The Newtown Amnesty International Action Group has put up a petition for a Bill of Rights in NSW:
Victoria has a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The sky has not fallen in.
The ACT has a Human Rights Act. The sky has not fallen in.
Don’t be troubled about the name: no-one is suggesting that we need a Bill of Rights like the USA Bill of Rights. In the 20th and 21st centuries, a Bill of rights means something which protects basic human rights against the government.
John Howard made the most cogent point about a Bill of Rights during the Rudd years. He was asked about a Bill of Rights and said it was a bad idea “because it interferes with what Parliament can do”. That is precisely the point!
In early 2010 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced, peremptorily, that Australia would not have a Bill of Rights. This, notwithstanding that the Brennan enquiry had recommended that we should have one. Rudd’s rejection of a Bill of Rights caused very little concern in the community. Not only is Australia the only Western democracy not to have coherent human rights protection, we are the only country in the world which has turned its mind to a Bill of Rights in the 21st century and decided not to have one.
So: look at the Newtown Amnesty International Action Group petition and consider signing it.
It seems that a lot of Australians are frightened of Muslims. this Islamophobia has been whipped up by politicians who ought to know better.
It is terrifying to see just how frightened people can react. One Australian has been writing to me relentlessly urging that we establish concentration camps for Muslims!
Yes: concentration camps. Here is a portion of a recent email from this person:
“What is wrong with Concentration Camps? They were good enough for a former Australian Prime Minister – Billy Hughes.
It is fantastic that of-shore Concentration Camps have been established to protect Australia from the Muslim Invasion.
More should be established on the Mainland to house Muslims that have been allowed into Australia and who pose a threat to the safety of other Australians.
Cicero would have fully supported Concentration Camps to protect the safety of the people. …”
I can do no better than quote something Helen Razer wrote:
“In a post earlier today that linked to an article written by me I incorrectly identified those who disdain Islam as “racist”. I am sorry about this. As you so deftly and cleverly remind me, “Islam is not a race”. You are, therefore, not a racist.
I didn’t mean to call you a racist.
I meant to call you – how can I put this? – history’s worst reflex.
I meant to call you the frail and fearful idiot who learned nothing of the lessons of 1933.
I meant to call you the descendent of Nazism.
I meant, much more kindly, to say that your belief that a little cultural difference is responsible for all the shit in your life is a product of an under-informed mind and an ugly spirit. …”
The idea that any person in the early 21st century could call for concentration camps is so shocking as to defy belief. But the person who emailed me has sent me many emails in recent months arguing, repeatedly, that concentration camps for Muslims would be a good idea. I prefer not to ask his attitude to Hitler, Nazism and anti-Semitism.
I have just received the following report about arbitrary restrictions at MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation):
“Since I started visiting (just after the Border Force Act in July last year), the onshore detention regime has become increasingly prison-like, and this appears to be a directive from the DIBP (though nothing is ever confirmed).
I was visiting there on Thursday (September 28) and was told about the latest in a string of humiliating rules, which is that ‘detainees’ are no longer allowed to go to the toilet during visits. On Thursday, several people were ‘allowed’ to go and return, but at last night’s visit, the guard it was enforced strictly and no one was allowed back to the visits room if they needed to go to the toilet.
I’m really just calling out the latest in a string of humiliating rules and can only echo a friend’s (Uniting Church Minister, Lisa-Stewart) FB post:
Many of us have adapted to the new rigidity relating to visiting, the most recent: clearing the centre between visits, which entails our friends being lined up like children to exit under guarded supervision. We smile and throw kisses and wave loving goodbyes to cover that humiliation.
Now, to add insult to grave injury, another layer of senseless bureaucracy has been imposed that serves no purpose other than to further humiliate our friends.
From now on, our friends can not go to the toilet during our two hour visiting block. Well, they can, but if they do leave the centre to visit the toilet they are not permitted to return. Why? What purpose does this possibly serve?
Well, if you think I’m going to shut up about it Serco and Border Force, you can get stuffed. For more entertaining reading, read the rest of the rules, especially relating to property. Nothing spoils a birthday surprise more than having to submit a written request for your own present, get permission from not one, but two layers of bureaucracy : Serco AND Border Force, then ask your visitor, who has probably travelled afar to come and visit you in the only available afternoon visiting slots, to get there a bit earlier – 5-7 HOURS earlier to drop the present off. Assuming you get permission. Which I doubt.
Mad. Mad. Mad. And worse than that, cruel. I’ve attached an email sent out by Pamela Curr on Thursday night and a copy of the new rules. Lisa’s post points out the idiocy of the Property gifting rule, which appears solely designed to save Serco the inconvenience of processing visits and receiving Property at the same time.
Like so many of the visiting rules, the toilet rule is clearly designed to make visits more difficult and unpleasant – for many people, a visit only happens once a week (if that) which is their only connection to each other (they can no longer apply to visit each other even though this was promised when they segregated MITA by gender and family status a few months ago) and to friends and supporters outside. Even Facebook access is now restricted. …”
Renate Kamener Oration 2016
Is Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism?
It is a fine thing for a family to remember a loved one with an annual speech. To remember your loved mother each year by a public act of remembering is a truly wonderful thing. In The Tempest, Prospero says: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep´. If Shakespeare was right, this annual oration means that the sleep is not dreamless.
The Rabbi who celebrated her life at the Cremation on Friday 13 March 2009 said of Renate Kamener:
We are gathered to show our great love, admiration and appreciation of a remarkable and special woman – Renate Kamener – adored daughter, loving wife and life-partner, wonderful mother, supportive sister-in-law, welcoming mother in law, generous and giving colleague and trusted and valued friend. …
Incidentally, the Rabbi was close to an hour late for the service, because he got the time wrong. Renate was known by all of her friends and family for her appalling lack of punctuality, and a member of the family commented “even in death she keeps us waiting!”
In his 2011 Renate Kamener Oration, Gareth Evans said this:
Renate Kamener was a remarkable woman, and I feel honoured and privileged to have been invited by her family to give this second Oration in her memory. I was first introduced to Renate and Bob, more decades ago than any us would now care to remember, by my then Melbourne University Law School colleague, and their fellow refugee from the South African apartheid regime, Julian Phillips, and it was in that context that I first became aware of the risks they had taken in opposing that regime, and of their passionate commitment against racism in any form and for human dignity and decency in every form.
He spoke movingly of Renate Kamener’s intense commitment to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and of what he referred to as “a life of great and recognized service to humanity”.
Renate was born on 8th June, 1933, in Breslau, Germany. As the Rabbi pointed out, “the mention of Germany in 1933 will immediately ring alarm bells for many of you as the year that Hitler became chancellor and began to put into practice his anti-Jewish rhetoric…”
Anti-Semitism has a long history, but notoriously reached an appalling peak in Germany between 1933 and 1945.
Gareth Evans touched on this in his 2011 Oration. He said:
As no-one here this evening needs reminding, least of all the Kamener family, who like so many others of you have contributed so much to the Australian community since you or your forebears fled the horrors in Europe of the 1930s and 40s, no crime in history has been more grotesque than the Nazi Holocaust, with its comprehensively and meticulously organized extermination of six million Jews. Even if some other mass atrocity crimes, those of Stalin and Mao for a start, have involved even more unbelievably large numbers, none has more fundamentally demeaned our sense of common humanity.
I do not intend to rehearse the miserable history of anti-Semitism. Its traces go back a very long way. It is often overlooked that the document signed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215 and later called Magna Carta contained several provisions which can only be understood as an expression of anti-Semitism. Shakespeare’s plays reflect enduring anti-Semitism in Britain, and the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 was an expression of deep-seated anti-Semitism in France. Incidentally, it is not widely remembered that the Vichy regime deported Alfred Dreyfus’ granddaughter Madeline. She was gassed at Auschwitz in 1944.
