the anglosphere itself.

But most importantly, it is the view of Mr Kopkin that the anglosphere will retain its capacity  to attract immigrants – and its ability to “incorporate” cultures. In the past 10 years alone, 14 million people have emigrated to the anglosphere, among them 27 per cent of the 20,000 Chinese entrepreneurs whose incomes exceed $15-million a year.

Could Kotkin be right? Caroline Anstey, managing director of the World Bank, claims that “the North no longer offers the model for development, it’s much more about South to South.” But also that “It’s still a volatile world and it’s a world in which we have to live with expectations of volatility.” Increasing reports from China – from monumental QE to megacity collapses – forecast a much different picture for the future of global geopolitics and socio-economics. Indeed, Goldman Sachs expects China’s economy to grow at a much slower pace of about seven percent over the next decade, although its stock market still has the most attractive upside among the BRIC countries. It seems, the supposed success of the BRIC nations, in terms of how they originally were envisaged at the onset of this crisis, is a thing of the past.

Perhaps, Kotkin might be right from a financial point of view, may be even from a linguistic and even cultural point of view (although that will be a terrible price to have to pay for globalisation) but from a demographic point of view, as Natalie Wolchover recently explained, the current rate of population movement , the displacement of refugees and the interracial genetic mixing will make the Anglosphere a very different place, no longer dominated by blond hair, blue eyes or frackles.

Instead, it seems our descendants will all be looking like Brazilians (not a bad thing if you ask me),  and hopefully, acting like compassionate, ethical human beings capable of dismissing xenophobic slurs and angry demonstrations of racial hatred – that is, if we survive Mr Abott’s nonsensical, monosyllabic, inward reign.

Brazilian beach babe


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