A Bit About Words: Split Infinitives

The “rule” against splitting infinitives is one of most-remembered but least understood of all the rules in our language. Striving against the “rule” is made all the more difficult because it is taken so seriously by those who know the rule – because they learned it in primary school, and found it was insisted on by others who had learned it the same way and had never questioned it.

But the “rule” against splitting infinitives is recent.

To boldly go breaches the injunction against splitting infinitives and has no advantage of emphasis or clarity over to go boldly.  By contrast, to cheerfully sing again conveys clearly what is an ambiguous possibility in to sing cheerfully again: in adhering to the rule, the second statement leaves the hearer uncertain whether the cheerfulness attaches to the act of singing or the fact of repetition.

What is odd about the English horror of split infinitives is that it is based on the observation that Latin infinitives could not be split, with the conclusion that English infinitives must not be split.  Latin infinitives could not split because they were in the form of a single word: amare to love, habere to have, cantare to sing, etc.  In consequence with the early grammarians’ unwavering adherence to the conventions of Latin, we daily wrestle with tensions created by the rule.

The OED defines infinitive as follows:

“The name of that form of a verb which expresses simply the notion of the verb without predicating it of any subject. Usually classed as a ‘mood’, though strictly a substantive with certain verbal functions, esp. those of governing an object, and being qualified by an adverb…”

Johnson is at once briefer and more opaque:

“In grammar, the infinitive affirm, or intimates the intention of affirming, which is one use of the indicative; but then it does not do so absolutely”

Webster is a bit less opaque:

“an  infinite verb form normally identical in English with the first person singular that performs certain functions of a noun and at the same time displays certain characteristics (as association with objects and adverbial modifiers) of a verb and is used with to  (as in to err is human, I asked him to go)…”

It is significant that Webster says the infinitive “is used with to”, which suggests that, in common with the Indo-European pattern, the infinitive in English is a single word even if its status as infinitive is generally marked by the word to.  For example, Latin and Greek infinitives are a single word, but so they are also in French and German.  So, to run is currere in Latin, correr in Spanish,  courir in French, trexo in Greek and laufen in German.

In English, where to is separated from the infinitive form of the verb, the result is called a split infinitive.  But it is fairly clear that to is not part of the infinitive at all.  Putting to one side Webster’s definition of infinitive, Oxford English: A Guide to the Language (1986) says :

“The split infinitive is the name given to the separation of to from the infinitive by means of an adverb…” (emphasis added)

The OED sheds some light on the matter in its entry for the word to as preposition, conjunction and adverb.  It’s a long entry: about 24,000 words.  At about the 13,000 word mark, it says “to before an infinitive”, which clearly suggests that to is not part of the infinitive.

By convention, where an infinitive is preceded by to, there is  typically no word between to and the infinitive. So, to go boldly is generally thought to be better English than to boldly go. In ordinary usage, the second form is referred to as a split infinitive.  But the “rule”which dictates that infinitives should not be split emerged very late, and seems to be based on the observation that, in languages like Latin, the infinitive was never split (because it was a single word, and could not be split).

In 1834 a letter to the editor of the New England Magazine declared that infinitives should not be split.  The author was identified only as “P”.  The writer declared that split infinitives were only used by “uneducated persons” and in “newspapers where the editors have not had the advantage of a good education.”

In 2004, the Cambridge Guide to English Usage repeated the rule in modified form: “Don’t split an infinitive if the result is an inelegant sentence”.

Given that the “rule” was only proposed (or invented) in 1834, it is not surprising that it was ignored by most English writers.  Shakespeare did it a lot.  In 1931 a study found split infinitives in English literature from every century: beginning with the fourteenth-century epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and including William Tyndale, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe, John Donne, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and others.

Because the notion of not separating to from the infinitive has been entrenched in the language for almost 200 years, care needs to be taken.  Even arbitrary rules can gain a veneer of significance by virtue of longevity.  Fowler recognised this.

He begins his article on split infinitives this way:

“The English-speaking world may be divided into

  1. Those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is;
  2. Those who do not know, but care very much;
  3. Those who know and condemn;
  4. Those who know and approve;
  5. Those who know and distinguish”

He then analyses each group, and comments that

“Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority & are a happy folk to be envied by the minority classes; ‘to really understand’ comes readier to their lips and pens than ‘really to understand’, they see no reason why they should not say it (small blame to them, seeing that reasons are not their critics’ strong point), & they do say it, to the discomfort of some among us, but not to their own.”

As for the second group (those who do not know, but care very much) “who would as soon be caught putting their knives in their mouths as splitting an infinitive”.  Fowler comments that “These people betray by their praactice that their aversion to the split infinitive springs not from instinctive good taste, but from tame acceptance of the misinterpreted opinion of others…”

As to the fifth group (those who know and distinguish), Fowler clearly includes himself in this group and notes: “We maintain, however, that a real s. i., though not desirable in itself, if preferable to either of two other things, to real ambiguity, & to patent artificiality”

So to go boldly is probably better grammar than to boldly go because, even though they convey identical meanings, the Star Trek version draws attention to itself: just as a diner would if they were to hold their knife in the left hand and their fork in the right hand.

See how conventions ossify into rules.

A Bit About Words: Scrabble

Summer holidays open the way to all sorts of pastimes.  Scrabble is a favourite family game, and it now infests the internet in the form of a game called Words with Friends.  It is a seductive little app for the iPad which looks like Scrabble, but has its bonus squares arranged differently, presumably for patent or copyright reasons.

Having been lured into the torments of both games, I was powerfully reminded of two things.  First, Scrabble has nothing to do with an interest in words, any more than Sudoku is about mathematics.  Scrabble it is all about tactics and point-scoring; same for Words with Friends.

The second thing is that English has an astounding array of obscure words.  Most people with an interest in language know this, but we are rarely reminded of the fact so forcefully as when pitted against a Scrabble opponent whose only objective is to guess their way through every possible permutation of their letters.

Scrabble was invented in 1938 by an American architect, Alfred Butts.  Ten years later James Brunot bought the rights to the game in exchange for a royalty on every copy sold.  Butts (or his estate) must have done well out of it: about 150 million copies of the game have been sold, and versions of it exist in 29 different languages.

Since the key objective of Scrabble is to get the best score from even the most unpromising letters, the dedicated player naturally resorts to some very odd words.  For a person who enjoys words, the only pleasure in this is to discover for the first time some of the weirdest fauna in the jungle of English.

Collins Scrabble Dictionary is the instrument by which this dubious activity is put to the test.  It presents itself as authoritative, and conscientiously displays the trademark TM symbol every time it uses the word ScrabbleTM. It contains every word said to be a legitimate Scrabble word, and gives very brief definitions.

So, Amorance is defined as the “condition of being in love”.  OED 2 does not recognise the word.  Neither does Webster’s 3rd edition.  The 3rd edition of Webster is the most interesting, but was highly controversial when it was published in 1961 because it moved from prescriptive to descriptive.  Earlier editions had declared what words mean; the 3rd edition instead acknowledged the meaning attributed to words by actual people, nodding to the essentially democratic nature of language.  From the 3rd edition, Webster accepted that words mean what we agree them to mean.

Apparently the Collins people have taken this process one stage further, to the point of acknowledging words which no one uses, no one recognises and which neither the Oxford nor the Webster has come across. Words however which are a useful expedient for Scrabble fanatics.

Camisa is defined as “a smock”, which actually makes sense (cf French chemise) and is recognised by Webster 3rd, but OED 2 again stands aloof: the nearest hit in OED 2 is camisado, which it defines as “A night attack; originally one in which the attacking party wore shirts over their armour as a means of mutual recognition”, which is obviously connected to camisa, and is quite useful to know, because the added do means an extra three points.

Daud is shown in Collins and also in OED 2 and Webster 3rd.  But Collins defines it as “a lump or chunk of something”, whereas OED 2 and Webster 3rd both define it as a dialectical variant of dad.  As a father, I was troubled by the thought that I might be described as a lump or chunk.  But both OED 2 and Webster 3rd tell you that the dad which can also be rendered as daud is a verb, and means “to shake with knocking or beating”.  Neither of my preferred dictionaries acknowledges daud as a noun.

Ervil is defined as “a type of vetch”.  Vetch is defined as “a climbing plant with a beanlike fruit used as fodder”.  OED2 does not recognise ervil, although its entry for vetch agrees with the Collins.  And for devotees of Scrabble, vetchy is also legitimate: “Composed of, abounding in, vetches”.

Whoever uses jeelie, , or maungy?  Certainly not the compilers of OED 2 or Webster.  And who recalls mackle (a blur in printing)?  Who knew that an omov is a system of “one person, one vote”?  Only in desperation is it necessary to know that oot is Scottish dialectical for out – not the preposition out, but the obsolete form of ought/aught.  And even if you knew that, it is astonishing to learn that the Collins permits an apparent plural: oots.  That is odd because it is not a noun, and not even the verb ought with some idiomatic conjugation. It is a misspelling of ort, which is a variant of ord, which is an obsolete word meaning either “beginning”, or “the pointy end of something”.  Sadly, the Collins does not take us on this ramble through obsolete Scottish arcana: oots cross-refers to oot, which cross-refers to out, which it defines as “denoting movement or distance away from”: the standard preposition.  Now it is true that the Collins confines itself to one volume, so it is necessarily Spartan in its explanations.  But its (indirect) definition of oots is not only confusing, it is plainly wrong: I never before met a preposition which took a plural.

Frug is a word I was blissfully innocent of, and likewise fugle.  I probably should have known frug: it is a dance which had a brief appearance in the 1960s, but dancing was not really my thing.  To fugle is to act the part of the fugleman: “A soldier especially expert and well drilled, formerly placed in front of a regiment or company as an example or model to the others in their exercises”.  Clearly useful words, at least for a person playing Scrabble.  Nearby, the Collins has fugly.  OED 2 recognises this also, and helpfully explains that it was originally Australian military slang and means, as most of us know, “a very ugly person”.  The Collins agrees, but editorializes: “offensive word for very ugly”.  Webster 3rd adopts a frosty silence: it does not recognise fugly at all.

Collins makes arch observations about some words, noting several words as “taboo words” but nevertheless allowing them to be played.  In this regard, its standards look a little old-fashioned (in contrast to its racy willingness to allow all manner of doubtful words into play).  While it defines arsehole (and asshole), bugger and bloody without comment or criticism, it baulks at shit as “taboo”, and likewise a few other easily predictable words.  This delicacy extends to forfex, which it defines modestly as “a pair of pincers, esp the terminal appendages of an earwig”.  OED 2 is a little less oblique: “A pair of anal organs, which open or shut transversely, and cross each other”.  While both the entomological and etymological enlightenment is interesting, for a Scrabble player it is a terrific word because F is worth 4 points and X is worth 8 points.

And this is the problem with Scrabble: it is all too easy to lose interest in what the words mean and become concerned principally for their value.  A player interested in words will strive to recognise available words in the tiles on their rack, and feel pleased to discover outside (8) or aunties (7) or suited (7) in their jumble of letters.  How disappointing then that short words like zax (19 – variant of sax: a tool for cutting slates) or coxy (16 – variant of cocksy: self-important, saucy) or zoa (12 – plural of zoon: an organism scientifically regarded as a complete animal) or oyez (16; at least we all know that one) are worth much more than the cleverly selected words. And when the skilled player manages to place high value letters on a double- or triple- letter square, the difference is magnified.

I plan to avoid the lure of Scrabble this Summer.  I no longer want to spend idle time being seduced into a frenzy of debasing the language by trying to maximise the score.  Too soon, and not surprisingly, the score for each word becomes the object of the game.

Scrabble is not a game for people keen on words: it is a game for people keen on winning.  That is probably why so many lawyers love it.  But don’t play it with the 20 volume Oxford at your elbow: it is far too limited.

Analogies

The Washington Post held a contest in which high school teachers sent in the “worst” analogies they’d encountered in grading their students’ papers.  Analogies, similes, metaphors…they just keep getting worse.

  1. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the centre.
  2. He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.
  3. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had it two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  4. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7.00 pm instead of 7.30.
  5. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  6. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  7. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  8. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  9. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  10. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  11. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock,like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
  12. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  13. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  14. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  15. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  16. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6.36 pm traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4.19 pm at a speed of 35 mph.
  17. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  18. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  19. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  20. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  21. They lived in a typical suburban neighbourhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
  22. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River .
  23. Even in his last years, Grand pappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  24. He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.
  25. She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.
  26. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
  27. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  28. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  29. “Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.
  30. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
  31. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

32 . He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

  1. The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
  2. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
  3. Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
  4. The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
  5. The red brick wall was the colour of a brick-red Crayola crayon.
  6. She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged th e door open again.
  7. Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.
  8. Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.
  9. They were as good friends as the people on “Friends.”
  10. Oooo, he smells bad, she thought, as bad as Calvin Klein’s Obsession would smell if it were called Enema and was made from spoiled Spamburgers instead of natural floral fragrances.
  11. The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.
  12. He was as bald as one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry, you know, the one who goes woo woo woo.
  13. The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747.
  14. Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.
  15. The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas.
  16. I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for,like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.
  17. She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.
  18. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
  19. It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.
  20. Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flow.quid55328.com.aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
  21. You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.
  22. The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an> oscillating electric fan set on medium.
  23. Her lips were red and full, like tubes of blood drawn by an in attentive phlebotomist.
  24. The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a .jpeg file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10> percent black.

 

A Bit About Words: Punctuation

Punctuation holds only limited interest for most people, but it makes reading easier and it makes it easier to convey precisely the sense intended.  It has been defined as “The practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation; division of text into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks.”

Punctuation can be vital in understanding a sentence.  Sir Roger Casement was tried for treason in 1916.  The prosecution was brought under the Statute of Treasons (1351).  Punctuation did not exist back then.  The relevant provision was in Norman French, but its English translation reads:

“If a man do levy war against our said Lord the King in his realm or be adherent to the enemies of our Lord the King in his realm giving to them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere”

What Casement had done was done entirely outside England.  The question of interpretation can be shortly stated:  is it treason to adhere outside the realm to the King’s enemies?  In other words, do the words or elsewhere qualify only the words which immediately precede them, or do they qualify the entire phrase be adherent to the enemies of our Lord the King in his realm giving to them aid and comfort in the realm?  The question was: if it had been punctuated, where would the comma have been?  Casement was famously said to have been hanged by a comma.

Punctuation can be important.

And there is a story about the House of Commons: one Honourable member had referred to another Honourable member as a liar.  The Speaker ordered him to apologise.  He said: “I called the Honourable gentleman a liar it is true and I am sorry for it.  He may provide his own punctuation.”

These days, there are commonly thought to be 12 punctuation marks, apart from spaces: full stop, comma, semicolon, colon, question mark, exclamation mark, dash, hyphen, brackets, apostrophe, and quotation marks.  To this I would add the ellipsis.

The first and second editions of Fowler’s Modern English Usage do not have an entry for punctuation, but rather an entry for stops, and a separate entry for ellipsis.