As most of you are aware, I have been greatly concerned about Australia’s mistreatment of refugees in recent years. I know many of you have also been concerned, and perhaps for the same reasons.
The origins of that mistreatment can be traced back to the Tampa episode in 2001. The MV Tampa went to the help of a small refugee boat, the Palapa. Most of the people on the Palapa were terrified Hazaras from Afghanistan, fleeing the Taliban. It is often overlooked that Hazaras from Afghanistan now and Rohingyas from Myanmar now are as likely to be genuine refugees as Jews from Germany in 1939.
The captain of the Tampa rescued the people from the Palapa them to Christmas Island: a speck of Australian sovereignty in the Indian Ocean. Those 434 Hazaras escaped the Taliban, a regime so harsh that we saw fit to help the Americans blast it back to the Stone Age just a couple of months later. But they marked the start of a campaign which, in recent years has become a policy of deterrence: a policy designed to make people think persecution at home is better than mistreatment by Australia.
When the Tampa entered Australian territorial waters off Christmas Island, John Howard called in the SAS, who took command of the bridge of the Tampa at gunpoint.
Then there was a stand-off. The rescued Afghans were stuck, sweltering on the steel deck of the Tampa in the tropical sun. The matter went to Court. The case ran four or five days. Judgment was reserved. Then the judge delivered a decision: at 2.15 in the afternoon, Melbourne time, on 11 September 2001. Ten hours later the attack on America took place.
It is a nice coincidence that this event in honour of Renate Kamener is being held 15 years, to the day, after the judgment in the Tampa litigation; on the 15th anniversary of the events which, more than anything else, triggered Islamophobia
The start of Islamophobia
After September 11, 2001, in public and political discourse, there were no longer terrorists, just Muslim terrorists; no boat people, just Muslim boat people. And John Howard started calling boat people “illegal”.
The notion that 434 frightened, persecuted men, women and children constitute a threat to national sovereignty is so bizarre that it defies discussion.
The Coalition have persisted in calling boat people “illegal” ever since. It is a lie. When Abbott won government in 2013, “border control” became “border protection”. It was not easy to watch an interview with Scott Morrison, when he was Immigration Minister, without hearing him talk about “illegals” and “border protection”. (It was not easy to watch his interviews at all, disfigured as they were by his easy personal brand of hypocrisy and dishonesty). It is a matter of history that the Abbott government, whose leading figures were conspicuously Christian, were so dedicated to vilifying refugees, that they renamed the Department of Immigration and Citizenship: it is now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
But boat people do not threaten our borders in any sense, and we do not need to be protected from them. But government propaganda, never contradicted decisively by the Labor party, has persuaded a significant percentage of the Australian public that we are being protected from dangerous criminals.
Most people, even the most empathetic, would not resist the idea that criminals should be sent to jail. And if boat people are “illegal” then placing them in detention seems natural and reasonable. It does not evoke a reaction of empathy.
The matter is different once you recognize that the people held in detention centres are not guilty of any offence. It looks different when you see that boat people are held in detention for an indefinite time – for as long as it takes to resolve their claim for protection. They may be jailed for months or years or perhaps even forever. No-one can tell them in advance how long they will stay in detention.
What we do to boat people
When boat people arrive at Christmas Island, they have typically spent eight or 10 days on a rickety boat. They have typically come from landlocked countries and have typically never spent time on the ocean. Typically, they have had not enough to eat and not enough to drink. Typically, they have had no opportunity to wash or to change their clothes. Typically, they arrive distressed, frightened and wearing clothes caked in their own excrement.
They are not allowed to shower or to change their clothes before they are interviewed by an officer of the Immigration Department. It is difficult to think of any decent justification for subjecting them to that humiliation.
When they arrive, any medical appliances they have will be confiscated and not returned: spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, prosthetic limbs, are all confiscated. If they have any medications with them, those medications are 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 have any medical documentation with them, it is confiscated and not returned. The result of all of this is that people with chronic health problems find themselves denied any effective treatment. The results can be very distressing. For example: a doctor who worked on Christmas Island told me of a woman who had been detained there for some weeks and who was generally regarded as psychotic. Her behaviour was highly erratic for reasons that 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, they did not have a language in common. The interpreter joined them by telephone from Sydney: about 5,300 kilometres away. Eventually, the doctor worked out that the problem was that 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 that this was 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 incontinence pads per day: not enough, so that the woman needs to queue for more but the incontinence pads made a profound difference to her mood and behaviour.
In February 2014 Reza Barati 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 Barati. Nobody has yet been brought to court.
Just a couple of weeks after Reza Barati 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 Raisa, 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 publicly raped by locals.
In 2015 I got an email from a health worker on Manus:
“…The situation as you can imagine is very grim. Around 80% of transferees suffering serious mental health issues. PNG staff are slowly being “trained” to take over various roles with mostly undesirable results. East Lorengau is not working. One refugee is lingering in hospital for over two weeks with undiagnosed stomach problems. One refugee doctor is suffering severe mental health issues….”
Here is an extract from a statement by a doctor who worked on Manus who has spent most of his professional life working in the prison system in Australia:
“…On the whole, the conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC are extremely poor. When I first arrived at the Manus Island OPC I was considerably distressed at what I saw, and I recall thinking that this must be similar to a concentration camp.
The detainees at the Manus Island OPC are detained behind razor wire fences, in conditions below the standard of Australian maximum-security prison.
My professional opinion is that the minimum medical requirements of the detained population were not being met. I have no reason to believe that the conditions of detention have improved since I ceased employment at the Manus Island OPC.
The conditions of detention at the Manus Island OPC appeared to be calculated to break the spirit of those detained in the Manus Island OPC. On a number of occasions the extreme conditions of detention resulted in detainees abandoning their claims for asylum and returning to their country of origin.
At the Manus Island OPC, bathroom facilities are rarely cleaned. There was a lot of mould, poor ventilation, and the structural integrity of the facilities is concerning.
No soap is provided to detainees for personal hygiene.
When detainees need to use the bathroom, it is standard procedure that they first attend at the guards’ station to request toilet paper. Detainees would be required to give an indication of how many ‘squares’ they will need. The maximum allowed is six squares of toilet paper, which I considered demeaning.
A large number of detainees continue to be in need of urgent medical attention.
Formal requests for medical attention are available to the detainees. The forms are only available in English. Many of the detainees do not have a workable understanding of English and the guards will not provide assistance. …”
The recent release of several thousand files from the detention centre on Nauru provided a useful insight into what is happening there. The files revealed, among other things, something many of us have known all along: there have been hundreds of incidents of sexual assault, including child sexual assault. The offences have been committed mostly by guards or by Nauruan locals.
But one document raised less concern than it should have. It was a report that Save The Children had directed their staff that they should not spend longer than 5 weeks on Nauru at a time. More than that would be a danger to their mental health. We have held hundreds of men, women and children in detention on Nauru for more than three years.
So the question that needs to be asked is this: why has it been so easy to persuade the public that boat people are criminals who deserve to be locked away and mistreated so grotesquely that even children in detention harm themselves or kill themselves?
I fear that the true answer is Islamophobia. Since 9/11 the Western world has been induced to believe that all boat people are Muslims and all Muslims are a threat to our way of life, our very existence.
The idea of people coming to Australia, without papers, without an invitation, causes astonishing anxiety. It is generally overlooked that they come here looking for a place where they can live in safety. Perhaps our reaction is a dim echo of 1788, when the arrival of uninvited boat people led to the rapid – and brutal – extinction of the existing culture. But most Australians miss that little irony.
It is often overlooked that John Howard’s response to the Tampa was explicitly political: he took the position he did in order to win back some previous Liberal supporters who had drifted across to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Little did he realise that, just 15 years later, there would not be much difference between the Liberal party and One Nation.
The LNP response to boat people has gone through three distinct phases.