The Americans allow 13 punctuation marks: period (they do not call that terminal dot a full stop), comma, semicolon, colon, question mark, exclamation point, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, apostrophe, and quotation marks.  A couple of these involve only the slightest distinctions, and one is a unique Americanism: where we say open brackets  or close brackets the Americans say paren (short for parentheses).  And we tend not to distinguish between (round brackets) and [square brackets].  For Americans and typesetters (these words are in parentheses), [whereas these words are in brackets] and {these words are in braces}.

Punctuation is useful, and tolerably well-understood, but one punctuation mark, the ellipsis, has an interesting history.   The ellipsis is the little row of 3 dots which tell you that the sentence could go further, and that there is more than has been revealed.  Confusingly, it sounds awfully like an ellipse, which is the slightly squashed form of a circle.  In fact, they come from the same origins.

A conic section is the result of a plane intersecting a cone. In Euclidean geometry there are four conic sections: the parabola, the hyperbola, the circle and the ellipse.  Each of these is an important shape in Euclidean geometry.  Which conic section you get depends on precisely how the plane intersects the cone: if it cuts at an angle which hits the base of the cone short of the centre, the result is a hyperbola.  If it cuts at an angle which hits the base of the cone past the centre, the result is a parabola.  If it cuts horizontally through the cone, the result is a circle; but if it cuts at an angle right through the cone, the result is an ellipse.  The diagram below illustrates it well:

Incidentally, although the diagram does not illustrate it, if a plane cuts vertically down the axis, the resulting section is a triangle, but this is self-evident, trivial and not very useful.

So, the ellipse is the shape you get when a cone is cut off at an angle.  And the ellipsis is a punctuation mark which shows that the sentence has been cut off before it was complete.

Not many people know what the row of dots is called, and most of those who know it is an ellipsis are probably unaware that they are reaching into Euclidean geometry when they use it.

The most commonly used punctuation marks are the full stop, the comma, the question mark and (although some don’t like it) the exclamation mark.

Martin Speckter died on 14 February 1988.  He was an advertising executive during the heyday of advertising and, in 1962, he recognised a gap in the available punctuation marks.  Consider some of the extremes of print advertising:

  • What the…??!!
  • You can get that stain out!??
  • What are you going to do with that?!
  • Don’t you agree that we need a new punctuation mark?!!

And so on, endlessly.  They are all propositions in print which are, in form, questions but which are intended to be delivered with such intensity or enthusiasm that an exclamation mark is called for.  And advertising is the field where intense, enthusiastic questions are common.

Speckter decided that a new punctuation mark was needed, which combined the functions of the question mark and the exclamation mark.  The result was the interrobang, which looked like this:

Most of us have notionally used an interrobang in conversation:

“What the…” makes perfect sense with an interrobang as punctuation.

For a time the interrobang interested enough people that it was set in various fonts (including Arial, Calibri, Courier, Helvetica and Palatino.  Remington even released a typewriter which (for an added fee) included a key for the interrobang.  Sadly, the interrobang faded into obscurity before laptop computers became widespread so, although computer fonts are almost endless, and incorporating a new punctuation mark is fairly straight-forward, computer keyboards do not provide an interrobang, even though they provide parentheses, brackets and braces.

That said, if you are using a MS Word on a PC, and choose the Wingdings 2 font, the tilde key gives you this:

Fowler’s 3rd edition treats the ampersand as a punctuation mark.  It has an entry for punctuation, which refers the reader to entries on various punctuation marks, and to an entry on the ampersand.  Impossible! How can it do that?  Unlike the interrobang, the ampersand is found on all modern keyboards, and looks like this: &.  It is not found in Johnson’s dictionary, because it was introduced into English in the early 19th century.  It was widely used (and perhaps popularised) by Fowler, especially in his Modern English Usage, where it is used frequently in place of the word and.  It is an aphetic form of and per se and.  It is a nice irony that Fowler popularised the use of the ampersand, but did not treat it as a punctuation mark, but his 3rd edition (which is much less entertaining than the 1st and 2nd editions) appears to elevate the ampersand to the ranks of punctuation.

And what of marks like the tilde ~, the diaresis (two dots over the second in a pair of vowels, to indicate that they should be separately sounded: Noël)?  The diaresis is often confused with, but should be distinguished from, the German umlaut (two very short strokes above a, o or u which alter the pronunciation of those letters exactly as if the letter is followed by an e).  Along with the cedilla and the familiar accents found in French: acute, grave, circumflex, these are the diacritics: marks which change the way some letters are sounded.

But the ampersand does not perform the normal functions of a punctuation mark or of a diacritic.  Neither does the ubiquitous at sign, @, or the hash sign, #, both of which marks are found on modern keyboards and have rocketed to prominence thanks to social media such as Twitter.  The ampersand is also fairly common on Twitter, because it is one character in place of three.  That can make a difference.

I don’t often disagree with Fowler, but I have trouble thinking of the ampersand as a punctuation mark.  And it is clearly not a diacritic.  I would group it with @ and #, but we need a collective noun for them.  Given their prominence on social media, how about swishtags?

All modern dictionaries have an entry for ampersand, but very few have an entry for interrobang: The OED does not have it; The New Oxford does not have it;  Webster’s first to third editions do not have it; The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary does not have it.  But it is found in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2nd edition, 1966), and in the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition, 2000), which is a relief, because I had begun to think I imagined it!

A Bit About Words: Dead

It is hard to imagine that we do not all fully understand the word dead.

It may come as a surprise then to discover that the OED2 entry for dead occupies 14 columns in volume IV and comprises about 12,000 words.  Of course, that quantity is largely made up of quotations, but for all that it is an impressive amount of learning for an apparently straight-forward word.  The principal entry for dead (as adjective, noun and adverb) is followed by entries for various composites such as dead-beat, dead-centre and dead drunk.

The OED2 entry for dead focuses on its principal use as an adjective: describing a person or thing which had once been alive but is no longer.  But this sense allows a number of shades of meaning and includes the following:

  • dead to the world: unconscious or fast asleep;
  • dead from the neck up: brainless, stupid;
  • of species which have become extinct, notably in the idiom dead as a dodo;
  • of things (practices, feelings, etc.): No longer in existence, or in use; extinct, obsolete, perished.  For example, dead languages; or love is dead.
  • of inanimate things: e.g.
    • dead place: 1712 Le Blond’s Gardening “It is more difficult to make Plants grow in Gaps and dead Places, than in a new Spot.”;
    • dead weight,
    • dead angle:  “any angle of a fortification, the ground before which is unseen, and therefore undefended from the parapet”,
    • dead rent: “a fixed rent which remains as a constant and unvarying charge upon a mining concession, etc.”
  • Similarly, dead embers, dead acoustics.

It is interesting to see how a word which is generally thought to be the flipside of life can be applied to things which never lived and never could.

Dead as a herring dates back to the late 17th century, was a minor vogue in the mid-18th century, but its use has fallen away in the past hundred years or so.  It makes little sense.   At the time the expression was in more common use, the North Sea was referred to as the Herring Pond and was abundantly stocked .  Even today the herring stocks in the North Sea, although depleted, are recovering.

According to Funk, it means very dead.  All fish smell bad a while after they are dead.  Apparently herring start to smell sooner, and worse, than other dead fish (I cannot vouch for this) so a dead herring smells extremely dead.

Perhaps because dead can apply so broadly, it has spawned a large number of idiomatic expressions.  Some of these are obvious metaphorical uses of the word.  Dead drunk is understandable once dead to the world is understood, although it might just be an example of dead as an intensifier.  Dead wicket is as easily understood as dead acoustics.

Similarly, for a horse to run dead is easily understood.

Some other idiomatic expressions are much less obvious, for example: dead broke, dead centre, dead keen, dead right, dead certain.  Here the connection with death has for all practical purposes vanished, and dead is used simply as an intensifier.  Likewise dead beat in its original sense meant utterly exhausted (1821).  Later it came to be used as a noun, deadbeat,  meaning a worthless idler who sponges on his friends (1863), and in Australian slang a person who is down on his luck (1898).  But originally, dead beat was another example of dead being used simply as an intensifier, with no reference to death.

The use of dead as an intensifier stands interestingly against dead as a herring, where it is the herring which intensifies the effect of death rather than the reverse.

In this use, it goes back a long way.  Thomas Nashe, a 16th century pamphleteer, in Almond for Parrat wrote in 1589: “Oh he is olde dogge at expounding, and deade sure at a Catechisme.”  (Parrat was an alternative spelling for parrot.  By a nice historical symmetry, dead as a parrot is one of the best known recent idioms for “completely dead”.  It was used in the Monty Python show first screened on 7 December 1969 and is very widely recognised, although the OED2 remains conspicuously silent on the subject.)

Dead as a doornail is another idiom which is far from obvious.  It also goes back a long way.  In 1680 Otway wrote in Caius Marius: “As dead as a Herring, Stock-fish, or Door-nail.” It has curious origins.  In times before bank safes and sophisticated domestic security existed, solid doors were an essential part of front line defence of hearth and home.  Back then, doors were very strongly made, typically a solid timber frame with solid timber panels attached.  The various pieces were typically nailed together.  To make it more difficult to break through the door, the nails used were longer than the combined thickness of the frame and panels together, so they protruded through to the opposite side.  The protruding end of the nail would then be hammered over flat, making it virtually impossible to pull the nail out and correspondingly difficult to break the door apart.  Many old buildings have doors made this way, and one glance makes it clear that this was a very strong door.

But once the protruding end of the nail had been hammered flat, the nail could not be re-used: it was, metaphorically, dead.  Dead as a doornail is the idiom which resulted.

Dead reckoning is another use of dead which has nothing to do with death.  It is a means of reckoning your present position at sea (or more dangerously, in the air) by starting with a previously known position and calculating subsequent speed and direction while adjusting for known wind, currents and other forces which might affect your progress.  It is done without reference to observable fixed points such as stars or landmarks.  It is a pretty rough and ready way of calculating position, and is subject to all manner of errors.  One theory has it that it is really ded reckoning, for deduced reckoning.  This stands awkwardly with the fact that it has been spelled dead reckoning since about 1587, and is referred to in Moby Dick (1851) and in Walden by Thoreau (1854).

The OED2, which gives 1613 as the earliest use, defines dead reckoning as “The estimation of a ship’s position from the distance run by the log and the courses steered by the compass, with corrections for current, leeway, etc., but without astronomical observations” but it does not venture any theory about how it came to be so called.  Perhaps it is mute testament to the danger of proceeding that way: at sea, and especially in the air, if you run the risk of calculating your position wrongly you may end up dead.

Most of these uses are dead as an adjective: qualifying a noun. But in its use as an intensifier, dead is used as an adverb, qualifying an adjective: dead lucky, dead centre, etc.  These uses as different parts of speech pass almost unnoticed.

It can also be used as a noun: and is so used in such familiar expressions as bury the dead, loud enough to wake the dead, etc. and, less familiar, in the US slang on the dead meaning in deadly earnest.

But dead can also be used as a verb, and when so used it strikes the ear very oddly.  Most of us have hear Bluebottle in the Goon show complaining that someone has “deaded me”.  That usage sounds plain wrong, but it dates back to the 14th century.  It can be used intransitively:

  • Chaucer “Al my felynge gan to dede.”   (1384)
  • Bacon “Iron, as soon as it is out of the Fire, deadeth straight-ways.” (1626)
  • Fuller “Their loyalty flatteth and deadeth by degrees.”  (1654)

But it can also be used transitively (but only as a past participle, it seems):

  • Spenser “Our pleasant Willy..is dead..With whom all joy and jolly merriment is also deaded.” (1591)
  • Nashe “Tree rootes..stubbed downe to the ground, yet were they not utterly deaded.” (1594)
  • Wilson “This‥deaded the matter so, that it lost the Cause.” (1653)
  • Milligan “You rotten swine! You’ve deaded me!” (1956)

All these quotations except the last come from OED2.  The last comes from memory but it is accurate.  It is interesting to see that it sounds absurd despite having centuries of usage to support it.

In contemporary Aboriginal slang, deadly is a word used with two distinctive features.  Despite its form, it is used as an adjective not as an adverb, and its meaning is opposite of what you might imagine: it means excellent or very good, and thus parallels the way wicked is used in contemporary slang. The Deadlys is the name of an Award to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people for outstanding achievement.

A Bit About Words: Curry

[Every few months I write an article about language for the Victorian Bar News.  The piece is called A Bit About Words.  Many of the earlier articles have been published in WordWatching, (Scribe, 2004; revised and enlarged edition: Scribe 2013).  On this blog I will publish some more recent word articles.]

I was in Sri Lanka when I began to write this essay.  With the unmistakable stamp of Dutch, Portugese and English colonial times still clear on its landscape and language, it seems natural to explore some of the ways Sri Lanka has left its mark on English.

Curry is a ubiquitous dish in Sri Lanka.  It was introduced into England in the 16th century by English explorers.  W. Phillips in 1598 wrote: “Most of their fish is eaten with rice, which they seeth in broth, which they put upon the rice, and is somewhat soure..but it tasteth well, and is called Carriel.”  And in Knox’s History of Ceylon (1681) “They..boyl [fruits] to make Carrees, to use the Portuguez word, that is somewhat to eat with and relish their Rice.”  It was not a Portugese word – it is a Tamil word – but the Portugese had it from their travels, and Knox assumed it was Portugese.  The Tamil word was kari, and the Portugese was caril, but in days before Johnson, when English orthography and the British Empire had not reached their maturity, the wrong spelling and inaccurate attribution are both understandable.

Also from Portugese is vindaloo.[1]  It comes from a Portugese dish called Carne de Vinha D’Alhos.  (The OED2 also has it as vin d’alho). Whatever spelling you prefer, it was Portugese for “wine and garlic”.  The vin(h) bit is wine, obviously enough.  But the English garlic is unrelated to its romance counterparts: French ail, Spanish ajo, Italian alio and Portugese alho.  Although garlic was, for a long time, foreign to English cooking, the word garlic comes from an Old Engish root gare + leek and is thought to correspond to the Norse geirlauk.  Perhaps because it is so closely associated with the Mediterranean, the Esperanto for garlic is ajlo.  And the botanical name of the plant is Allium sativum.  Although garlic crept into Indian and Sri Lankan through the Portugese influence of vindaloo, it did not get to Indonesia, where garlic is called bawang putih.

We have quite a few words from Tamil,  including anaconda (“having killed an elephant”); cheroot, conjee, coolie, mulligatawny (“pepper water”), pariah, popadam and teak.  Strangely, we have very few words directly from Sinhalese.  The only familiar ones are beri  beri  (from Sinhalese beri meaning weakness) and tourmaline, and it has to be conceded that tourmaline is not all that familiar, although it has the edge on chena (a form of shifting cultivation in Sri Lanka) and dissava (a governor of a district of Ceylon) and punatoo (the preserved pulp of the fruit of the palmyra palm).