From the time of the Tampa episode in 2001, refugees were disparaged as “illegals”, “queue-jumpers” and people who had thrown their “Children Overboard”. Each of those tags is false. I mention this because, apart from anything else, it shows that the party which calls itself “Liberal” is perfectly happy to lie to the public in order to pursue policy objectives.
It is a lie to call refugees “illegals”. The word suggests plainly that the person has committed an offence. But it is not an offence to come to Australia, without papers, without a visa, without an invitation, and ask for protection.
The rhetoric of “illegals”, coupled with renaming the Department “Immigration and Border Protection” has been used skilfully, but dishonestly, by Abbott and Morrison and Turnbull and Dutton to convey a key dog-whistle message: that boat people are criminals from whom we need to be protected. It is the crucial lie which makes it possible for Australia to reward the party that promises the greater cruelty to asylum seekers. It is worth remembering the miserable fact that the 2013 Federal election campaign was the first (and I hope the only) time in this country in which both major parties tried to win political support by promising cruelty to a specific group of human beings. If they had promised cruelty to animals, it might not have worked so well.
Unless we are really a country of people who would willingly mistreat innocent human beings simply because they have come asking for protection from persecution: as often as not, fleeing the same extremism we are fighting in the Middle East.
This should not be mistaken as a partisan attack on the Coalition: the Labor party has been conspicuously silent on the subject. Both in opposition and in government, Labor has ducked the opportunity to correct the public debate by telling the truth: that boat people are not illegal, that there is no queue. It is a painful irony that Labor has failed to make the very simple point that Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives every human being the right to seek asylum in any territory they can reach, and that Australia played a leading role in the creation of the UDHR, and that a Labor icon, Doc Evatt, presided over the General Assembly of the UN when the UDHR was entered into force.
But that was a time when Labor values were more than just a marketing campaign formulated by reference to populism, and completely untroubled by humanitarian considerations.
Next, the rhetoric swung to an attack on people smugglers.
Soon after Tony Abbott won the leadership of the coalition, he started criticising the Rudd government for the fact that boat people were arriving in Australia. Rudd, who had introduced some well-designed reforms in July 2008, responded swiftly: he attacked the people smugglers. In April 2009, Rudd said people smugglers were the “absolute scum of the earth” and should “rot in hell”. He said that “People smugglers are engaged in the world’s most evil trade and they should all rot in jail…”
Rudd’s venom was a response to visible deaths of asylum seekers after an explosion sank a boat carrying asylum seekers off Australia’s north west coast. It is possible that Rudd thought abusing asylum seekers was no longer a good look, but people smugglers were fair game. He had overlooked that not all people smugglers can be conveniently fitted into the same miserable moral category. He seems to have forgotten temporarily that his great moral hero, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, was a people smuggler. So too were Oskar Schindler and Gustav Schroeder.
Schindler’s activities are well-known, from Tom Keneally’s book and the film based on it.
It is worth recalling here what Schroeder did. In May 1939, just months before the start of World War II, a ship called the St Louis left Hamburg, carrying 900 Jewish refugees. Gustav Schroeder was its captain. The St Louis was denied access to every port it approached, despite Schroeder’s efforts. It got as far as Cuba, and was warned off the coast of Florida at gunpoint. Schroeder took the St Louis back to Europe and put his cargo ashore in Antwerp. After the low countries were occupied by the Nazis, more than half the refugees on the St Louis were captured and 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.
The ferocity of attacks on people smugglers increased when Australians watched, on television, the terrible wreck of an asylum seeker boat on 15 December 2010. It was a shocking sight, and significantly increased the political impact of attacking people smugglers.
Of course it is tragic when asylum seekers die in a desperate attempt to reach protection. It is also tragic when they stay behind and are slaughtered. The key difference is that, when they stay behind and become another statistic in the grim arithmetic of ethnic cleansing, we do not empathise with them; our conscience remains untouched. When we learn that they have perished in an attempt to seek safety here, it seems different.
Why is that? Is it because they have tried to engage us? Is it because the ethics of proximity has begun to operate, so that we feel a heightened sense of responsibility for them? Is it because, seeing their last moments on the TV news, we understand their agonies, although perhaps not the desperation which drove them? Is it simply because, in the unhealthy environment of current domestic politics, their fate is automatically drawn to our attention by politicians trying to exploit the occasion for their own political advantage?
If you had been a Jew in Germany in 1939, would it have been better to chance your arm with a people smuggler (Schindler, Bonnhoeffer, Schroeder…) or stay put and face a different risk? And which is more tragic: to die passively or die in an attempt to escape? One thing is certain: if the Taliban get you, you are just as dead as if you drown.
Rudd was later replaced by Gillard. She reintroduced the Pacific Solution. Then Rudd replaced Gillard, and he cranked up the Pacific Solution to its harshest form ever, as part of a policy of deterrence. The 2013 Federal election disfigured Australian politics: it was the first election in which both major parties tried to woo voters by promising cruelty to a group of human beings (boat people). If they had promised cruelty to animals, it might have been received differently. Between them, during the 2013 election, Rudd and Abbott trashed whatever was left of Australia’s reputation.
By small degrees, sections of the public began to realise that people smugglers were not necessarily quite as wicked as the politicians had made out. The prosecution of Ali al Jenabi, so well retold in Robin de Crespigny’s book the People Smuggler, drew attention to the simple, central fact that people smugglers provide a service which some desperate people need. The existence of people smugglers does not create a demand for them. When you are running for your life, you will take whatever services are available.
The graphic scenes of horror as a boat smashed to bits on the coast of Christmas Island gave the Gillard government a new line of attack: the drowning excuse. While it may seem superficially persuasive that we would take steps to prevent people drowning, we need to examine why people risk their lives at sea, and ask whether our concern about drowning is the true reason for our actions: it looks different when you realise that, in our ostensible concern about boat people drowning, we punish them if they don’t drown.
The following facts are uncontroversial:
- Boat-people come here principally from Afghanistan, where the Hazaras are the target of Taliban genocide, and from Sri Lanka, where the Tamils are being persecuted in the wake of their failed liberation movement, and Rohingyas from Myanmar. Those three groups have dominated boat-people numbers in the last few years.
- Hazaras, Rohingyas and Tamils are really desperate in their bid for freedom. Apart from any other consideration, a person has to be desperate to take the risks they in fact take in their attempt to reach safety.
- Most boat-people who arrive in Australia end up being assessed as genuine refugees, legally entitled to our protection: over 90% of them are ultimately successful in their asylum claims. This compares with a success rate of about 40% among asylum claims of people who arrive here by air on short term visas, such as business, tourist or student visas. The different success rates are readily explained: the boat trip is dangerous: it is a mark of sincerity that a person takes the risks it involves.
- Some of the boats carrying asylum seekers sink, and some of the refugees drown. The number who have drowned is not clear, but it looks like about 2-3 per cent of them since 2000.
A person facing death or torture is not likely to be deterred by the prospect of being locked up in a detention centre, or even by the risk of drowning. Desperate people will take desperate measures. The experience of the Jews in the 1930s and the Vietnamese in the late 1970s tells us that. Common sense and ordinary experience tell us that. Over the years I have asked Hazaras I know personally, and who came here as boat-people, whether they had been aware of the risks before setting out. Some did. I asked them why they took the risk: they said that the Taliban represented a greater risk. Others did not: they did not know where they were being taken. For that group, deterrence is not a relevant consideration.
It is also significant that, at present, asylum seekers who get to Indonesia face the real prospect of being mistreated and jailed by the Indonesian authorities if they are caught. In addition, they are not permitted to work or to send their children to school. I suspect that most Australians faced with the same problem would choose the same solution: take a risk and get on a boat.
One of the strangest phenomena in Australian politics over the past decade is that we are apparently willing to revile and mistreat people who act exactly as we would if we had the misfortune to be in their shoes.
So, we have a number of false explanations for conduct which, I hope, does not reflect the genuine character of this country.
But what is the true explanation?
A leading politician once said this:
“…after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
The person who said those words was Hermann Goering. It is hard to contradict that statement; it is hard not to see it at work right now across the Western world. It is a matter of real concern that anti-Islamic views are apparently driven by our political masters.
A survey in 2015 took a nationally representative sample of 1000 adult Australians. It found that almost 70 per cent of Australians have a very low level of Islamophobia, about 20 per cent are undecided and only 10 per cent are highly Islamophobic. The survey found that women tend to be more worried about terrorism than men. Where a respondent lived did not have a significant impact. People were more worried about terrorism if they were older, had lower levels of education, were unemployed, were employed in a non- professional role or if they supported the Liberal or National parties. They were less likely to be worried about terrorism if they had regular contact with Muslims, felt tolerant of migrants or had lower Islamophobia scores.
The survey concluded that most Australians display low levels of Islamophobia, and are willing to have Muslims in their family or friendship group (although they are even more welcoming of members of other major religions). There are pockets of prejudice and anxiety directed towards Muslims, for example among the aged and those facing financial insecurity. But the great majority of Australians in all states and regions are comfortable to live alongside Australian Muslims.
Islamophobia, it seems, is being driven from the top and for political advantage.
I do not want to be misunderstood: I deplore Muslim extremism, Hindu extremism, Christian extremism: I deplore extremism and terrorism of all kinds. But I would not readily assume that a person fleeing extremism is an extremist. I would not readily assume that a person fleeing terrorism is a terrorist.
It is no accident that repelling people who are seeking a safe place to live is now framed as an aspect of National Security.
It is no accident that, since 9/11, women who wear a head-scarf in public feel unsafe.
It is no accident that the news emphasises Islamic terrorism, in a way which we did not see during the 20th century, when duelling Christian sects committed appalling acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland.
And I think it is no accident that, in recent years, a number of Australian Jews have expressed their concern at the mistreatment of asylum seekers: they seem to recognise that Islamophobia looks worryingly like anti-Semitism.
And all Jews know where that can lead.
12 September 1683 is the date on which the Ottoman siege of Vienna ended.
In 1683, Vienna was struggling to survive a siege 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.
Although croissant and crusade are similar words, 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.
The crescent which the croissant imitates 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).
During his perilous journey, Kolscitzky had learned how to make coffee. After the siege 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.
Dr Michael Enright had a bad run-in with Authorised Officers over a Myki disagreement. So far, nothing out of the usual. The Myki officers issued a summons seeking to have him fined. The summons was eventually withdrawn, but with a “warning”.
He was offended, and wrote back to them. Here is his letter, which I publish with his permission:
“How dare you write to me in such a braying and patronising manner.
By what authority, moral or legal, do you both withdraw a charge and issue what you claim to be an official warning? If your original charge had been so enforceable, why was it withdrawn? You cite your discretion. I would cite the ineptitude of the system you represent.
Those who preside over the system you represent are engaging in a dance with fantasy, grounded as it is in a perception of infallibility in the face of mounting public and legal pressure to the contrary. I challenged your officers on the day the fine was imposed and stood by this to represent not just myself, but all the other unfortunate, valid myki-carrying card holders who have endured your officers bringing their bullying tactics onto the civilized streets of this city.
I do not recognise your authority or your so-called warning.
You represent a morally bankrupt and largely unenforceable regime characterised by standover tactics, relying as it does on officers employing an instrument of extortion. Apart from being generally dishevelled and unkempt in appearance, your myki officers occupy public places in a manner and with an appearance one would associate with the more unsavoury street gang elements, albeit endowed with powers clearly in excess of their social skills and beyond their capacity to interpret in the immediacy of a situation.
Your system is a disgrace, ignores reasonable argument, and has a press gang air that has no place in Australian twenty-first century society.
I trust that your vile, cruel, bullying, foul and odorous system, those who oversee it and those who seek to enforce it will soon be consigned to their rightful place in a democratic society; the dustbin of the inglorious past.”
The culture of many Myki Authorised Officers continues to be appalling. Consider this message I received recently:
(On a suburban train) I was approached by a ticket inspector who asked me to show him my ticker.
At the time I was reading reports from my family overseas about my grandmother who had had a heart attack and so I asked him to wait. He then asked me again to show him my ticket and I again asked him to wait. This happened a couple more times at which point he said he was going to book me for refusing to provide a valid ticket. At this point I gave him my ticket, which he scanned on his portable Myki reader. The ticket was valid but he proceeded to write me up.
I asked why I was being written up and one of his co-workers told me that I had refused to provide my ticket. I replied that I had never refused to provide my ticket and he stated again that I had.
At this point we arrived at (my stop). I walked off the train walked up to a couple of PSO’s standing on the platform. The ticket inspectors followed me and accused me in front of the PSO of refusing to provided them with a valid ticket and refusing to give them my details. I told the ticket inspector that I had done neither and asked one of the PSO to note that the ticket inspector had my Myki in his possession. I then gave both the PSO’s and the ticket inspectors my name and address.
I received the two infringement notices and appealed them to the relevant authority. I supplied them with proof that I had a valid ticket at the time, and the details of the event.
I received a reply saying that they accept that I had a valid ticket but that because I failed to produce my ticket “without delay” they would not waive any of the infringement notices.
So: he had a valid ticket and he offered ID, but they booked him anyway, and on review the Public Transport Victoria decide to pursue him. What a waste of time and money. The PTV seems to have an unerring ability to make the public hate the government.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation colleague Senator-elect Malcolm Roberts says Pauline Hanson is a “highly intelligent” and competent person who will hold One Nation together. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Malcolm Roberts does not impress as intellectually gifted. The Age online reports on 7 August 2016:
“Speaking on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Senator Roberts, the climate sceptic who secured One Nation’s second Queensland Senate spot last week, also challenged anyone at the national broadcaster to provide “empirical evidence” that proves human production of carbon dioxide is affecting the climate.”
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists (about 97% of them) disagree with him. Here are some actual facts from the Climate Institute in response to Roberts.
If climate scientists are right, we have to take urgent action on climate change. Even Tony Abbott eventually acknowledged that climate change is real and (at least in part) anthropogenic. Even so, it must be noted that his chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, denies climate change as did some members of Abbott’s cabinet.
But let’s assume Roberts is right and climate scientists are wrong. And of course they might be wrong: scientific truth is not decided by majority vote. If they are wrong, and we act quickly as they say, we will spend a lot of money for no advantage. But if they are right and we do nothing…
Suppose there is an 80% chance that all the scientists are wrong (that is, only a 20% chance they are right). If we do nothing about climate change there is only a 20% chance of a catastrophic outcome. A one in five chance of an avoidable, catastrophic outcome.
But that is worse odds than Russian roulette. In Russian roulette, a revolver with 6 chambers has just one bullet in it. When you hold the revolver to your head and pull the trigger, you have a one chance in six of a bad outcome. One in six is better odds than one in five
It may be objected that, in Russian roulette, you hold the gun to your head, and if the one in six chance goes against your child, then the child dies. If climate science is right, we won’t all die. OK, so try playing Russian roulette with your children, but hold the gun to their stomach: if the one in six chance goes against your child, it’s not fatal, just dangerous and very painful.
Other arguments which support taking action on Climate Change just in case include this: if you were told that 97% of engineers predicted that a particular bridge is unsafe and will collapse, will you walk across it? If the airline tells you there is a 97% chance that the plane will crash, will you nevertheless get on board?
Those who would withhold action on Climate Change (by denying it, or by extending the argument about the steps that should be taken, thereby delaying any action at all) are playing Russian roulette with our children’s future.
Among those people are Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts. The tragedy is that if their stupidity results in further delay on Climate Change, they will not live to see the consequences for the next generation.