Tourmaline is a brittle pyro-electric mineral which occurs in crystals.  It is a complex silico-borate with a vitreous lustre, it comes in black (schorl), and also blue (indicolite), red (rubellite), and green.  Sometimes it is colourless.  It also occurs in various rich transparent or semi-transparent forms and is used as a semi-precious gemstone.

However Sri Lanka has left an indelible mark in our language, in a quite unexpected way.  Known since ancient times the island, which sits as a tear-drop below India, was originally called Taprobane.  Later it was called Serendip, then Ceylon and now Sri Lanka.  In 1557 Michele Tramezzino published a book titled “Peregrinaggio di Tre Giovani Figlivoi del Re di Serendippo”  (which translates in English as “Wanderings of Three Young Sons of the King of Serendip”.  It was later translated into French and German, and from the French into English (in 1722), although it was not translated directly into English until 1965.  The book told the exploits of three princes whose success in exotic adventures owed much to chance, although in the original stories, the princes show powers of deduction which would have impressed Sherlock Holmes.

Having read the 1722  translation, Horace Walpole (son of prime minister Robert Walpole) coined the word serendipity and referred to it in a letter on 28 January 1854 addressed to Horace Mann, George II’s envoy in Florence.  He wrote “This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity.”   In the letter, he went on to explain how he coined the word.  “I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? …”

It is a mark of Walpole’s standing (then) as a writer that he could create a new word, in a private letter, and that word was later embedded in the language.  But the OED notes that the word was not much used until the 20th century, and it does not record an instance of its use until 1880, so Walpole probably did not realize that he had left a permanent mark on the English language.  It is a mark of Walpole’s standing (now) as a writer that serendipity is remembered while his novels are all but forgotten.

In the collected edition of Notes & Queries: For Readers, Collectors and Librarians Edward Solly wrote that Walpole had coined the word as referring to a particular kind of cleverness.  He gave a more accurate account of it in 1878 and defined it as “the discovery of things which the finder was not in search of”. In 1880  Solly refined the thought when he wrote: “The inquirer was at fault, and it was not till some weeks later, when by the aid of Serendipity, as Horace Walpole called it—that is, looking for one thing and finding another—that the explanation was accidentally found.”  This quotation is given in the OED, but not the comments from 1875 and 1878.

It is notable that serendipity  came to be used with increasing frequency in the 20th century: by 1958, it had been used in print about 135 times; during the 1990s it was used in newspapers about 13,000 times.  It is thoroughly familiar now, although its meaning has been degraded so that it is now used as a synonym for chance or accident.

And from Serendip we also have serendibite, a boro-silicate of aluminium, calcium, and magnesium, found as bluish triclinic crystals.  It was first found (presumably while looking for something else) in Ceylon and was revealed to the world in an article by Prior and Kumaraswamy in Nature on 20 February 1902.  (In the manner of the times, Kumaraswamy’s name was spelled as Coomára-Swámy).

Because the English dominated Ceylon for a relatively short time (1796-1948), the language of Ceylon had much less opportunity to influence the English language.  By contrast, the long presence of the English in India (which originally included the areas that are now Pakistan and Bangladesh) presented us with a rich legacy of Hindi words. These include (among about 400 other words) such thoroughly naturalized words as: chutney, dungaree,  jungle, kedgeree and  pundit.  Less obviously, they include:

basmati (fragrant); now specifically a fragrant variety of rice;

chintz; a false plural from Hindi chint, a painted or stained calico;

choky: a lock-up, from Hindi choaki;

damn: an ancient coin of very little value; hence ‘not worth a damn’;

juggernaut: the uncouth idol of Krishna at Pūrī in Orissa, annually dragged in procession on an enormous car, under the wheels of which many devotees are said to have thrown themselves to be crushed;

loot: goods taken from an enemy in time of war;

mandarin: (from Hindi mantri: a generic name for all grades of Chinese officials; there were nine ranks, each of which was distinguished by a particular kind of ‘button’;

phut: broken down (it sounds a bit old fashioned nowadays, but it’s still understood);

pukka: proper or correct in behaviour, socially acceptable;

punch: the drink traditionally made from five ingredients, from Hindi panj meaning five.  This derivation is treated by the Oxford as contentious (see the OED2, vol XII, p. 835). I prefer to accept the side which attributes it to the Hindi origin.  Dr Johnson accepts that origin without hesitation.  He asserts that “Punch is an Indian word expressing the number of ingredients”.  He lists five ingredients.  I am with Johnson on this.

shampoo: to shampoo originally meant to press or massage, and became more general in meaning, so now to subject (the scalp) to washing and rubbing with soap, etc.;

thug (originally thuggee): one of an association of professional robbers and murderers in India, who strangled their victims; and

veranda.  This has mixed origins.  It is from India, where it is found in Hindi varanda, Bengali (and modern Sanskrit) baranda.   Parallel constructions are found in Portugese and Spanish varanda /baranda  meaning railing, balustrade or balcony.  It is possible it was introduced into India by way of those languages.

And of course the bungalow, which generally has a verandah, is a corruption of the Hindustani bangla: belonging to Bengal.

[1] I am indebted to Sally Bodman for this little nugget

11 November 2018: 100 years on

The Great War ended on 11 November 1918.  It was to have been the war that ended war, but the Treaty of Versailles laid the groundwork for the Second World War.

The Great War saw the start of brutal truth in poetry: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen wrote poems of terrible, brutal honesty.  Sassoon was born in 1886 and died in 1967, but Owen was born in 1893 and died on the western Front just one week before the Armistice.  He was 25.

A century later, it is worth remembering what Owen wrote.

Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

And even more shattering:

Dulce et Decorum Est
(a reference to the Latin phrase Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which means “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” )

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

5 November and the Gunpowder Plot

5 November 1605: The Gunpowder Plot

 

Those of us old enough to remember “Cracker Night” will associate it with the name of Guy Fawkes. Some might remember that Guy Fawkes’ name is synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot. Very few indeed will recognise that the Gunpowder Plot was the 17th Century equivalent of September 11.

It is a pity that the Gunpowder Plot has slipped from popular memory. It has striking parallels with contemporary events, both in its origins and in its consequences. Just a few years before the Gunpowder Plot, Francis Bacon wrote that “[h]istories make men wise …”. Our response to September 11 might have been wiser if only we had read history more carefully.

The last years of the reign of Elizabeth I were marked by increased persecution of Roman Catholics in England. Recusants were fined for not attending the Protestant churches, and the recusant fines had become a significant source of revenue. Catholic priests – especially Jesuits – were persecuted terribly, and many were put to death for their faith.

As Elizabeth’s health failed the question of succession had not been settled. Among the several possible candidates to succeed her was James VI of Scotland. He was Protestant, but the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic daughter of James V of Scotland. Mary had been put to death by Elizabeth in 1587. James was married to Anne of Denmark. She was born a Lutheran but had converted to Catholicism. This made James’ position on religion decidedly ambiguous.

Many high-placed Englishmen established contact with James in advance of Elizabeth’s death, in order to test the ground. Among these was Thomas Percy, a recusant and protégé of the Earl of Northumberland. He returned from Scotland with enthusiastic accounts of the religious toleration James would introduce. Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen’s trusted adviser, also ascertained that James was not inclined to persecute the Catholics so long as they “lived quietly”. Thus it was that, when James VI of Scotland succeeded as James I of England there was real hope that the time of religious persecution would end.

The hopes engendered by Thomas Percy’s account and James’ ambivalent correspondence were not realised. By 1605, things had become markedly worse and more anti-Catholic legislation was expected.
The Gunpowder Plot

Robert Catesby was the son of a rich Warwickshire family. He was 30 years old at the time of James’ coronation. His father had been persecuted under Elizabeth. He was intelligent, pious, conscientious and (by all accounts) charismatic. Frustrated by the absence of real reform, he conceived the idea of destroying at a single stroke the Royal family and the Parliament which had passed the harsh, anti-papist laws. For this purpose he proposed to blow-up the Parliament at its opening, when the Royal family would be present. In March 1604, he recruited Thomas Winter and John Wright. Others were drawn into the conspiracy. In May, Thomas Percy and Guido Fawkes joined.

In July 1604, new anti-Catholic legislation was passed by Parliament. In January 1605 John Grant, Robert Winter and Thomas Bates joined the plot; in September Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood and Francis Tresham joined.

Apart from the folly of the entire enterprise, it was probably the introduction of Francis Tresham which brought the plot down. The conspirators had arranged to store 36 barrels of gunpowder in an apartment adjacent to the Hall of Parliament. The recall of Parliament had been postponed several times, but was eventually fixed for Tuesday, 5 November. Someone – apparently Francis Tresham – wrote a cryptic letter to Lord Monteagle, advising him to absent himself from the opening of Parliament. Monteagle was a Roman Catholic, married to Tresham’s sister. But instead of heeding the warning, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. In due time, the Parliament building was searched, Guido Fawkes was discovered and the plot was undone.

Fawkes was taken into custody as the other conspirators fled from London. Under the law of the time, torture was illegal. However in exercise of the royal prerogative King James personally authorised the use of torture to discover the identity of the other conspirators. His letter of authority, dated 6 November 1605 reads in part:

“The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad majora tenditur [and thus by degrees to the worst] and so God speed your goode worke”.

The gentler torture was the manacles: Fawkes was hung from a wall by iron manacles tightly bound around his wrist, with his feet above the ground. This has a physiological effect similar to crucifixion. The worst torture was the rack. This involved lying the victim on a horizontal frame and binding cords around his wrists and ankles. These cords were wound around rollers at each end of the frame. By use of winches, the rollers slowly wound in the cords, thus stretching the victim until the major joints came apart. It is accounted the most excruciating form of non-lethal treatment yet devised.

Under this treatment, Guido Fawkes made three confessions. The third bears a signature which hardly looks to be the work of a human hand: mute testimony to the effects of the rack.

Fawkes’ third confession led to the capture of the other conspirators. Catesby, Percy and Jack and Kit Wright were killed whilst being taken. Francis Tresham was badly wounded and died before he could be tried.

The Gunpowder Plot was the work of over-zealous extremists, isolated from their co-religionists. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in England had tried to dissuade any violence against the State. Nevertheless, when the conspirators were charged, the first name on the indictment was Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Superior of England. He was unquestionably innocent of the plot. But it was deemed important to pitch the Plot as a Catholic attack on England.

Those conspirators who had survived were tried on 27 January 1606 and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Henry Garnet, who was not captured until later, was also brought to trial. His conviction was certainly unjustified, but reflects the public frenzy of anti-Catholicism which the plot had released. He was executed on 3rd May, 1606.
Divine right of kings

A key feature of the reign of James I was his belief in the divine right of Kings, and with it the unlimited scope of the sovereign prerogative. In his speech to Parliament on 21 March 1610 he said:

“Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will consider the attributes of God you shall see how they agree in the person of a King. God hath power to create or destroy; make or unmake at his pleasure; to give life or send death; to judge all and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things and to make high things low at his pleasure. And the like power have Kings.”

(Note the echo of King Lear, written in 1605: “as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods, they kill us for their sport”).

Even though torture was illegal in 1605, the King could order it in the exercise of the royal prerogative. Furthermore James I, and after him Charles I, insisted that the Royal prerogative entitled them to rule without Parliament and to act beyond the laws made by Parliament or to suspend those laws in particular cases as they chose. As the notion of parliamentary democracy took shape, two questions became an increasing source of tension: did the King rule under the law, or did he stand outside it; and if Parliament made a law, was the King free to dispense with it? This was one of the great constitutional questions which dominated 17th century England.

The Gunpowder conspirators had been prosecuted by Sir Edward Coke, the then Attorney-General. In his capacity as Attorney-General, Coke had been an advocate of the right of the King to dispense with the law as he saw fit. When Coke was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, his views changed. He insisted that the King ruled under the law: in a famous confrontation with James I, Coke declared that “the King cannot change any part of the common law nor create any offence by proclamation which was not an offence before”.

Judicial independence was unknown in the time of James I. After many manoeuverings, James I dismissed Coke from his judicial office and Coke subsequently entered Parliament in 1620. In 1627 (the second year of the reign of Charles I) the King ordered the arrest of Sir Thomas Darnel and four others who had refused to advance a compulsory “loan” to the King. They sought habeas corpus. The jailer answered the suit by saying the five were held “per speciale mandatum Regis” [by special order of the King].

Darnel’s case in 1627 prompted Coke to draft for Parliament the Petition of Right (1628). The Petition raised, with exquisite politeness, the following complaints about the King’s conduct:

he had been ordering people, like Darnel, to be jailed for failing to lend him money;
he had been billeting soldiers in private houses throughout the country against the wishes of the owners;
he had circumvented the common law by appointing commissioners to enforce martial laws and those commissioners had been summarily trying and executing “such soldiers or mariners or other desolate persons joining with them as should commit … (any) outrage or misdemeanour whatsoever …”;
he had been exempting some from the operation of the common law.

The Parliament prayed that the King “would be graciously pleased for the further comfort and safety of your people, to declare … that in the things aforesaid all your officers and ministers shall serve you according to the laws and statutes of this realm …”.
The emergence of the Rule of Law

The Petition of Right was the opening shot in the battle for the Rule of Law. The principle of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy insists that the Parliament is the supreme lawmaker and that all people, including every member of the Government and the head of state, are subject to the law; it requires that the laws be enforced by independent judges appropriately skilled, enjoying security of tenure so as to free them from extraneous pressures.

The struggle for the Rule of Law was waged in various forms over the balance of the 17th Century. Charles I prorogued the Parliament which had presented the Petition of Right. He ruled without Parliament until 1640 and then called the Short Parliament which refused to grant supply and was dissolved. He called the Long Parliament in November 1640 which confronted the King and declared it illegal to levy tax without the authority of Parliament.

The power struggle between Charles I and Parliament led to the Civil War (1642-1649) which ended with the surrender and execution of Charles I. It was followed by the Commonwealth period under Cromwell. That experiment collapsed after increasing mismanagement, and Charles II was restored to the throne, but only after issuing a promise (the Declaration of Breda) that he would meet the demands articulated in the Petition of Right 22 years earlier.

After Charles II came the truncated reign of James II and then in 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of King James) were offered the English crown and with it they were offered a Declaration of Rights prepared by the Parliament. This required regular, fair elections, protection of Parliamentary debates, no tax without Parliamentary consent, and the King was not to suspend or dispense with laws properly passed by the Parliament. They agreed.

Later, the Act of Settlement declared the sovereign to reign subject to the law. In the meantime, the Habeas Corpus Act had been passed, which ensured that no person could be held except by the authority of laws duly passed by the Parliament.

Thus were all the central principles of the Rule of Law put in place: the monarch is subject to the law and cannot set aside the common law or the laws passed by the Parliament; Judges are independent of the executive; no-one can be detained except as provided by law and the legality of their detention can be tested by the writ of habeas corpus.