Peter Dutton MP, Malcolm Turnbull PM note this. You are now fixed with knowledge of the fact that medical care for refugees on Manus and Nauru are appalling. You will not be able to hide behind a pretence of not knowing about it, when the next person dies because of YOUR neglect.
Hamid Khazaiee, who had been held on Nauru, died because of criminal neglect in the Immigration Department. Scott Morrison pretended not to know.
Right now, another man held on Manus is suffering from blood poisoning and IHMS is doing nothing useful to save his life. About six weeks ago he picked up a bad bacteria from somewhere and his tongue swelled up. The infection has now spread to the rest of his body. He appears to be developing a blood infection. He has become very ill over the last six weeks or so. He has lost weight and has several large weeping sores on his body, he can’t hold food down. He is running a temperature. He is weak and listless. He says he feels like he is dying.
Here are some photographs. Remember, this started as a swollen tongue:
Requests to evacuate him to Brisbane for proper treatment have been ignored.
IF THIS MAN DIES YOU, DUTTON and TURNBULL, WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SAY YOU DID NOT KNOW.
Human Rights Lawyer & Doctors: Medical Care for Refugees on Manus and Nauru ‘Medieval’
Adjunct Professor George Newhouse, Principal of the National Justice Project based in Sydney, said today that the medical facilities for refugees on both Manus Island and Nauru were a disgrace.
Commenting on an item in The Guardian*, Professor Newhouse said,
“The standard of medical care on both Manus and on Nauru is, in a word, medieval. And that is a disgraceful reflection on the Australian Government that funds them”, said Mr Newhouse.
“The National Justice Project, Newhouse’s not-for-profit human rights law centre in Sydney was being swamped by claims of delays and medical mismanagement of refugee health on Nauru, he said.
“We are investigating a death on Nauru which appears to have been caused by negligence and a delay in the Australian Governent approving a medical evacuation. We have dozens of cases of individuals and families suffering in pain without proper care or treatment.”
“We act for children with untreated autism being denied early intervention therapies and proper care. There are adolescent children whose arms are being deformed because they urgently require an adjustment to the plate which repaired a compound fracture in their arm. No child living in Australia would ever have to put up with such shocking treatment. So why are these kids, under the direct care of Australia, suffering like this?”
Refugee advocate Sally Thompson agreed that “The Australian Government is throwing $26 million at the Republic of Nauru Hospital and what have they got? Belatedly, they have 4 clean hospital beds, a lot of dirt, a CAT scan machine and very little medical continuity”.
“Australian doctors have recommended urgent treatment for ‘Breast Patient R’ but she has now been waiting 11 months. That is just one of many cases where medical care is chaotic and poorly administered”, she said.
Prof Newhouse and Ms Thompson have joined Doctors4Refugees in demanding that the cruelty and neglect of refugees ends immediately.
“These are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They are under the direct care and responsibility of the Australian Government. And the way we treat them is shameful. It has to stop. Now,” said Prof Newhouse.
GP Barri Phatarfod, Convenor of Doctors for Refugees, agrees with Prof Newhouse that Patient R’s breast lump case is indeed the tip of a very large iceberg.
Today she said, “Doctors for Refugees is currently reviewing over 100 cases of medical concern in the immigration detention system. Some of these cases involve prolonged delays for the recommended treatment: sometimes over years.
“Many are for serious issues (like the patient with the breast lump), which clearly would have been appropriately investigated 10 months ago were she anywhere in Australia.
“Several are for highly urgent cases such as traumatic head injuries following assaults – there have been a number of these on Nauru – when an MRI has not been performed.
“If doctors in Australia treated their patients with the same chaos, lack of follow-up and investigation many would be reported to the regulatory bodies.
“These 100 are only the cases that have been referred to us by the extensive volunteer advocacy networks. The more serious ones we often hear about only there is an adverse event”, added Dr Phatarfod.
“It is a complete untruth that the people in the offshore detention system are given medical treatment broadly comparable to that in the Australian communities.
Dr Phatarfod concluded, “Having worked in rural and remote communities from Alice Springs to Bourke, I know that no woman with a breast lump or the myriad of other potentially serious conditions that we see ever waits that long for the required investigation. And no Australian doctor, however junior, should have his or her request to medically transfer a patient overridden by a government bureaucrat”.
Most Australians have trouble understanding what it means to put your life in the hands of a people smuggler, or why anyone would do it. Try to imagine that you are a refugee: you are part of an ethnic minority in Afghanistan. Your people have been the target of ethnic cleansing for more than a century. You have friends and family members who have been killed by Taliban snipers and suicide bombers. You know children who were blown to bits when the Taliban used them as mine-sweepers. You know of the teenager who was forced back to Afghanistan from Nauru in 2002 and who was hunted down by the Taliban: when they found him in his village, they dragged him out of his house and threw him down the village well, and dropped a hand grenade in after him.
You have borrowed enough money to get to Australia: it is cheaper than getting to Europe or America. With your family you make your way to Indonesia, passing through Muslim countries which do not offer protection because they have not signed the Refugees’ Convention.
In Indonesia you can go to the UNHCR and get a card which vouches that you are a refugee, but it doesn’t mean much because the Indonesian government will jail you if they find you, and you aren’t allowed to work, and you can’t send your kids to school. You will wait in the shadows until some country offers to resettle you. It could take 10 or 20 years.
There is one line of escape: you can pay a people smuggler who will take you to Australia by boat. It is dangerous, but it is a chance for freedom and safety, for you and for your kids.
Imagine yourself there. What would you do?
What would most Australians do? What would our political leaders do, if they were in that position? (Try asking them: they won’t tell you)
I know I would take the risk, and I suspect most Australians would do the same. You know that if your luck runs out you could die trying to reach safety. But if ISIL or the Taliban get you, you are just as dead as if you drown.
Most Australians don’t have to make these agonising choices but if we did, we would not be grateful to a government for cutting off our last line of escape. But that is exactly what Australian politicians do.
We have a harsh system of offshore detention: we take boat people by force, against their will, and dump them on Nauru or Manus Island (Papua New Guinea). This is said to be a deterrent. When people die in offshore detention (they do) our politicians tell us those deaths are a necessary part of the deterrent.
The idea of deterrence is to make getting on a boat less attractive than the alternatives. Take the example of a Hazara from Afghanistan (over the past 15 years, most boat people have been Hazaras from Afghanistan). They get here by being taken through Pakistan then to Malaysia by plane and from Malaysia to Indonesia by plane. Their travel papers are provided by the people smuggler, who takes them back again when they reach Indonesia.
If the journey is intercepted in Malaysia or Indonesia, they face the prospect of staying there for years or (more likely) decades until some country offers to resettle them. Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia have not signed the Refugees Convention and will jail them if they are found. They cannot work and cannot send their kids to school. If they go back to Pakistan or Afghanistan, they face the real prospect of being killed by the Taliban. Hazaras have been the target of ethnic cleansing for more than a century, but especially since the Taliban came on the scene a few decades ago. Most Hazaras living in Afghanisan or Pakistan have friends and family members who have been killed by Taliban snipers and suicide bombers. Most Hazaras know children who were blown to bits when the Taliban used them as mine-sweepers.
So, put broadly, the alternatives are a life of real fear and persecution in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or a life of fear and hopelessness in Malaysia or Indonesia. When the alternative is a dangerous boat trip to a life of safety in Australia, only the timid will be deterred.
Getting on a boat and arriving in Australia to ask for protection is not an offence. It is not illegal. Boat people have not broken any law. They are innocent people. Calling them “illegal” is just a lie which dishonest politicians repeat in order to make cruelty look acceptable. Chief among the dishonest politicians are Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, all of whom repeatedly called boat people “illegal”. They lie to us so they can get away with betraying the proclaimed Christian values.
Offshore detention involves this: we treat innocent people in such a way as to deter others from trying to get here for protection. Specifically, they will be sent to Nauru (an independent republic, population 8000), or to Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea). There are two reasons for choosing these places.
- First, they are outside Australia, and the subtext is that when we send boat people there we will shut the door behind them. So we remove the promise of safety and protection and substitute an uncertain, uncomfortable future of waiting. Substituting despair for hope is a pretty effective deterrent.
- Second, they are out of sight and difficult to get to. Community support, which is so important to detainees in Australia, disappears. Refugee supporters are denied access to detainees in Nauru and Manus Island. This enhances the sense of despair of people sent there.
Years of isolation and uncertainty drive people to despair and misery: we have seen in Pacific Solution mark I, we have seen it in detention centres onshore and offshore; we are seeing it again in Pacific Solution mark II. Perhaps someone has done some figures to see just how many years of despair are enough to deter people from having a shot at freedom and safety. Presumably someone in a dark corner of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will do some figures, because it is fantastically expensive to deter people this way. Because Manus and Nauru are remote places, it costs a lot to build the necessary infrastructure and it costs a lot maintain staff there. Typically, it costs about 5 times as much per person per day to warehouse people on Nauru or Manus as it costs to detain them in an Australian detention centre. So, in order to make Australia look less appealing than the Taliban, we will spend about $1600 per person per day during the time they are held on Nauru or Manus. And if the ‘no advantage’ principle is applied, we will hold people for at least 5 years. That comes to about $3 million for each person detained. (Those who think boat people are just economic migrants might lobby government to offer them $1 million per person to go back where they came from. If it worked, it would be a lot cheaper than what we are doing now).
Postscript: since I wrote the piece below, I have been the target of various people who prefer to hide behind anonymous Twitter handles, abusing me for what I say below. For the anonymous haters, I have great pity: most of them seem to suffer from one or both of:
- a reading disorder, which prevents them from actually reading what I wrote; or
- an intellectual disability, which leads them to misunderstand what I wrote: in some cases, so completely that they attribute to me things which are the opposite of what I say below.
Still, it’s nice that they try.
So: let me make my position plain for the people who have been hurling abuse from behind the safety of an anonymous keyboard:
- I do NOT approve of attacks on gays, whether the attacks are motivated by religious belief, malice or hatred.
- I do NOT approve of extremist views – whether ostensibly justified by religious doctrine or any other ideology
- I do NOT adhere to any religion, although I was raised as an Anglican
- I do NOT disapprove of gay people: I think every human being should be able to live their own life, guided by their nature and instincts.
Furthermore, the things I wrote below were not supposed to cover every nuance of religious thinking, nor were they intended to exhaust the field of LGBTI issues. I tried to deal with a limited question posed by someone who seems very excitable, and who has been one of the chief abuse-hurlers. Specifically, it is worth remembering that I was persuaded to comment on things said by the Grand Mufti of Australia, in response to some specific things said by Sheikh Shady. I have no interest at all in chasing everything said by Sheikh Shady: I doubt I would agree with him on much.
Someone called @BasimaFaysal got very excited recently on Twitter about the fact that the Australian Grand Mufti, Dr Mohammed, dined at Kirribilli House with the Prime Minister and others recently.
The asserted cause of the excitement was a statement by Dr Mohammed regarding things said six years ago by Sheikh Shady about homosexuality.
@BasimaFaysal told me I had to respond to the comments. I was on holidays at the time. I have now had a chance to research the matter. In fairness, I should say that I do not adhere to any religion, and I take a much more lenient view of homosexuality than any of the Abrahamic religions do. It seems that Sheikh Shady’s comments were confined to the likelihood of practising homosexuals contracting diseases, which is probably accurate as a matter of medical observation, and it seems that the Grand Mufti’s comments were accurate as a matter of religious doctrine.
In 2010 Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman said that Allah will give gay people ‘diseases that they have never experienced before … if you speak to a doctor – he’ll tell you the most terrifying disease come from what? From sexual activities… or also homosexuality that is spreading all these diseases.’
Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed wrote a two page statement in which he said the sheikh had ‘simply conveyed a religious ruling. … Despite Islam’s long standing position on homosexuality, which no person can ever change, no matter who they are. … That which Sheikh Shady has said regarding homosexuality is simply a conveyance of a religious fact which is known to every practicing person in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.’
What Sheikh Shady said appears to have medical support.
What Dr Mohammed said is undoubtedly accurate. Here is the official position of various religions on the subject of homosexuality:
On being gay:
Christianity: not generally considered sinful in itself, though some see it as a purposeful perversion. Some accept it as a natural alternative, while others regard it as a non-chosen mental disorder akin to alcoholism.
Islam: Not generally condemned
Orthodox: Condemned as rebellion against God.
Conservative: Neither condemned nor affirmed.
Reform: Generally accepted as alternative.
On engaging in homosexual acts:
Christianity: Traditionally considered sinful. Many Christians and denominations continue to uphold this belief, while others have reconsidered it or in the process of doing so.
“A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” -Leviticus 18:22
“Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” -Romans 1:27
Islam: Sinful and punishable under Islamic law.
Qur’an: “We also sent Lut: He said to his people: Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” -Qur’an 7:80-81
Orthodox: Strongly condemned.
Conservative: Violation of Jewish law, disqualifies from Jewish marriage and religious leadership.
Reform: Approved in context of committed relationship; civil marriage supported, but generally not religious marriage.
Bible: “A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” -Leviticus 18:22
It seems that Sheikh Shady’s comments were accurate as a matter of medical observation and that the Grand Mufti’s comments were accurate as a matter of religious doctrine. That said, I do not agree with the official position of any of the Abrahamic religions on this issue.
Helen Razer posted a piece on her Facebook page in which she criticised some Islamophobes as “racist”. They corrected her: Islam is not a race.
She wrote them an apology. When I had finished reading it, I wished I had written it myself. It is an incredibly good piece of writing.
To save some people the effort of writing to set me straight, let me make it clear: I deplore Islamic extremism; I deplore extremism of any kind, supposedly in support of any ideology; I deplore terrorist attacks, especially ones which kill innocent civilians; I deplore people who speak or act as if all Muslims were extremists.
With Helen Razer’s permission, here is her apology. I recommend you read it out loud to someone dear to you:
THIS IS AN APOLOGY. In a post earlier today that linked to an article written by me I incorrectly identified those who disdain Islam as “racist”. I am sorry about this. As you so deftly and cleverly remind me, “Islam is not a race”. You are, therefore, not a racist.
I didn’t mean to call you a racist.
I meant to call you – how can I put this? – history’s worst reflex.
I meant to call you the frail and fearful idiot who learned nothing of the lessons of 1933.
I meant to call you the descendent of Nazism.
I meant, much more kindly, to say that your belief that a little cultural difference is responsible for all the shit in your life is a product of an under-informed mind and an ugly spirit.
I meant to say that I recognise those of you suddenly saying “Well, what about the way they treat gays?” as the same scum who used to beat me up at high school for being a –w what was it you called me? – an “ugly dyke not worth raping”.
I meant to say that you should remember Dachau, Belsen and all the other places in which human lives were sacrificed on the altar built on the foundation of your puny, disgusting hate.
I meant to say that I know your stench: it has offended my nostrils for a lifetime.
I meant to say that if you think Islam is intrinsically evil and you’ve somehow missed that the real “evil” in the world is belched from its financial centres, fuck you very much and you just keep on agreeing with Brave Intellectuals like Sonia Kruger and Andrew Bolt.
I meant to say that you do not need to love people. You do not even need to approve. You just need to fucking accept difference as an inevitable fact of life: but you never will, because you are made by off-cuts of history’s worst mistakes.
I meant to say you have nothing to say to me that I cannot read in the nation’s worst newspapers.