These principles were won in the great constitutional struggles of 17th Century England. The chain of events which led to these momentous changes can be traced back to 1605 when those perceived as dangerous religious fanatics could be put to the torture on the authority of the King acting outside the law.

This tectonic shift was reflected in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government. Published in 1689, it demolished the theory of the divine right of kings, and proposed that the only true authority of the government came from the consent of the governed. In addition, Locke reasoned that the obligation to obey the laws of the state was conditional on the state protecting person and property, and that if the sovereign breached the terms of the Social Contract, he could be overthrown.
America and the Rule of Law

Echoes of the Petition of Right and the Act of Settlement can be found in the constitutional documents of the United States. The American colonists expressly adopted Locke’s reasoning in their preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …

The US Constitution (1789), especially the Bill of Rights, adopts the principles first demanded in the Petition of Right 160 years earlier. From the beginning, the United States of America adopted the Rule of Law as fundamental and unchangeable. But in the aftermath of September 11, it all went badly wrong.

The attack on America created, or brought into sharp focus, another form of religious animosity: not between Protestants and Catholics, but between Christians and Muslims. Like the Gunpowder Plot, September 11 was an attack of unprecedented horror, the likes of which could not have been imagined. Like the Gunpowder Plot, it was the work of a small group of religious fanatics striking at the very heart of a group seen as a religious oppressor. But there are two obvious differences: the Gunpowder Plot failed, but it set in train the events which ultimately laid the foundations of the Rule of Law in a parliamentary democracy; September 11 succeeded, and set in train events which are undermining those very foundations.

In the aftermath of September 11, America raided Afghanistan in pursuit of al Quaeda. With the help of Northern Alliance troops, they swept up tens of thousands of supposed al Quaeda operatives and sympathizers. Suspects were captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other places.

As a matter of legal principle, combatants captured in Afghanistan during the hostilities there are Prisoners of War.Otherwise they are criminal suspects. Domestic and international laws deal comprehensively with both cases. There is no ground between the two possibilities.

The regime for treatment of Prisoners of War is clear: it is established by the Geneva Convention in relation to Prisoners of War, to which USA is a party. Relevantly, it provides for:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no interrogation beyond name, rank and serial number;

(c) release at the end of hostilities

The regime for treatment of criminal suspects is also clear:

(a) humane treatment;

(b) no obligation to answer questions;

(c) no detention without charge;

(d) prima facie entitlement to bail when charged;

(e) (importantly in these circumstances) criminal charges are generally to be dealt with in the country where the offences occurred.

In either case, and in all circumstances, there is an absolute prohibition on the use of torture. This is recognised as a universal norm of international law, and is the subject of the Convention Against Torture to which most countries, including the USA and Afghanistan, are parties.

Unfortunately, there comes a time in the history of nations when, for some unaccountable reason, basic values and accepted principles are diluted, betrayed or cast aside. The pretext may be external threat, internal strife or other great forces which call for extraordinary responses. Faced with very clear legal limits, President Bush stepped back to the 17th Century and acted, in substance, as James I did. He acted as if he could set aside the law and implement his own conception of right. He did so with obliging help from Department of Justice employees.

Suspects who had been rounded up during the war in Afghanistan were taken to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There they are held in cages, and are interrogated, humiliated and tortured. They are denied proper legal help. The Bush administration has argued that the American Constitution, and the American courts, have no authority in Guantanamo: that it is a legal black hole.

The basic features of the regime at Guantanamo were founded on an enabling memo from Alberto Gonzales. He advised that President Bush could declare prisoners held at Guantanamo not to be amenable to the protections of the Geneva Convention relating to Treatment of Prisoners of War (the GPW). He identified several points in favour of this position:

“Positive:

· Preserves flexibility:

As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors …

Substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441).

That statute, enacted in 1996, prohibits the commission of a “war crime” by or against a U.S. person, including U.S. officials. “War crime” for these purposes is defined to include any grave breach of GPW or any violation of common Article 3 thereof (such as “outrages against personal dignity”). Some of these provisions apply (if the GPW applies) regardless of whether the individual being detained qualifies as a POW. Punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty. A determination that the GPW is not applicable to the Taliban would mean that Section 2441 would not apply to actions taken with respect to the Taliban. …”

The author of the memo is unmistakably urging a path which would facilitate torture of prisoners and protect the torturers from the inconvenience of criminal charges. The author of the memo is now US Attorney-General.

Six months later Mr Jay Bybee wrote another memo to President Bush, which in substances authorises mistreatment of al Quaeda suspects. This memorandum, the existence of which was denied for several years, contains the most startling and convoluted justification of torture imaginable. Its legal reasoning is profoundly flawed. The memo says:

“it is difficult to take a specific act out of context and conclude that the act in isolation would constitute torture.”

It identifies seven techniques recognised as torture, including severe beatings, threats of imminent death, burning with cigarettes, electric shocks to genitalia, rape or sexual assault, and forcing a person to watch the torture of another. It then observes that:

“While we cannot say with certainty that acts falling short of these seven would not constitute torture, . . we believe that interrogation techniques would have to be similar to these in their extreme nature and in the type of harm caused to violate law…For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

Here are some first hand accounts of what has been happening at Guantanamo:

“every day we were stuck in a cage of 2 meters by 2 meters. We were allowed out for 2 minutes a week to have a shower and then returned to the cage. Given the extreme heat, we sweated a lot and the area obviously began to smell. During the day we were forced to sit in the cell (we couldn’t lie down) in total silence. We couldn’t lean on the wire fence or stand up and walk around the cage.”
“very often the guards would refuse to take us to the portaloo outside and therefore people started to use the buckets in the cells. Many of the people [were] … suffering from dysentery … and simply couldn’t wait until the guards decided they would take them to the toilet. … The smell in the cell block was terrible.”
“We had the impression that at the beginning things were not carefully planned but a point came at which you could notice things changing. That appeared to be after General Miller around the end of 2002. That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people’s ‘comfort’ items, … moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of (air conditioning). … After [General Miller] came, people would be kept [in solitary] for months and months and months. We didn’t hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did.”
“… This time I was short shackled. I was left squatting for about an hour and then this Bashir came back again and he started questioning me again about the photographs and trying to get me to admit that I was in the photographs. I was telling him that if you check you will find out that I was in England during this time. After a while he left the room and I was left again in the short shackle position for several hours (I think for about 4 hours) before I was eventually taken back to the cells.”
“I was interrogated repeatedly about my presence at this meeting. … I said it wasn’t me but she kept pressing that I should admit it. She was very adamant. She said to me “I’ve put detainees here in isolation for 12 months and eventually they’ve broken. You might as well admit it now so that you don’t have to stay in isolation”.

These statements are all from the Tipton Three: three English boys who went to Afghanistan to give humanitarian aid after the Americans attacked that country. They were eventually released and sent back to Britain: they were never charged with any offence. They were there simply by mistake.

Another person later released because his capture had been “a mistake” was a 99 year old shepherd. He was incontinent. Because of his age and frailty, he could barely hobble around the camp; he was chained to a walking frame. Other inmates reported that he spent much of his time weeping.
Values at risk

It is impossible to reconcile these events with the values which are basic to our democratic system: no arrest without lawful authority (enforced by the ancient writ of habeas corpus); no arbitrary search and seizure; no prison except by authority of law; the presumption of innocence; criminal charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt; no torture; an assumption (although not a legal right) of privacy. These values can all be traced to the events in 17th century England and equivalent events elsewhere in Europe. It is interesting to remember that most of those excesses arose from the supposed threat presented by unpopular religious beliefs.

It has long been recognised that these basic values, so hard won, are always at risk. In a speech in Boston on 28 January 1852 Wendell Phillips said:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

In America, in Australia and elsewhere, there is a retreat from basic values. Pragmatism is emerging as a sufficient justification of measures which, until recently, would have been abhorrent. The dictates of pragmatism can be very appealing, especially to those (always the majority) who take the benefit. In the wake of September 11, Australia and other Western governments introduced draconian anti-terrorist laws. These laws, unprecedented in recent history except in time of war, betray the basic values on which democratic systems are established.
“Anti-terrorism” legislation in Australia

In 2002 the ASIO legislation was amended to permit the incommunicado detention, for a week at time, of people not suspected of any wrong-doing: it is enough if they are thought to have information about others who may have been involved in terrorist offences. The person may be taken into isolated custody, and will not have a free choice of legal help; they will not be permitted to tell friends or family where they are; they must answer questions, or face 5 years imprisonment. When released, they are not permitted to tell anyone where they were or what happened to them, on pain of imprisonment.

In 2005 further anti-terror legislation was introduced.

Division 105 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code provides that a member of the Federal Police may apply for a preventative detention order in relation to a person. A preventative detention order will result in a person being jailed for up to 14 days in circumstances where they have not been charged with much less convicted of any offence. The order is obtained in the absence of the subject and authorises that the person be taken into custody. When the person is taken into custody pursuant to the order, they will not be told the evidence on which the order was obtained: they will be given a copy of the order and a summary of the grounds on which the order was made. The summary need not include any information which is likely to prejudice national security (within the meaning of the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004).

Thus, a preventative detention order can be made not only without a trial of any sort, but in circumstances where the subject of the order will not be allowed to know the evidence which was used to secure the order.

Division 104 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code allows the Federal Police to obtain a control order against a person. A control order can include an order confining a person to a single address for up to 12 months, without access to telephone or the internet. When the subject of the control order is served with the order, they are to be given a summary of the grounds on which the order was made, but not the evidence. Thus, a person’s freedom of movement can be grossly interfered with for up to 12 months in circumstances where they have no opportunity to know the evidence on which the order was obtained much less to challenge it. The summary of the grounds on which the order was obtained need not include any information disclosure of which is likely to prejudice national security within the meaning of the NSI Act.

Secrecy provisions prevent publication of the fact that people are held for incommunicado questioning, or held on preventative detention, or the subject of a control order.

Lying behind these draconian laws is something even more sinister: National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act (2004)) (the NSI Act). It is perhaps the most alarming piece of legislation ever passed by an Australian Parliament in a time of peace. The Act as originally passed was confined in its operation to criminal proceedings. In early 2005 it was amended so as to extend to civil proceedings as well. It provides that if a party to a proceeding knows or believes that they will disclose in the proceeding information that relates to national security, or the party intends to call a witness and that witness would, by their presence in court or by the evidence they could give, disclose information that relates to national security, then the party must notify the Commonwealth Attorney-General of the fact. The party must also notify the opposite party and the court. The court is then required to adjourn the proceeding until the Attorney-General acts on the matter. If the Attorney-General chooses, he may sign a conclusive certificate to the effect that the evidence proposed to be called, or the proposed calling of the witness, would be likely to prejudice Australia’s national security interests.

The certificate must then be provided to the court and the court must hold a hearing to decide whether or not to make an order preventing the evidence or witness from being called. During that hearing, the court must be closed. The Act authorises the court to exclude both the relevant party and his or her counsel from the closed hearing in which the question will be decided whether or not the evidence may be called or the witness brought to court.

In deciding the balance between the interests of a fair trial and the national security interests, the statute directs the court to give the greatest weight to the Attorney-General’s certificate that the evidence would present a risk of prejudice to national security.

These provisions are immediately alarming to anyone who understands the essential elements of a fair trial. They are all the more alarming when the real breadth of the provisions is understood. Their breadth comes from two things:

(a) the notion “likely to prejudice national security” is defined as meaning that there is a “real, and not merely remote, possibility that the disclosure will prejudice national security”;

(b) the definition of national security which means: “Australia’s defence, security, international relations or law enforcement interests”.

The apparently uncontroversial definition of national security is rendered astonishingly broad by the definition of “law enforcement interests”. That expression is defined as including interests in:

(a) avoiding disruption to national and international efforts relating to law enforcement, criminal intelligence, criminal investigation, foreign intelligence and security intelligence;

(b) protecting the technologies and methods used to collect, analyse, secure or otherwise deal with, criminal intelligence, foreign intelligence or security intelligence;

(c) the protection and safety of informants and of persons associated with informants;

(d) ensuring that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are not discouraged from giving information to a nation’s government and government agencies.

By reference to this definition, Australia’s national security is affected by each of the following things:

(a) evidence that a CIA operative extracted a confession by use of torture;

(b) any evidence which tended to reveal operational details of the CIA, Interpol, the FBI, the Australian Federal Police, the Egyptian Police, the American authorities at Guantanamo Bay, etc.;

(c) evidence which tended to show the use of torture or other inhumane interrogation techniques by any law enforcement agency.

These provisions are likely to have profound effect in several types of case.

First, in cases of people charged with terrorist offences. In such cases confessional statements may be received, but evidence that torture or other improper practices were used to obtain the confession may be excluded, in the name of national security.

Second, where a person is the subject of a preventative detention order or a control order they have a right to challenge the making of the order. However their challenge will be made difficult or impossible if they are prevented from knowing the evidence against them, or if they are prevented from calling other evidence which would qualify or explain the evidence against them.

Third, in cases where a person’s ordinary rights have been interfered with because of an adverse security assessment by ASIO. In those circumstances, it may prove impossible to have effective access to the material which provided the foundation of the interference.

There may be examples of the first and second type, but we are not allowed to know. The secrecy provisions surrounding control orders and preventative detention orders means that, in effect, the general public will not learn of them until many years have passed.

However examples of the third type can already be identified. An adverse security assessment from ASIO can result in a person’s passport being cancelled, or their job application being refused, or (for foreign visitors) a visa being refused or cancelled. In those circumstances, getting access to the material which provided the foundation for the adverse security assessment may prove difficult or impossible. Attempts to challenge the material can be met with the Attorney-General’s certificate.

Adverse security assessments from ASIO create another, related problem. An adverse security assessment will result in the cancellation of a visa or passport as the case may be. Cancellation of a passport may be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act contains provisions enabling the Attorney-General to grant a certificate which, in substance, prevents the applicant and the applicant’s lawyer from being present in the Tribunal whilst certain evidence is given and submissions are made on behalf of the Government. Here is the text of one such certificate, issued early in 2006:

“I, Philip Maxwell Ruddock, the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Australia … hereby certify … that disclosure of the contents of the documents … described in the schedules hereto, and the schedules, would be contrary to the public interest because the disclosure would prejudice security.

I further certify … that evidence proposed to be adduced and submissions proposed to be made by or on behalf of the Director-General of Security concerning the documents … are of such a nature that the disclosure of the evidence or submissions would be contrary to the public interest because it would prejudice security.

As the responsible Minister … I do not consent to a person representing the applicant being present when evidence described … above is adduced and such submissions are made ….”

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, and wrongly convicted. The heart of the problem was that the trial was held in camera, and documkents were provided to the judges which were withheld from Dreyfus and his counsel, on grounds of national security. The documents were forgeries.

The campaign for Dreyfus’ freedom is still remembered, not least for Emile Zola’s famous newspaper article “J’accuse…” which exposed the appalling nature of the “trial” which convicted Dreyfus. It was many years before justice was finally done: 13 July 2006 marks the centenary of his ultimate exoneration.

It is all too easy to look back on the Dreyfus Affair and imagine that it could not happen here today. Two matters made the Dreyfus Affair possible:

(a) a secret trial and the use of evidence concealed from the accused and his counsel, and

(b) racial or religious prejudice which ran so deep as to blind people to any concern about the quality of justice accorded to Dreyfus.

In the certificate set out above however, the Attorney-General produces the conditions which led to the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The applicant who seeks to have his passport restored will face an impossible burden in knowing what evidence must be called, because neither he nor his counsel will be allowed to know the nature of the case against him. And he is a Muslim.

Anti-Semitism no longer exists in any significant measure in Australia, at least not in the virulent form which characterised 19th Century France and the first half of the 20th Century in Western Europe generally. However there are other groups who are sufficiently unpopular that, for practical purposes, most members of the community do not regard the rights of those people as mattering. Those unpopular groups include alleged paedophiles, alleged terrorists, aborigines, people with mental disorders and Muslims. This is not to say that the feeling against each of those groups runs as deep and as strong as anti-Semitism at the time of Dreyfus’s trial. But it is strong enough that a large majority of people in our society do not regard the rights of those groups as being important enough to deserve recognition or protection.

The possibility of secret trials and trials in which evidence is concealed from the accused and their counsel already exist in Australia as a matter of law, because of the NSI Act and related legislation.

Fair trials are one of the basic promises of democracy. It is a tragedy that we have abandonned the guarantee of fair trials, ostensibly to help save democracy from terrorists. What we will achieve in fact by these measures is a growing concern that the real danger to democracy is our own government.

In December 2004 the House of Lords decided a case concerning UK anti-terrorist laws which allow terror suspects to be held without trial indefinitely. By a majority of 8 to 1 they held that the law impermissibly breached the democratic right to liberty. Lord Hope said that “the right to liberty belongs to each and every individual”. Lord Bingham traced these rights to Magna Carta, and made the point that the struggle for democracy has long focused on the need to protect individual liberty against the might of executive government. Lord Nicholls said:

“Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford. Wholly exceptional circumstances must exist before this extreme step can be justified.”

Lord Hoffman said:

“The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.”

How much more forcefully could that be said of Australia’s “anti-terror” legislation.

By these laws, the Howard government  betrayed the rule of law in Australia. It  damaged Australian democracy more than any terrorist could. It created the new Terror.

Seventeen years on, there has been no improvement.  We would do well to remember the lessons of the Gunpowder Plot.

 

Write to Federal Politicians: Find Out What They Know

Labor and the Coalition are both going to turn back refugee boats.

By doing so, they will (incidentally) be committing the crime of people smuggling, contrary to section 73 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. But who cares if we engage in criminal offences in order to close our doors to refugees?

The trouble is that a lot of MPs simply do not understand what they are going along with.  I urge you to write to Federal MPs to see how much they actually know.  If they don’t answer, you can assume they don’t know.  They probably will not answer.  Keep a record of the responses you get. Send the results to me. We will show up the MPs who do not even have enough manners to answer the questions.

Here is a discussion about the letter-writing experience of a very dedicated person from Niddrie.  It is really useful to get this sort of information, so please let me know how you go.

I urge you to write to your local Federal MP, and to the candidate of the opposite major party.  And if you have the energy, write to other Federal MPs.

There are some things you need to bear in mind if you write to MPs:

  1. Don’t tell them what you think: they are not listening.
  2. Ask just one or two questions.
  3. Ask questions which are directed to finding out what they know.  If they pass the letter to someone else to answer (eg, the Minister or Shadow Minister, you will see they are not willing to give their own opinion.
  4. Keep the letter really SHORT.  It is harder for them to disguise the fact that their response is not an answer to your question.

The ideal letter goes something like this:

“Dear X

I am a voter in [your electorate].

Do you think boat people are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?

Your faithfully…”

If you get a reply, it will probably be a couple of pages of waffle which does not answer your questions, but recites their party’s policy.  So write again, something like this:

“Dear X

I am still a voter in [your electorate].  thank you for your letter, but it did not answer my questions. Here they are again:

Do you think boat people are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?

Yours faithfully…”

Keep at them.

If they duck your questions more than 3 times, you can assume that they either can’t answer your questions (so do not even consider voting for them) or they know the answer and are too embarrassed by the facts.

Follow this link to find the names and contact details of Federal MPs

Kate had a good idea: form a social group; get together once a week to write letters; compare responses you have received; make it an enjoyable social event.  This way, you will (between you) write lots of letters.

Here are some sample questions you can ask:

  • Do you think people who arrive by boat to seek asylum in Australia are “illegal”?  If so, what offence do they commit?
  • Are you worried about boat people drowning?  If so, do you think it is alright to punish the ones who do not drown?
  • Do you think boat people in Nauru and Manus Island are treated humanely?
  • Do you think it is OK to put children in immigration detention?  Is it OK to have children held on Nauru?
  • In your opinion, what is the maximum time a refugee child should spend on Nauru?
  • What is the average number of boat people who have come to Australia each year in the past 40 years?  What is the average number of permanent new migrants who have come to Australia each year in the past 40 years?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia should be detained indefinitely?
  • Do you believe indefinite detention of asylum seekers is humane?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia should be taken against their will to Nauru or Manus Island?
  • Do you believe people who seek asylum in Australia and are held in Nauru or Manus Island are treated humanely?  If yes, in what way is that a deterrent?
  • Do you think it is acceptable to treat boat people harshly in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia?
  • Do you know how much offshore detention costs per person, per year?  If so, how much?
  • What is the average time boat people spend in detention?
  • Do you think there is a “queue” for refugees?  If so, where is it?
  • Do you support the idea of turning back asylum seeker boats?  If so, have you checked whether turning back asylum seeker boats breaches section 73 of the commonwealth Criminal Code?  Does it?
  • Are you worried about boat people drowning?  If so, how many people have drowned in boats that have been turned back?
  • In your opinion, could we process asylum claims in Malaysia or Indonesia and safely resettle people who are assessed as refugees?
  • Do you think we need to be protected from boat people?  If so, what risk do they present?
  • Do you think we need to be protected from children who come to Australia as boat people? If so, what risk are they to us?

The more people who write to MPs, the sooner they will wake up to the facts: we are treating refugees cruelly, and it is utterly pointless.

Follow this link to find the names and contact details of Federal MPs

How the World decided to help Refugees

A lot of people have the wrong idea about refugee protection: where it comes from, what it involves, etc.

Before the second World War, people facing persecution in Germany fled to any country they could reach: if they had family in other countries, that helped.  But they had very few rights.

Before WWII, the voyage of the St Louis showed us what was at stake.

In May 1939, a ship called the St Louis left Hamburg, carrying 900 Jewish refugees.  Its captain was Gustav Schroeder.  The St Louis was denied access to every port it approached, and eventually it had to return to Europe, despite the efforts of Captain Schroeder.  More than half the refugees on the St Louis ultimately perished in concentration camps.

In light of the current political attitudes in Australia, it is worth noting that Captain Schroeder was a people smuggler.  Those countries who denied the St Louis the right to land might look back now and ask whether their decision was a policy success or a humanitarian tragedy.

After WWII, as the world drew breath in horror at what had happened to the millions of people who could not escape persecution, two major international instruments were prepared and adopted:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), and
  • The Refugees Convention (1951).

The UDHR starts with a preamble which captures some essential points:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …”

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution…”

And the central obligation under the Refugees Convention is in Article 33:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler“) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

The combination of the two provisions means that a person is entitled to seek asylum, and an asylum seeker who arrives in a country which has signed the Refugees Convention cannot be “refouleddirectly (by returning them to the country they have fled) or indirectly (by sending them to a country which has not signed the Refugees Convention and which can’t be prevented from returning them to the country they have fled).

The point of this is to share the burden of refugee movement, so refugees will not be forced into countries immediately adjacent to trouble spots.

It is often said that there are about 80 million refugees in the world today. Australia’s reaction suggests that we fear they will all try to come here.  A couple of important points: only about 20 million of them are on the move: the rest ire internally displaced in their country of origin.  but even if all 80 million were on the move, the world’s population is about 8 billion.  That means that just 1% of the world’s population are refugees.  If we were all true to the UDHR, every country would accept an increase of its population of 1%.  But Australia went hysterical when a record number of 25,000 boat people arrived her in 2012: that’s just one tenth of one percent of our population!

Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been characterised by increasing cruelty, and this is explicitly to deter other people from seeking asylum here: we make the idea of seeking asylum in Australia look even worse than facing persecution at home.  some politicians say that our cruelty to boat-people is an expression of concern that they may drown in their attempt to cross from Indonesia to Australia.  They are lying when they say it.

Let’s be very clear about this: every death at sea is a tragedy.  No-one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape persecution, but the often-recited concern about refugees drowning is just hypocritical propaganda.  Let me be plain about this: when politicians like Abbott and Morrison and Turnbull and Dutton say they are worried about refugees drowning on their way to Australia, they are lying: they are deceiving the public.  If they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.

Morrison as PM brags about “stopping the boats”.   But remember when he was Immigration Minister: he turned boats back, and denied us any information about the people on those boats: it was an “on-water matter”.  Let’s be clear about this: If a person drowns after their boat has been turned back, we aren’t allowed to know about it.  If a person chooses to escape by travelling North instead of South, and if they drown in the Mediterranean, we won’t hear about it.  And if they decide to stand their ground and their persecutor kills them, they’re still dead, just as if they had drowned.

Our politicians claim to be saving lives by stopping the boats, but it’s just a cynical way of winning votes while inflicting cruelty and misery on desperate people.

Oh, and just in case you missed it, our mistreatment of refugees in Manus Island and Nauru costs billions of dollars a year, and it’s costing us our reputation as a decent country.  Remember in June this year then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion…”

So we are now  country where a senior Minister of the Crown can argue against compassion.  Even a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

So here’s an alternative policy, which shows a bit of compassion:

  • Shut down offshore processing: it’s needlessly cruel and expensive.
  • Assume the boats will start arriving again (far from certain, but assume it)
  • Initial detention of unauthorised arrivals, to enable health and security checks to be carried out;
  • Initial detention to continue for no longer than one month, unless a judge is satisfied in a particular case that continued detention is reasonably necessary;
  • At end of initial detention, release into the community on an interim visa, pending determination of protection visa application.  The interim visa would include conditions which:
    • allowed the asylum seeker to work;
    • allowed full Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
    • Required the asylum seeker to live in  specified regional or rural area;

Conditions might, if thought appropriate, include wearing an electronic bracelet to permit the wearer to be tracked.

Even if every asylum seeker stayed on full Centrelink benefits (which is highly unlikely, give that they are mostly courageous and motivated), all the Centrelink allowance would be spent in the ailing economy of whatever regional area the visa required the asylum seeker to live in.  After all, when you have paid rent, food and clothes, there’s not much left over.  And right now we are spending about $650k per refugee per year keeping them in hellish conditions in Manus and Nauru.

Protecting refugees

A lot of people have the wrong idea about refugee protection: where it comes from, what it involves, etc.

Before the second World War, people facing persecution in Germany fled to any country they could reach: if they had family in other countries, that helped.  But they had very few rights.

After WWII, as the world drew breath in horror at what had happened to the millions of people who could not escape persecution, two major international instruments were prepared and adopted:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), and
  • The Refugees Convention (1951).

The UDHR starts with a preamble which captures some essential points:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …”

Article 14 of the UDHR says this:

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution…”

And the central obligation under the Refugees Convention is in Article 33:

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler“) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

The combination of the two provisions means that a person is entitled to seek asylum, and an asylum seeker who arrives in a country which has signed the Refugees Convention cannot be “refouleddirectly (by returning them to the country they have fled) or indirectly (by sending them to a country which has not signed the Refugees Convention and which can’t be prevented from returning them to the country they have fled).

The point of this is to share the burden of refugee movement, so refugees will not be forced into countries immediately adjacent to trouble spots.

Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum has been characterised by increasing cruelty, and this is explicitly to deter other people from seeking asylum here: we make the idea of seeking asylum in Australia look even worse than facing persecution at home.  some politicians say that our cruelty to boat-people is an expression of concern that they may drown in their attempt to cross from Indonesia to Australia.  they are lying when they say it.

Let’s be very clear about this: every death at sea is a tragedy.  No-one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape persecution, but the often-recited concern about refugees drowning is just hypocritical propaganda.  Let me be plain about this: when politicians like Abbott and Morrison and Turnbull and Dutton say they are worried about refugees drowning on their way to Australia, they are lying: they are deceiving the public.  If they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.

Morrison as PM brags about “stopping the boats”.   But remember when he was Immigration Minister: he turned boats back, and denied us any information about the people on those boats: it was an “on-water matter”.  Let’s be clear about this: If a person drowns after their boat has been turned back, we aren’t allowed to know about it.  If a person chooses to escape by travelling North instead of South, and if they drown in the Mediterranean, we won’t hear about it.  And if they decide to stand their ground and their persecutor kills them, they’re still dead, just as if they had drowned.

Our politicians claim to be saving lives by stopping the boats, but it’s just a cynical way of winning votes while inflicting cruelty and misery on desperate people.

Oh, and just in case you missed it, our mistreatment of refugees in Manus Island and Nauru costs billions of dollars a year, and it’s costing us our reputation as a decent country.  Remember in June this year then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion…”

So we are now  country where a senior Minister of the Crown can argue against compassion.  Even a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

Ottomans abandon siege of Vienna, 12 September 1683

President George W Bush  never displayed much sensitivity for the nuances of language.  Even its basic rules elude him.  Consider a few of his famous blunders whilst speaking on public occasions, and try to imagine the qualities of his less-considered private discourse:

“More and more of our imports come from overseas”,

“What I’m against is quotas. I’m against hard quotas, quotas that basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society.”

“If you’re sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign.”

“You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”

He tended to speak in semantic near-misses, and his grammar lurches from one rough approximation to the next.

During the incumbency of this linguistic torment, the world changed permanently and catastrophically.  In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the USA, President Bush said that America and the rest of the free world would embark on a “crusade against terrorism”.  He soon changed his choice of words.  It became a “war on terrorism”.  Bush may not be a master of the language, but his spin-meisters quickly saw that crusade had connotations which might give offence beyond the intended range.

Crusade is historically associated with the series of assaults by Christian forces against Muslim control of Jerusalem and the Christian shrine of the Holy Sepulchre.  There were 8 main crusades,  between 1095 and 1270.  The disastrous 4th crusade culminated in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, during which the great library there was looted and destroyed.  The only extant copies of many classical texts were lost to mankind.  It was an event of cultural destruction almost unparalleled in history.

Etymologically, Bush’s advisors were wise to drop references to a crusade.  The word came to English via French and derives ultimately from crux, the Latin for cross.  It was variously spelt croisad, croissard, croisada, crusada, etc.  Specifically it meant a military expedition by the Christians to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims; and, by transference, any military expedition blessed by the church.  In short: a holy war.