I meant to say you are a receptacle for the ideological shit of powerful others.
I meant to say you sicken me.
But I didn’t mean to call you a racist.
Helen Razer writes for The Daily Review
SEMINAR: A POET’S ARCHIVE
Peter Porter’s Creative Legacy
The National Library is proud to be the custodian of the personal archive of poet Peter Porter. From first drafts to page proofs, from notes to correspondence, the collection reveals the life of an Australian poet in London and is a treasure trove for research.
Join Porter’s family and friends for a day celebrating his legacy in all its diversity, and for a glimpse of the richness the archive offers.
For full program details, visit nla.gov.au/event/a-poets-archive
Supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust
Friday 29 July, 9.30 am–5 pm
Theatre, $25 (includes collection viewing and light refreshments)
Book here or 02 6262 1111
National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Canberra ACT 2600
Pauline Hanson and Sam Dastyari had some interesting exchanges on Q & A on Monday 18 July 2016.
Dastyari pointed out that Hanson has, in the past, expressed strident views against Aborigines, then against Asians, and more recently against Muslims. She wants to stop Muslims coming to Australia. She wanted to stop Asians coming to Australia. She could hardly have objected to Aborigines being in Australia, so she advocated instead for the abolition of special government assistance for them; the abolition of native title and the abolition of ATSIC.
One of the oddest exchanges between Hanson and Dastyari on Q & A went like this:
Dastyari: “When I look at Ms Hanson’s policy document that says we should be banning Muslims from coming to this country, I have to ask: does that mean that a five-year-old Sam Dastyari should never have been able to set foot in Australia, because somewhere in Tehran there’s a document that says beside my name the word ‘Muslim’, because of where I was born?”
Hanson: “Are you a Muslim?…Really?” … “You’re a practising Muslim? This is quite interesting,… I’m surprised. I did not know that about you.”
What is odd about this is that on 2 July, the night of the Federal election, when Hanson was being interviewed on Channel Seven, Dastyari offered to take her out for a Halal Snack Pack. That invitation, coupled with the widely known fact that Dastyari is originally from Iran, would lead any moderately intelligent person to conclude that Dastyari is Muslim. but Hanson seemed genuinely surprised on Monday night, in the exchange quoted above.
Perhaps her real point concerned whether he was a practising Muslim. But if that was her point she would have to refine her call for Muslims to be prevented from coming to Australia. But her comments on Muslims seem much broader than whether a Muslim is a practising Muslim. Here are some of her (false) claims about Muslims.
Here is the Guardian’s article about the Q & A episode: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/18/pauline-hanson-and-sam-dastyari-clash-over-islam-on-abcs-qa?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=182252&subid=7875396&CMP=ema_632
It s hard to know what is more disturbing: the fact that someone with Hanson’s strident bigotry has a strong presence in the Senate or that someone with such luke-warm intelligence has a strong presence in the Senate.
Yes: the Eureka Stockade, 1854, was a terrorist event by our contemporary legal standards. The current definition of “terrorist act” is set out below. It’s complex, but the bottom line is this: if an ordinary criminal act of damage to property or person is carried out in order to intimidate the government or the public, it is a terrorist act. The Eureka Stockade involved fairly serious criminal conduct: 30 people were killed. and it was explicitly for political purposes: they wanted to force the Victorian government to allow miners (who paid high mining licence fees) to vote. Their sentiment was part of the idea expressed 81 years earlier in America: the Boston tea party of 1773 and then the American war of independence were clear expressions of the sentiment: no taxation without representation.
The leaders were charged with high treason, but they were acquitted. this was generally regarded as an expression of public sympathy for their cause. One of them, Peter Lalor went on to be Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Council (upper House) in 1880.
The diggers swore an oath on 30 November 1854: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties’
The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act (1995) defines”terrorist act” in section 100.1. You can see the full version here. Here is an abbreviated version:
“terrorist act means an action where:
(a) the action falls within subsection (2)…; and
(b) the action is done with the intention of:
(i) coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of the Commonwealth or a State, Territory or foreign country, or of part of a State, Territory or foreign country; or
(ii) intimidating the public or a section of the public.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) causes serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(b) causes serious damage to property; or
(c) causes a person’s death; or …”
However it will not be a terrorist act if it falls within sub-section 3:
“(3) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) is advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action; and
(b) is not intended:
(i) to cause serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(ii) to cause a person’s death; or …”
It is a nice historical irony that another icon of Australian history is also bound up in terrorism. Ian Jones, the foremost authority on Ned Kelly, says Kelly’s activities in North-East Victoria had the ultimate objective of establishing a separate colony in that area. Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter adds credence to that suggestion. If his objective was a political one, then his murderous exploits fit him neatly into the modern legal definition of a terrorist.
Sonia Kruger went full Trump on morning television today.
A colleague of mine contacted Channel 9 and made a few points about her experience of Islam. Here are some of the points she made:
-As a refugee rights advocate, around half my friends came here by boat. Most of them are Muslim, or from a Muslim background.
-I have attended a Mosque, and worn a hijab by choice; I actually decided never to do it again because of the way I was treated in my local shopping centre when my head was covered because I was on my way to the Mosque. I did not feel safe, and I’m not a person who scares easily.
-Never have I been disrespected by any of my Islamic friends for not being of Islamic faith, or for engaging in practices considered ‘Haram’ ie forbidden and unholy. (Trust me, I am the worst. Nobody has ever said a word about this.)
-Never have I heard anything other than condemnation from them about terror attacks practised in the name of Islam.
-Every single time somebody is given a platform to condemn the Islamic faith on national television in Australia, it has an impact on my friends, because then Aussies think it’s a good idea to racially abuse women wearing hijabs on trains-in the street-in the shops, for some reason. This is a problem we as a friendship group have almost exclusively with the 9 network.
-I am perfectly safe in Parramatta and Blacktown, where a large proportion of the population is Muslim, but I had to quit my job in my (extremely Caucasian) hometown due to sexual harassment on the way to and from work from Aussies in utes – men who are visibly not from Islamic backgrounds. I wish I was joking. Sadly, I’m not. I also had to quit jogging with my daughter when she was in her pram for the same reason. Again, a huge proportion of the people (including men) I associate with, and spend time around, are of Islamic faith. Never once have I had even a moment where I felt unsafe around any of them.
So there you have it: most Muslims are polite and respectful. Many Aussies are not. A tiny percentage of Muslims are extremists: and a tiny percentage of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Bhuddists etc are extremists. It is extremists we should fear.
And hate-mongers like Sonya Kruger and Pauline Hanson.
Senator Pauline Hanson must be grateful to Senator Brandis. He declared that every one has the right to be a bigot.
Pauline Hanson is a bigot, and she revels in it. Her bigotry is accompanied by ignorance, which makes her public utterances ugly and dangerous, because bigotry is as contagious as the plague.
Pauline Hanson has made inflammatory statements about Islam: statements which were not only offensive but also plain wrong. Here is a brief summary of some of the things she has said about Islam FactCheckHanson
And here is a link to a detailed fact check.
It is easy to discount Pauline Hanson as a joke: but a lot of people are not laughing: they are lapping up all her anti-Islamic sentiments because they need an easy hate-target. We have seen the same phenomenon before. It is always ugly, and it always turns out badly.
And just in case you are wondering: I am not a Muslim; I do not adhere to any religious tradition. I think that some of the conspicuous Christians in our Parliament (Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull …) have grotesquely distorted ideas of Christian doctrine, and have betrayed the religion they profess to observe). Likewise, Muslim extremists debase the religion they claim to observe. I am opposed to all extremism, whether it is based on religious or political or other ideology.
I have had an interesting exchange of correspondence with someone I have never met. He has emailed me a number of times warning me about the dangers of Islam in Australia. Here are our last exchanges (for obvious reasons, I have removed any identifying details):
French PM Manual Valls has told the French people that they have to just live with Muslim terrorism.