The equivalent expression in Arabic is jihad.   The Western world has reacted with understandable alarm when  Osama bin Laden declared a jihad on various nations, including Australia which managed to lift itself from safe obscurity to swaggering prominence in a single idiotic gesture.  But it was President Bush who first invoked the language of holy wars.

Our headlong rush into conflict has brought into common currency a number of words previously misused or unfamiliar: mufti, fatwa, sheikh, shah, and mullah among others.

A mufti is a canonical lawyer in Islam: he gives decisions on questions of faith.  The word is derived from the active participle of afta, which is the 4th conjugation of fata: to give a decision.  A decision so given is a fatwa. A fatwa may be benign or dangerous according to the subject matter.  Most English speakers first heard of a fatwa in connection with Salman Rushdie: it had been decided that, because he had written The Satanic Verses, he should be killed wherever he could be found.  Even those who are immune to the charms of Rushdie’s writings thought this was an unreasonable restriction on free speech.  This very harsh and public fatwa gave fatwas in general a bad name in the West.

Mufti is commonly used in the West as referring to civilian clothes worn by one accustomed to wear a uniform.  It is thought to derive from the passing similarity between the regalia of a mufti and the English affectation of dressing gown, smoking cap and slippers.

The mullah has various meanings in various parts of the Muslim world.  In North Africa, a mullah is a king, sultan or other leader.  Further east, and in the Indian sub-continent, a mullah is similar to a mufti.  He is a man learned in theology and sacred law.  The Qur’an uses mullah in reference to Allah.  Thus, it is a word which maps almost perfectly onto the English Lord, signifying a position of leadership territorial, legal or spiritual.

Allah comes from al ilah: where al is the Arabic definite article, and ilah is the Aramaic for God.  The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an.  Qur’an means “recitation”: it is a recitation of the various teachings of God as received by the prophet Mohammed over the course of 20 years up to his death in 767 AD.  It is composed of 114 surahs (chapters), arranged according to length, with the longer surahs first.  Since the earlier teachings were rather shorter, the book is arranged, roughly, in reverse chronological order.  Incidentally, Islam recognises Moses and Jesus as prophets, and the God of the Qur’an is the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians: the crusades were more an argument about the messenger than about the message.

An essential feature of the teachings in the Qur’an is the importance of unquestioning submission to the teachings of the prophet.  Islam means resignation or submission.  It  is the 4th conjugation of salama: “he was or became safe, secure, or free”; hence salaam as a greeting of peace, which is coupled with a gesture of submission.  Self-evidently, salaam is cognate with the Hebrew greeting shalom (peace).

Many muslim words incorporate the name of Allah:

Allahu’akhbar  “God is great”

Bismillah (bi’sim illah) “in the name of God”

Hezbollah (hezb = party) “party of God”: an extreme Shiite Muslim sect.

Inshallah “if Allah wills it”; God willing

Mashallah “what God wills must come to pass”

Like mullahsheikh has meanings which vary with geography.  Its original meaning was “an old man”: specifically a man of 50 years or greater.  (In times past, age and wisdom were seen as functionally related.  This philosophy was temporarily displaced when the baby boomers graduated from university, and was rediscovered when they began to collect their superannuation.  The process continues, with resistance from Generation X).  A sheikh is the chief of an Arab family or tribe; the leader of an Arabian village.  It is also applied to heads of religious orders, heads of learned colleges, heads of towns or villages, to learned men generally.   It is also accorded to those who have memorized the entire Qur’an at whatever age (a fair achievement, since it is about 300 pages long).

Although closely related in sound and meaning, the shah is etymologically unrelated to the sheikh.  Shah is Persian for King.  It has left one important trace in English.  In that most civilized form of warfare, chess, the game ends when one player places the opponent’s king in a position from which it cannot escape.  The King is not formally taken, but it is unable to move to a position where it could avoid being taken.  The victor announces “checkmate”.  That triumphant declaration is the anglicised shah mat: the King dies.

The crusade I began with was once a croissard, which is reminiscent of croissant.  They are not etymologically related, but there is a connection between them.  While croissade-crusade came from Latin crux (French croix),  croissant is French for crescent.  In 1683, Vienna was struggling to survive a seige by the Ottoman Turks.  A Pole named Kolscitzky, who was learned in Turkish, came to their rescue.  He escaped through enemy lines to reach the Duke of Lorraine, who hurried to relieve the city.  The Turks were repelled and Vienna was saved.  Kolscitzky became very popular and famous.  He persuaded a baker to produce a sweet bread roll in celebration of Vienna’s victory over the Turks.  It was shaped like the crescent on the Turkish flag.

We call them croissants because at some point the French took ownership of this Polish-Austrian idea.  The crescent they imitate refers originally to the new moon as it grows towards the first quarter: the word comes from the Latin crescere to grow (from which we also get crescendo, and increase).  As a new moon grows it is a waxing crescent moon (a tautology); after the first quarter it is waxing gibbous (from the Latin for hump) and then full.  As the full moon declines, it is waning gibbous, then after the last quarter it is waning crescent (a contradiction in terms).

Incidentally, during his perilous journey, Kolscitzky had learned how to make coffee.  After the seige ended, he came by  a sack of coffee beans abandoned by the retreating Turks.  He was the only person in Vienna who knew what coffee beans were for.  He opened a café which quickly became famous for the drink and popular for its croissants.  He served the coffee with milk and honey, a precursor of the style now known as Vienna coffee.  Although the French stole the croissant, they had the good sense to leave Vienna coffee to the Viennese.

Julian Burnside

 

 

 

French au pairs

How does this work?

The story so far:
-Some Tory squatter couple needs a Froggy au pair to mind their idiot sprogs while they go to the polo.
-La Bimbo gets stopped by border security because she was clearly intending to break her visa conditions.
-Minutes later she is freed to work illegally after a couple of calls by our hero the head of the AFL
-Hundreds of refugees rot on Nauru.
-Dutton tells us there’s nothing to see here: it is irrelevant that the Tory squatter couple’s family are big donors to Dutton’s political party.
-Time to throw up

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/aug/28/peter-dutton-intervened-in-third-au-pair-visa-case-for-afl-bosss-relatives

Scott Morrison – Practising hypocrite

Scott Morrison is now Prime Minister of Australia.  Read this article in the Guardian Australia about a 7-year-old held on Nauru and remember: Scott Morrison could fix this in an instant, if he was true to his stated beliefs.

It is amazing to see how far dishonesty and hypocrisy can get you in this country.

Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament placed great emphasis on his Christian values.  Among other things he said:

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:

… I am theLord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own wellbeing; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:

… we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.

These are my principles.”

If those are Scott Morrison’s principles, he is not a man of his principles.  During his time as Immigration Minister, Morrison showed no trace of “loving kindness” or justice or compassion for refugees who came to Australia by boat looking for protection from persecution.

Peter Dutton claims to be Christian, but he boycotted Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008.  Like other members of Coalition governments during the past 16 years, he refers to boat people as “illegal” and he administers a system of detention which shows astonishing cruelty.

This is not the place to give details of Australia’s mistreatment of refugees: the facts are well-enough known.  Equally well-known is the Coalition message that a harsh refugee policy is essential to protect refugees from the risk of drowning.

But to suggest that Morrison and other politicians are worried about refugees drowning is a lie: a fig-leaf to make immoral mistreatment look compassionate.  “Worried about people drowning”!  So worried that, if they don’t drown, we punish them as if they were criminals, and call them “illegal” to make their punishment look vaguely respectable.  We do it, explicitly, as a deterrent so that others will not try to find safety in Australia.  And these dishonest politicians, pretending to be motivated by compassion, overlook altogether that if persecuted people stand their ground and are killed by their persecutors, they are still dead: just as if they drowned; if they die in an attempt to escape to some other country, they are still dead: just as if they drowned.

For politicians like Morrison, Abbott, Turnbull and Dutton to say they are worried about boat people drowning is a lie.  For them to mistreat asylum seekers in the way they do is a betrayal of the Christian values they cherish.

Our new PM, Scott Morrison, is a dishonest hypocrite, just like the PM he replaces and Dutton, who replaced him as Immigration Minister.

Human Rights Abuses in Israel

Recently I was invited to speak at the annual dinner of AFOPA (Australian Friends of Palestine Association) in Adelaide:

Australian Friends of Palestine Association – 4 November 2017

It sounds pathetic: I just did not know.

I did not realise what was being done to Palestinians.

I was vaguely aware of troubles in Israel, of course. I was vaguely aware of reports of Palestinian youths causing trouble, throwing stones at Israeli settlers. I was vaguely aware that Israelis who were attacked would strike back.  And of course, like most people, I was aware that the State of Israel was established as a homeland for the Jews who are one of the most persecuted races in all of history.

But I did not realise how shockingly the human rights of Palestinians are being violated.

It’s 69 year since al-Nakba: when more than 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes; 500 villages were destroyed; 15,000 Palestinians were killed.

It’s 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration originated in a letter written by Lord Balfour on 2 November 1917: 2 days after the famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade.

Back then, the Palestinians fought alongside the British. They didn’t get much gratitude: the Balfour Declaration included this paragraph:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

As it turned out, the rights of Palestinians have been comprehensively trashed.

And when Malcolm Turnbull went to Beersheba recently to celebrate the famous battle, no Palestinian leader was invited to attend.

The abuses of the human rights of Palestinians are getting worse. In particular, Palestinian children are grossly mistreated, despite the provisions of various international human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

Palestinian children as young as 12 :

  • Are being arrested in their homes, at night, between 10pm and 5 am
  • Are being taken away, blindfolded, hooded, their hands tied
  • They are often placed on the floor of the van that takes them away, and they are taken by long, slow routes, so they often spend hours on the floor in the back of the van
  • They are physically abused: head-butted, kicked, tasered, dragged across the ground
  • They are strip-searched and threatened
  • They are interrogated without being told they are entitled to have their parents present; without being told they are entitled to have a lawyer present; without any warning that they have the right to remain silent
  • Some Palestinian children have been held in solitary confinement for weeks on end.

And beyond all this, there is the Israeli Defence Force’s use of administrative detention: detention without charge, without trial; sometimes for months.

John Lyons recently published a piece in the Weekend Australian. It includes this paragraph:

“Twice a week they had children’s days when children as young as 12 faced the army judges. I caught a glimpse of four young boys, in brown prison overalls, shuffling across the courtyard. They were handcuffed and shackled at the feet. I thought: if the 1nost powerful army in the Middle East thinks it’s acceptable to treat children like this, then something has gone badly wrong…”

Israel has been warned that these things are a gross violation of international human rights norms. Its response has been to suppress information about what it is doing.

The legal rights of Palestinian children are not the same as the legal rights of Israeli children. Palestinian children are treated as legally responsible when they are 12; Israeli children are not legally responsible until they are 14.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court.  Israeli children are taken to a civil court; Palestinian children are taken to a military court. Israeli children are treated properly if they come into contact with the criminal justice system; Palestinian children are not.

Israel is making the same tragic mistake Australia makes in relation to boat people. It seems to have forgotten completely the most fundamental point: these are human beings.

Anyone who criticises Israel’s conduct can expect a fierce response. John Lyons writes about it. Anthony Loewenstein has experienced it, and so have I.

I do not wish to deflect attention from the mistreatment of Palestinians for one moment, but it is worth noticing that we have a parallel set of events in Australia.

Australian Aborigines know what it is like to have your land taken; they know what it is like to be kept out of privileged areas; they know what it is like to be given a different, and inferior, legal status; they know what it is like for their children to be taken, mistreated, turned into aliens in their own land.

As I learned what was being done to Palestinian children, I had a recurring vision of the Aboriginal children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

And Australia has a terrible record for mistreatment of children whose parents brought them to Australia as boat people: they get locked up indefinitely, in what the legal system regards as…yes…”administrative detention”. No charge, no trial.

It is eminently appropriate that AFOPA was founded in South Australia. South Australia leads this country in many things, not least in its advocacy for decent treatment of boat people. And South Australia is the only State where an Aboriginal man, who was taken from his parents when he was 13 months old, was accepted by a Court to have been taken unlawfully, and to have suffered harm as a result.

South Australians seem to understand human rights. Please support the work of AFOPA: keep reminding our politicians that what is being done to Palestinians is utterly unacceptable; donate to charities which concern themselves with human rights: especially Military Court Watch, which is doing remarkable work reporting the atrocious treatment of Palestinians. And hit social media: make sure Australians learn the truth about what is happening. After all, if our political “leaders” hide from the truth, let’s use the new democracy of social media to remind them.

 

 

 

Why People Flee for Safety

Here is a message I received from Paul Ronalds of Save The Children. It is an excellent account of what forces people to become refugees. Read it, and ask yourself what you would do to reach safety, if you were in this unhappy position?

It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow (25 August 2018) marks one year since the Rohingya crisis unfolded in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. Brutal violence drove Rohingya people from their homes, leading to one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Now, with more than 800,000 refugees living in crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the settlement has earned the dubious title of being the world’s largest refugee camp.

Twelve months ago, whole villages were burned to the ground. Families and children embarked on treacherous journeys – some by foot and others on unsafe boats – desperately hoping to find safety in neighbouring Bangladesh. Against all odds, a lot made it – albeit malnourished, sick or wounded. But a lot didn’t.

Of those who did make it over the border, more than 55% were children. Some arrived unaccompanied and separated from family – distressed and too exhausted to speak. While others arrived as orphans, having tragically seen their parents or relatives killed.

These are events no child should ever have to experience.

Eight-year-old Aziz* is one of those children. He has experienced unthinkable brutality and he has endured lifechanging events that most adults would find hard to imagine.

Aziz was separated from his family after an armed group came to their village, randomly shooting and beating people. The family fled to safety but, in their scrambled escape, Aziz was shot twice in the leg and fractured his arm as he fell to the ground. Unfortunately, no one realised Aziz had been wounded and left behind – until it was too late.

After the violence settled, family and friends searched desperately for the young boy. But when they eventually found him, they were forced back into hiding and couldn’t access medical services for a week. By which time, Aziz’s leg had become so badly infected it had to be amputated. Likewise, his injured arm was irreparably damaged.

After 25 days in the clinic, Aziz returned home but soon after the armed groups mounted fresh attacks. This time there was no hiding in the hills, the family knew they had to leave their home indefinitely.

Trekking in heavy rain – sometimes wading through thigh-high mud and clay – and without any food or water, it took them nine days to reach Cox’s Bazar by foot. Aziz, still frail from his surgery, was carried by his 16-year-old sister.

Aziz and his family have been in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp for almost 12 months. It’s a grim existence, living in precarious shelters and facing constant threats of malnutrition and disease, but still Aziz and his family consider themselves among the ‘lucky’ ones.

The task of providing food, water, shelter, sanitation, healthcare and education to so many vulnerable people in such a short period of time has been immense. But our work has meant Aziz – and 370,000 Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar – have received these essentials. They’ve had access to a health clinic and have been able to attend child-friendly spaces, which has been particularly beneficial for Aziz’s psychological recovery and wellbeing.