Do you believe that Australians just have to live with Muslim terrorism?
What Muslim terrorism has there been in Australia?
Do you think the risk of Muslim terrorism is affected at all if Muslims are publicly vilified?
Very best wishes
To date around 200 Australians died at the hands of Muslim terrorists most of them overseas. However fortunately Australia as yet does not have the same level of Muslim population as France and other European countries caught up in World War III.
We must never let it get close to this level. The Muslims bred like rabbits as they live on welfare payments to get even more.
Religion is a life style choice. An attempt was made to indoctrinate me into the religion of my parents but I was not interested.
All Muslims living in Australia have a choice to make – they can repudiate the evil religion of Islam or get out of our great Country.
I do not see why this should be such a difficult choice for any reasonable human being to make.
Any person who supports the deliberate killing of babies in prams while the citizens of a country celebrate a day of freedom or the killing of teenagers at a concert or cartoonists who have the right to express their views are fully deserving of being vilified.
I did not reject one religion to adopt the religion of “political correctness“.
After Muslims attacked Australians in 1915 Billie Hughes established concentration camps and locked all Muslims up without trial as well as German and Turkish sympathisers. I have no problem with that because it worked. No more terrorist attacks during WW1.
So it comes to this: we will adopt intentional cruelty to innocent human beings (asylum seekers held in offshore detention) and we will actively discriminate against members of a particular religion (Islam) just in case we get Islamic extremists doing here what they do in Europe. Brilliant solution: we abandon our own principles just in case another group comes along and trashes our principles – we can do the job for them.
Now to some details about this brilliant idea. Should we expel all Muslims from Australia or just stop new ones from coming here?
And who do we include in the group to be excluded: ones who go to the mosque each day, or each week, or just sometimes, or never? Or do we do the German thing and check their heritage back through a few generations?
Is it possible that we could just target the extremists? Or would that deny us the fun of generalised discrimination?
I am sure Pauline Hanson would like your ideas; I don’t. I will go further: I think your ideas are grotesquely at odds with the Australia I grew up in, and they are probably dangerous. But Pauline Hanson has scratched up quite some popularity, so I am probably wrong, and the mob is probably right.
Very best wishes
His reply (how sad is this):
…Well here are my principles:
– Australians should determine who comes into our Country. Japan does not allow Muslim refugees into Japan so why should we?
– People who we invite to come to Australia must have a genuine commitment to support democracy and the liberty of others
– People who have no genuine desire to work but wish to exploit our social safety net are not welcome in Australia
– People who pay people smugglers to jump the queue of genuine refugees are deserving of no special treatment, especially when they are economic refugees and not genuinely in fear of their safety
– People who promote cruelty to animals are not welcome in Australia
– People who regard women as property and second class citizens are not welcome in Australia
– Freedom of Religion has its boundaries – hate preaching must be banned and any place hosting hate preachers must be closed down. By hate preaching I mean telling others to kill those who do not believe in the same religion.
– People who celebrate the killing of women and children are not welcome in Australia
– Religion is a lifestyle choice so do not complain if you are vilified for supporting an evil religion
– any politician who does not subscribe to the wisdom of Cicero Salus populi suprema lex esto is not worth voting for.
– any politician who puts “political correctness” such as hosting a Ramadan Dinner with Australia’s version of Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) before the security of those who vote for him is not worth voting for
– politicians should be prevented from taking the oath of office on the Qu’ran since this evil book requires that politician be committed to the killing of “kafirs” , non-Mulsims (Ed Husic was the first politician to take the oath of office on this evil book and he should be the last).
I’ve showed you my principles which I am not about to abandon – now you show me yours!
By the way Islam is not a “race” – it is an ideology more akin to Nazism that to what most people would consider a “religion“. World domination by violent means is what they have in common. I have no time for racially based laws and “native title” laws were the thin edge of the wedge for apartheid in Australia which will be confirmed if the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act is amended to give official recognition to “Invasion Day” and to entrench racially bases laws in Australia. You are born with a genetic heritage which you can do nothing about. However religion is a lifestyle choice.
As Pauline says we should be “One Nation” where your racial heritage has no place for special treatment. But race and political ideology are two separate things.
Donald Trump is all for stopping Muslim immigration into American after the Muslim President Mr Obama, who was raised in the Muslim Indonesia has opened the float gates.
I am not a lone voice. The days of the political elites who know what is best for the rest of us are numbered.
I have received several reports in the past few days which show just how bad things are getting in our ONSHORE detention facilities.
Some people – and that probably means most of the people who voted for LNP or ALP or One Nation on Saturday – don’t care, or prefer to turn a blind eye, or they’re just over it. Anything to avoid the pain or recognising that terrible things are being done in our name.
But the judgment of history will not be kind to those of us who prefer to ignore what our government is doing. It may be that the judgment of history will be so long delayed that today’s voters will have sunk into the grave, or dementia by the time it comes.
I only hope that the judgment of history will not be so long delayed for the real criminals: Abbott, Dutton, Morrison, Turnbull: The people who lied to the Australian public by calling boat people “illegal”, even though boat people commit no offence by coming here. The people who built on that lie by calling the whole exercise “border protection” and persuaded the public that locking up innocent children would, in some unidentified way, protect us from terrorism. The people who pretended to be devout Christians, but who willingly condemned innocent people to incarceration and torture and in some cases death.
So here’s the latest:
“SERCO and BorderForce are proud of their “New Operating Model- CONTROLLED MOVEMENT” which is causing great distress.
The physical conditions at the MITA (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, 120 Camp Road Broadmeadows in Victoria) are deteriorating weekly under BorderForce to a standard which fails in its duty of care provision and fails in providing safety.
The men in Bass 1 and Bass 2 are crammed in rooms approximately 3 metres by 2 metres in bunk-beds. They have no outdoor recreation space, nowhere even to cry privately. Their communal space is one room, which is the dining room, kitchen, TV, pool table and English class. The result is chaos. Meals are brought in from a central kitchen to further limit contact between compounds. The men say the noise in the low-ceiling demountable rooms is unbearable. Frequent quarrels and fights erupt because of the close quarters in which they are confined. The Gym contains two or three walking machines or bike machines in a tiny room. In order for the men Bass 2 to get to the visits area, they must pass through five locked gates under escort and check at each gate. Similar for other compounds. There are now togged up guards of five full-time ERT (Emergency Response Teams) on each day – looking for trouble.
Even the SERCO boss (a former Prison commandant) admitted in a private meeting that such conditions would not be allowed in the prison system. The men have nothing to do all day except sleep and hope that they are called to visits where they may see former friends from other compounds and outsiders. The Volley ball court, soccer pitch and outdoor areas are now out of bounds beyond the fences except for short periods when SERCO elect to let them out.
We are witnessing the physical and psychological condition of all the people deteriorate under these high security, high surveillance conditions. Even the women are now double searched every time they leave the camp to go to hospital or CASA house appointments. First they are electronically scanned and then female guards hands squeeze up and down their arms and legs and body and take shoes off, before female detainees leave, and on their arriving back at the camp. Male guards film the body search. The male detainees are often handcuffed and have two guards holding their upper arms throughout their time out in public hospital outpatient waiting rooms. Many are now refusing to attend specialist medical appointments because, as one man said last week, “Where is my dignity?” Room searches are constant and unpredictable, early morning or late at night.”
Many reports of immigration detention onshore and offshore say that the conditions in detention and the treatment of detainees is far worse than in the prison system, including maximum security prisons. But people in immigration detention are not criminals; they have committed no offence: they are locked up indefinitely at the discretion of the government. And the Turnbull government, with the help of the Shorten Opposition, last year made it a criminal offence for workers in the detention system to speak about conditions in detention. I guess they would be embarrassed if the public at large knew what we are doing to people who are innocent of any offence.