But our work is far from finished.

In the months leading up to this first anniversary, camps have had to contend with monsoon and cyclone conditions. Heavy showers and powerful winds have torn through the overcrowded and already-fragile settlements, which are highly susceptible to landslides.

Already, there have been thousands of mini landslides. Around 8,000 refugees have been directly affected and just over 4,000 have had to move because their makeshift shelters have been destroyed.

We have prioritised our work preparing communities for monsoons and cyclones – running flood preparedness workshops and setting up lost child points to help reunite families and children after storms. But we are deeply concerned about the potential for a health disaster in the camps.

Any outbreak of disease in these fragile conditions and cramped spaces could spread quickly and would be potentially catastrophic.

In short, it could create a disaster within a disaster.

Over the past year, the Government of Bangladesh, UN agencies and NGOs like us, have mounted an enormous humanitarian response. But it must be drastically ramped up if we are to alleviate the uncertainty these families and children continue to endure.

Thousands of Rohingya children, just like Aziz, are in urgent need of support. With your help, I believe we can reach them – we can keep them safe from disease, abuse and exploitation. We can provide them with life essentials and we can give them the chance to go back to school. With your help, I believe we can allow them to be kids again.

Tomorrow, as we mark 12 months since the crisis began, please join me in making a gift to our Rohingya Crisis Appeal. With your support, we can ensure Rohingya children are given the best possible chance to recover from this humanitarian disaster.

PS, Read our recent donor impact report The Rohingya Crisis One Year of Your Support, it explains how donors, like you, have helped our work with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

*Name have been changedPaul Ronalds | Chief Executive Officer | Save the Children Australia
33 Lincoln Square South, Carlton Vic 3053

 

The Brilliant Cathy Wilcox

Here is a letter by Freddie Steen to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.  I agree with every word of it.

The Editor ,

Cathy Wilcox(“political cartoon, 1/8) cuts to the core: Dutton’s punitive, care-less  position on the human  status of men seeking asylum , lets young men die.

A breach of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention RG Menzies freely signed in 1954.

The death of Hamid Khazaie  is now world history as a preventable death in administrative  immigration detention, in itself illegal in PNG.

But there is so much more.

The Biloela Tamil family with two babies,  remains locked up in Melbourne Detention.

The body of the young Iranian who could stand it no more on Nauru , lies in an undertaker’s vault in Brisbane and his widow, mother and 12 year old brother are refused travel to bury him.

Baby Asha from Nauru, and baby Ferouz born in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital are still living in limbo.

 Mojgan the Brisbane  student plucked out of Year 12, separated from her Australian resident husband , and  re detained  in Darwin detention is  now living  in Brisbane with uncertainty, on a visa that is temporary.

And  “ Ali”, the 63 year old  Hazara refugee  is dying with terminal cancer  in Brisbane  immigration detention,  when 2000 doctors signed a petition  telling the Minister that palliative  support and medical  services on Nauru are  not at an Australian standard, and Ali must be brought here.

There are 60 000  + people  residing among us illegally without a valid visa , yet a proven Afghan  refugee who came the dangerous way by boat five years ago ,   is deprived at the end of his days of the freedom he dreams of for his family , for which he risked his life.

Like tens of thousands of Australians, this makes me ashamed and sad.

Frederika E Steen  AM
(address supplied)

The Australian Government can save Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an Australian. He is in trouble overseas.  He needs the Australian government’s help.

For six years he has been virtually a prisoner in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  The reason he is there is because he is the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, which published evidence of war crimes leaked by an American soldier, Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning as a matter of conscience. WikiLeaks has since revealed the secrets of the world’s unaccountable forces. This Australian has provided an historic public service.

The Americans have made it clear from the start that they want to get Assange, who has good reason to fear he will be mistreated the way Chelsea Manning was. That’s why this week’s events in London are so critical. Will the Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno, at present visiting London and under pressure from Washington, abandon the man his country has so honourably protected?

Julian Assange has never been charged with any crime. In 2010, Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain under a European Arrest Warrant. When it became clear that Sweden was likely to hand him over to the Americans, he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The Swedish case has been dropped, but the British authorities still want him for jumping bail.  If he steps out of the Embassy, they will very likely hand him over to the Americans.

This Australian needs Australia’s help.

He has not seen sunshine or felt rain for 6 years. Try to imagine what it is like to be stuck indoors for 6 years.  Whatever your view of what he did, 6 years inside is enough.

His health has deteriorated badly over those 6 years.  I visited him at the Embassy  in the middle of June: he is looking much frailer than when I saw him there in mid-2012.

His teeth are causing great pain: a dentist can’t visit him.   He needs root-canal surgery, which is not possible except in a fully equipped dental surgery.

He is suffering from oedema: his legs are swelling.

His eyesight is fading, because he cannot look into the distance: the most distant thing from him inside the Embassy is a view down the corridor, which is perhaps 10 metres.

His bone-density is reducing seriously, because he has not been in the sunshine for 6 years, and exercise is difficult.

The government of Ecuador changed recently, and conditions in the Embassy have changed as well: it is now much more difficult for Assange to receive visitors, and he does not have access to a phone or the internet.

Because the British authorities are likely to hand him over to the Americans, Assange does not dare to step out of the Embassy.  That’s why he needs the help of the Australian government.  Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop could easily reach a diplomatic agreement with Britain to allow Assange to be brought safely back to Australia, where his family is.  If the Americans want to extradite him, they can apply to an Australian Court. The Australian Government has given help to other Australians in trouble overseas – such as the journalist Peter Greste in Egypt.

It in era of diminishing rights, of widespread insecurity and injustice, it is time to recognise one who has stood against the tide. Julian Assange needs our help, urgently. The Government should give it without delay.

 

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018

I was honoured to be invited to give the 2018 Hobart Oration.  It is sponsored by the Bob Brown Foundation.  Here is what I said.

Hobart Oration 23 July 2018:  Justice for the next Generation?  The Collapse of Values.

The two great issues our generation is leaving the next are climate change and the treatment of refugees.

Climate change

I have no hesitation in saying that climate change is the number one issue today: refugees are a second-order issue, but they just happen to be the issue which has captured my attention.

Both are issues which the next generation will have to solve, if humanity is to survive and flourish.

It is often overlooked that climate change has been known about for a long time.  The foundations were laid by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier, who noted that the Earth was too far from the Sun to account for a temperature which could support life, unless the atmosphere trapped some of the sun’s heat.

Later the Irish physicist John Tyndall identified the role of water vapour, CO² and methane as the key factors in trapping infra-red heat and thus maintaining atmospheric temperature.

Fourier’s work was done in 1824, Tyndal’s in 1859.  Later a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, named the ‘Greenhouse effect’ and calculated the relationship between CO² levels and atmospheric temperature with astonishing accuracy.  That was in 1896.

Let’s take a moment to look at what Australia is doing — or not doing — on climate change.

In November 2016 an expert advisory panel reported that coal-fired Queensland, with just 7% of its power generation from renewables at present, could lift that to 50% by 2030 with very little cost to electricity consumers.  The Queensland government would subsidise renewables.  The federal energy minister, Josh Frydenberg criticised the report.

We are a uniquely embarrassing case on the global stage: the Gillard Government put in place a fairly comprehensive domestic climate policy with a carbon price by that was later dismantled.  Our emissions have risen every year since.  Malcolm Turnbull has failed to adopt policies any more advanced than those of the troglodyte Tony Abbott.   Conservative politics in Australia will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards energy sector reform.

To watch Malcolm Turnbull fade into a shadow of what he could have been is to watch the slow destruction of a man the country once respected on many of our most important issues. He seems unable to lead his party, and has capitulated to the hard right: intellectual giants like Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz – particularly on the issues of climate change and refugees – that Australia’s global reputation on climate change has gone from global leader to global threat.

Since the world signed the Paris Agreement, here are some of our “achievements”:

  • Tony Abbott asked the mining industry to “demonstrate its gratitude” to the retiring Federal Resources Minister – Ian MacFarlane – who had dismantled the mining tax. The Industry paid attention, and MacFarlane got a $500k per year job with the Queensland Resources Council — on top of his $140k Parliamentary pension — so he can spruik for the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.  And Abbott recently expressed regret that he had signed Australia up to the Paris Agreement in the first place.
  • The government fast-tracked the Adani coal mine in Queensland – one of the biggest coal basins in the world which, if developed, would blow any chance the world has of remaining below 2 degrees of global warming.  It continues to press for the Adani mine to go ahead.
  • It has attacked environmental groups standing up for the world’s climate and trying to protect our natural environment. The Turnbull Government launched a two-pronged attack on environmental groups – the first attack: seeking to amend the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This Act allows groups and individuals to legally challenge resource projects if they are a threat to water or the environment. It is an incredibly important provision – introduced by the Howard Government – that allows for a check on the Government’s power. The second attack: on the tax-deductible status of environmental not-for-profits. This is an attempt to silence groups who are standing up against fossil fuel projects.  Recent changes introduced by the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 present an additional threat to environmental groups with foreign affiliation.
  • In May of 2016 it was revealed that the government censored a UN report on the extent of bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and how much of a role climate change had to play in it. In 2016 the health of the reef got a “D” on the Australian government’s annual report card for the fifth year in a row and large-scale bleaching in the northern part of the reef threatens to see it never return to a productive state.  To put this in perspective, the world’s coral reefs have perished before, but they recovered… 10,000 years later.  That should be encouraging for the Great Barrier Reef tourist operators.
  • The Government launched an ideological war on renewable energy after the notorious South Australian blackout. It culminated in Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trying to bully the states out of their ambitious renewable energy targets and pushing them instead to focus on promoting onshore gas production.
  • The Australian government actively resisted and watered down restrictions on financing of coal plants by OECD export credit agencies in 2015 because the government wants more coal plants to be built so that there are new markets for Australian coal.

And we thought Donald Trump was embarrassing!

By exporting our coal, we are exporting our emissions to other countries that we are not required to take responsibility for under our UN climate commitments. Just Australia’s domestic emissions equate to 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions – 16th in the world.

However, if we add emissions from our exported coal to our domestic emissions, Australia’s carbon footprint trebles in size and we become the 6th largest emitter after China, the USA, Russia, India and Indonesia – all of which have populations over 250 million.

Even worse is that if the proposed Adani coal mine and development of the Galilee Basin goes ahead, we would be responsible for 705 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

This is at a time when reports are telling us that if there is any chance of avoiding the ‘safe’ 2 degree warming scenario that no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead, and that current ones need to be scaled back.

It is up to us – Australian citizens – to lead the way on climate and make the moral case for climate change leadership.

And still the climate change deniers are taken seriously by our media.

We need to force our politicians to consider the precautionary principle.  About 97% of the world’s climate scientists accept that climate change is real, anthropogenic and dangerous.  Deniers would point out that science is not decided by popular vote.  True enough, although it is sometimes useful to listen to people who know what they are talking about.  But let’s accept it: the scientists may be wrong.

Let’s give odds of 80% against the scientists: that is, let’s assume there is an 80% chance they are wrong.  But if they are right, if the 20% chance comes in, the result will be catastrophic and avoidable.  20% chance of a catastrophic, avoidable result is worse odds than Russian Roulette. So next time someone argues the denialist case, ask them if they are willing to play Russian Roulette with their children or grand-children.

And let’s face it: if we spend the money to avoid climate change, and if the denialists turn out to be right, the worst you can say is that we cleaned up the planet for no reason…

Refugees

It is tempting to reach far back into history for the origins of human rights thinking.  But it is not necessary to go back further than 1948.

The Universal Declaration was the work of a surprising activist: Eleanor Roosevelt.  She was the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died shortly before the end of the Second World War.  She was also cousin to Roosevelt and had grown up in the rich surroundings of the Roosevelt family.  But Eleanor Roosevelt was a genuine egalitarian and had set her heart on responding decisively to the horrors of the Second World War.

The Universal Declaration begins as follows:

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, …

It’s not widely remembered that Australia was advocating that the rights it declared should be enforceable. The inspiration for that of course came from the fact that Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister at the time and Doc Evatt, uniquely among Australians, was the President of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations.  Australia’s influence in the formation of the declaration was very significant, especially considering that we only had a population of about 3.5 million back then.

I like to think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a genuine reflection of the sentiment of the times: across Australia and across the world.

But things changed.  At the start of 2001, John Howard was facing an election to be held in November that year.  He played what he probably hoped would be a trump card and which turned out to be more successful than his devious mind could have dared hope for.  He became aware that a small boat, the Palapa, carrying Hazara refugees from Afghanistan was falling apart in the Indian Ocean.  He knew the Norwegian container ship the MV Tampa was in the area.  He asked the Tampa to rescue the people on the Palapa.

The captain of the Tampa agreed, and when he found the Palapa he thought it might hold maybe 50 people.  He was astonished when 434 people climbed out of the water, up the rope ladder and onto the deck of the Tampa.

Australia – indeed the whole world – knew about the Taliban’s murderous attitude to Hazaras.  In February that year, the Taliban had publicly destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas.  The statues had been erected 1500 years earlier by Hazaras – thought to be descendants of Genghis Khan – when they arrived in the area now known as Afghanistan.  Hazaras are readily identifiable, because they look Asian.  They were Buddhists when they arrived, but later converted to Islam.  But they embraced Shia Islam.  The Taliban are Sunni Muslims, and claimed that they wanted to clear Afghanistan of idolatry.  The division between Shia and sunni Muslims is as sharp as the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics used to be.

When the Tampa had rescued the refugees on the Palapa, there were two problems: some of them were in bad shape and needed medical help.  And the Tampa was licensed to carry 50 people: it had 47 crew, and (suddenly) 434 unexpected passengers.

Captain Arne Rinnan decided to put the refugees ashore at Christmas Island, which was on his planned route.

Christmas Island is a speck of Australian sovereignty in the Indian Ocean.  It is close to the equator.  It is about 2000 kilometres to the nearest point on the West Australian coast and is almost 3000 kilometres from Perth or Darwin.

When the Tampa tried to reach Christmas Island, Howard sent out the SAS, who took command of the bridge at gunpoint.

A stand-off followed.  Howard closed the airspace above Christmas Island, and issued a command that no “humanising images” of the people rescued (they were called “rescuees”) should be taken.  A group of us went to the Federal Court to try and resolve the impasse: after all, there were more than 400 people – men, women and children – being held hostage on the steel deck of a ship, in the tropical sun.  The trial was heard straight away by Justice North in the Federal Court.  He delivered judgment at 2.15 pm, Eastern Australian Time, on 11 September 2001.  The attack on America happened about 8 hours later.

John Howard, always quick to scramble for a political advantage, started calling boat-people “illegals”.  The Federal election was held two months later.  Howard went to the polls with the slogan “We will decide who comes to the country, and the circumstances in which they come.”  The coalition election campaign had Philip Ruddock – the walking spectre – as its pin-up boy.

Australia’s unhappily named “Pacific Solution” involved taking boat-people from Christmas Island to Manus Island or Nauru.

Manus is part of Papua New Guinea. Nauru is an independent republic.  Both are close to the equator.   Both are tiny: Nauru is smaller than Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.

Until 2013, when boat people arrived at Christmas Island, they had typically spent eight or 10 days on a rickety boat.  They had typically come from landlocked countries and had typically never spent time on the ocean.  Typically, they had not had enough to eat or drink on the voyage.  Typically, they had not had any opportunity to wash or to change their clothes.  Typically, they arrived distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.

They were not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they were interviewed by a member of the Immigration Department.  It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.

When they arrived, any medical appliances they have would be confiscated and not returned:  spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs: all were confiscated.  If they had any medications with them, those medications were confiscated and not returned.  According to doctors on Christmas Island, one person had a fulltime job of sitting in front of a bin popping pills out of blister packs for later destruction.

If they had any medical documentation with them, it was confiscated and not returned.  The result of all of this was that people with chronic health problems found themselves denied any effective treatment.  The results could be very distressing.

Doctors were required to determine within 48 hours whether a person was suitable to be moved to Manus or Nauru.  The tests which are necessary for that assessment take seven days to complete.  They were not given the opportunity to complete the tests properly.  The detainees were nevertheless moved to Nauru or Manus.

One doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks because she was generally regarded as psychotic.  Her behaviour was highly erratic, but for reasons no-one understood.  The consultation with this woman was very difficult because, although the doctor and the patient were sitting across a table from each other, the interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney: over 5000 kilometres away.

Eventually, the doctor worked out the problem: the woman was incontinent of urine.  She could not leave her cabin without urine running down her leg.  It was driving her mad.  When the doctor worked out the cause of the problem, she asked the Department to provide incontinence pads.  The Department’s initial response was “we don’t do those”.  The doctor insisted.  The Department relented and provided four per day:  more than that would be a fire hazard, they said.

In 2012, the Pacific Solution was revived by Julia Gillard and in 2013 it became much harsher thanks to Kevin Rudd, in his second incarnation as PM.

From 2013, boat people were sent for offshore processing more or less regardless of circumstances.  So, for example, we know of cases where some members of a refugee family arrived in Australia before the cut-off date, were assessed as genuine refugees, and have since been settled in the Australian community.  But their family had been split up in the course of the journey, and some of the arrived just after the cut-off date, and are still held in Manus or Nauru.

From 19 July 2013, boat people have been sent offshore as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to seek asylum in Australia.  Behrooz Bouchani is held on Manus.  He has written a book called No Friend but the Mountains.  In it he says, at page 133:

“Can it be that I sought asylum in Australia only to be exiled to a place I know nothing about? … Clearly they are taking us hostage.  … We are being made examples to strike fear into others, to scare people so they won’t come to Australia. …”

Tony Abbott became PM later in 2013 (there’s a thought to conjure with) and appointed Scott Morrison as his Immigration Minister.  Later, Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott, and Turnbull appointed Peter Dutton as his Immigration Minister.

I mention Morrison and Dutton specifically because they are, arguably, the most dishonest hypocrites ever to hold high office in this country.  “Dishonest” because they call boat people “illegal”, even though the fact is that boat-people do not commit any offence against Australian law by arriving the way they do.  “Hypocrites” because they both claim to be Christians, and yet their treatment of asylum seekers has been criticized by every Christian denomination and by the World Council of Churches. Their conduct is irreconcilable with Christian teaching.

So we are led by dishonest hypocrites who trade on sanctimony and imprison innocent children.  Right now there are about 125 refugee children on Nauru, living in misery and hopelessness.  40 of them were born in detention and have never experienced a day’s freedom in their lives.

Nauru

In the middle of 2017 The Guardian Australia published the Nauru files: more than 2000 incident reports, compiled by workers employed by Australia.  More than half of the Nauru files concern mistreatment of children.  They range from a guard grabbing a boy and threatening to kill him once he is living in the community to guards slapping children in the face. In September 2014 a teacher reported that a young classroom helper had asked for a four-minute shower instead of a two-minute shower. “Her request has been accepted on condition of sexual favours. It is a male security person. She did not state if this has or hasn’t occurred. The security officer wants to view a boy or girl having a shower.”

Reading the Nauru files, you learn that in September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July 2014 a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina.

Morrison in his maiden speech in parliament said this:

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24:

… I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…”

The Abbott government, with Scott Morrison as Immigration Minister renamed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship: it became the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  Under Peter Dutton’s “leadership” it became Australian Border Force and was later swept into Home Affairs.  Home Affairs was established on 20 December 2017.  It combines the national security, law enforcement and emergency management functions of the A-G’s Department, the transport security functions of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the counterterrorism and cybersecurity functions of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the multicultural affairs functions of the Department of Social Services, and the entire Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  It controls the Federal Police, Border Force and ASIO.

Home Affairs is the most powerful ministry in the country, and it is headed by Peter Dutton.  It is hard to imagine a worse or more dangerous choice than to elevate a dishonest ex-cop from Queensland to the most powerful ministry in the land.  If you feel comfortable and sleep well, you clearly do not understand what is going on.

Manus

The UNHCR recently delivered a report on the state of affairs on Manus.  Their report includes these observations:

“UNHCR protection staff and medical experts observed a high level of tension and further deterioration in the mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Separation from family members and a deep-seated fear of being abandoned in Papua New Guinea by Australia without adequate support has contributed to an acute sense of insecurity and helplessness…

Caseworkers visit refugee and asylum-seeker accommodation sites for the purpose of identifying and providing support for vulnerabilities such as medical needs and mental health issues. For people who have withdrawn and are unable to seek assistance, however, no follow up interventions are made. For those with serious mental health needs, such withdrawal may in fact be a sign of greater vulnerability. There is no systematic, ongoing process to identify those at low, medium or high levels of risk, and tailor assistance accordingly. This means that those with the most significant needs have not been monitored on a regular basis since October 2017.

UNHCR staff asked diverse stakeholders who is responsible for follow up of identified vulnerable people, and received inconsistent answers. Service providers work in silos, without clear information as to the role of others – which should be complementary and coordinated.

The Government of Australia has no continuous or regular on the ground presence to coordinate and supervise the fulfilment of contractual obligations by those it has engaged to provide basic assistance and support to refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. The Government of Australia, rather than the Government of Papua New Guinea, is the contracting party for all medical, security, infrastructure, garrison and caseworker services…”

The report includes recommendations:

“…The Government of Australia should ensure that a clear strategy and critical incident response plan includes significantly bolstered mental health support…

The Government of Australia should immediately identify and secure alternate durable solutions outside of the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States of America, including acceptance of the continuing New Zealand offer. Clear information on all appropriate available options outside of Papua New Guinea should also be communicated to refugees…

Given the increasing mental health needs of the refugee population, the number and expertise of caseworkers should be increased to a level commensurate to different degrees of risk and vulnerability…

There is an urgent need for outreach medical care, enhanced general medical and specialist mental health care. The tragic death of a Rohingya refugee on 22 May 2018 underscores the criticality of these unmet needs…”

Reza Berati

In February 2014 Reza Berati was killed on Manus Island.  Initially, Australia said that he had escaped from the detention centre and was killed outside the detention centre.  Soon it became clear that he was killed inside the detention centre.  It took nearly five months before anyone was charged with the murder of Reza Berati.

Curiously, tellingly, Scott Morrison went public after Reza Berati was killed.  He said Berati had escaped the detention centre, and had been killed by locals.  He said:

“…[T]his was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk…”

By making up this lie, Morrison inadvertently disclosed a serious truth: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Just a couple of weeks after Reza Berati was killed, I received a sworn statement from an eyewitness, Benham Satah.  The statement included the following:

“J … is a local who worked for the Salvation Army.  …  He was holding a large wooden stick.  It was about a metre and a half long … it had two nails in the wood.  The nails were sticking out …

When Reza came up the stairs, J … was at the top of the stairs waiting for him.  J … said ‘fuck you motherfucker’ J … then swung back behind his shoulder with the stick and took a big swing at Rezaa, hitting him on top of the head.

J … screamed again at Reza and hit him again on the head.  Reza then fell on the floor …

I could see a lot of blood coming out of his head, on his forehead, running down his face.  His blood is still there on the ground.  He was still alive at this stage.

About 10 or 15 guards from G4S came up the stairs.  Two of them were Australians.  The rest were PNG locals.  I know who they are.  I can identify them by their face.  They started kicking Reza in his head and stomach with their boots.

Reza was on the ground trying to defend himself.  He put his arms up to cover his head but they were still kicking.

There was one local … I recognized him … he picked up a big rock … he lifted the rock above his head and threw it down hard on top of Reza’s head.  At this time, Reza passed away.

One of the locals came and hit him in his leg very hard … but Reza did not feel it.  This is how I know he was dead.

After that, as the guards came past him, they kicked his dead body on the ground …”

A short time later, Benham Satah was taken into the Wilson Security cabin in the detention centre.  Wilson Security provide the guard services on Manus and Nauru, and in your local park.   They are incorporated in Panama, presumably to avoid the inconvenience of paying Australian tax on the vast amounts they are paid by the Australian government.  The Wilson Security people tied Benham Satah to a chair and beat him up.  They told him that, unless he withdrew his witness statement, they would take him outside the camp, where he would be raped and killed by locals.

By their threat, the Wilson Security people echoed what Morrison had conveyed: that the locals on Manus are extremely hostile to the refugees.

Several Australians involved in the killing of Reza Berati were, conveniently, able to return to Australia before any charges were laid.  The people who were, eventually, two years later, convicted of murder were somehow able to escape from prison.

Benham Satah is still on Manus, still living in fear of retribution.

The treatment of boat people in offshore detention is dreadful, and I am glad that Behrooz Bouchani will be speaking to us later: it’s our loss that he has to speak to us electronically rather than in person.

Peter Dutton recently had to deal with a suggestion that some people should be brought from Manus to Australia as a matter of compassion.  He said:

“It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia…”

How many people in this country – how many people in this hall – would have believed it possible, even 5 years ago, that a senior Minister of the Crown would publicly dismiss the possibility of compassion?

And this from the most powerful politician in the country.  But he’s not invincible: for some years now I have publicly called him a dishonest hypocrite, but he has not sued for defamation.  I repeat it now: Peter Dutton is a dishonest hypocrite.   Dishonest, because he calls boat-people “illegal”.  They aren’t.  A hypocrite because he claims to be a Christian, but his wilful mistreatment of refugees is the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches.  And now he is arguing against compassion!

In the tumult of news we get every day, especially that rich and varied diet produced by Donald Trump, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a Minister of the Crown urged us not to act with compassion.  He is the same person who recently reduced the social welfare entitlements of people living in the Australian community as they wait for their refugee status to be decided.  The government has just cut the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program that provides a basic living allowance, casework support, help in finding housing, and access to torture and trauma counselling.  Before the cuts, the SRSS payments amounted to about 89% of Newstart allowance:  just $247 per week.

Newstart is hardly the most generous scheme in the world.  Surviving on $247 per week ($35 per day) would be unbelievably hard.  In 2016, between 28 March and 2 April, Dutton attended the UNHCR high-level meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian Refugees.  He claimed expenses of $36,221.80 for those days.   That is, roughly $8000 per day on top of his parliamentary salary, which amounts to a bit over $940 per day ($343 thousand per year).  And since we are talking numbers, keeping refugees in offshore detention costs us about $570 thousand per person per year.  To put that in perspective, it is equal to about 44 years worth of SRSS payments.  So, if we decided to put an end to the cruelty of indefinite offshore detention, we could put every refugee on SRSS for 40 years, and actually save money.

Many members of the Coalition seek to make their anti-refugee stance look respectable, and even morally worthy, by saying that they are worried about refugees drowning, so they need to deter people from using people smugglers to get to Australia.  More hypocrisy: I do not for one minute believe them.  They are not being sincere or honest when they express concern about people drowning: if they were genuinely concerned about people drowning, they would not punish the ones who don’t drown.  They would not use the survivors as hostages, to deter others from trying to get here.

If our politicians were genuinely concerned about people drowning in their attempts to escape persecution, why are we not allowed to know the fate of people whose boats are turned back?  We are told this is an “on-water matter”.  If boats are turned back, there is clearly a risk of people drowning, but we know nothing of it.  If people are deterred from trying to come here and instead head to the Mediterranean, they still risk drowning, but we know nothing of it.  And if our deterrent measures  persuade them to stand their ground and they are killed by their persecutors, they are just as dead as if they had drowned, but we know nothing of it.

We are not well-served by our Coalition government: it has lied to us repeatedly on this issue, and has induced the country to descend into behaviour which contradicts our national values.

We are not well-served by the Labor party, which has never contradicted the Coalition’s lies.  If the Labor Party had a shred of decency, Bill Shorten would make a speech before the next election in which he would tell the nation what we are actually doing.  Imagine the impact if the Murdoch press reported Shorten saying:

“Men and women of Australia.

We are not behaving well.

Australia is paying billions of dollars a year to hold people hostage on Nauru and Manus.

They arrived in Australia seeking to be protected from persecution.  Most of them are genuine refugees.  Australia took them to Nauru or Manus by force, against their will.

For 17 years, the Coalition has, called them “illegal”.  They aren’t “illegal”.  We should have pointed out that the Coalition was lying to you.  We didn’t.  I am sorry we didn’t.

The way we are treating refugees is a betrayal of what Australia stands for.

What does this country stand for?  The statement of national values, which was introduced by the Turnbull government and is now part of the citizenship ceremony, says in part:

“I understand Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion … and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good; …”

If that is who we are, then what we are doing to refugees is simply un-Australian.

It is un-Australian to mistreat innocent people, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian to hold innocent people hostage, which we are doing to people held on Manus and Nauru.

It is un-Australian for political leaders to lie to the public in order to frighten them into tolerating the wilful mistreatment of innocent people.

If the Turnbull government was honest, it would have included something about cruelty and dishonesty in the statement of Australian value

I am sorry it has taken us so long  to tell you truthfully what is being done in your name…”

But somehow I don’t think Bill Shorten has the courage to make a speech like that.

And, if I may return to the issue of climate change, here’s a thought to finish on.  If the Tony Abbott attitude to climate change ultimately prevails, then in 8 or 10 generations we will all be history.  The collapse of agriculture and of complex supply lines will spell the end for most members of the human race.  Presumably there will be some survivors: the Kalahari bushmen, the Inuit, the outback aborigines…

So: if the Tony Abbott view of climate change ultimately prevails, the Aborigines will get their land back.   I’m not sure that is what he intends.

 

This is how our decency is degraded

A friend reminded me recently of a great observation about the process by which our decency is degraded.  Looking at what has happened in Australia, courtesy of Howard, Ruddock, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton, and what has happened recently in America because of Trump, it is sadly familiar.

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945:

“…Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?-Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.  […]

But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked-if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in-your nation, your people-is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.”