In 1974 the Parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive…”. But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that norms of conduct which parliamentarians sets for commerce do not apply to them.
Most people expect politicians to lie. But few politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
Abbott, Morrison, Turnbull and Dutton claim to be Christians, along with most other members of the Australian Parliament. For fear of being misunderstood, I should declare that I was brought up in the Christian tradition, but I no longer adhere to any religion. But I do remember some of the fundamental tenets of Christian teaching: compassion for those in need; treat others as you would want to be treated…
These men lie to us, and they are hypocrites. They lie when they call boat people “illegal”, when it is not an offence to arrive in Australia, without a visa, seeking to be protected from persecution. And by their wilful mistreatment of people seeking asylum they betray the Christian values they pretend to hold.
Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish traveller on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, has been stripped and beaten and left, helpless, beside the road. A priest and a Levite both pass him by and avoid engaging with him. A Samaritan sees him and helps him, even though Jews and Samaritans were traditional enemies.
Tony Abbott, who claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, once suggested that the parable of the Good Samaritan might have been different if a number of travellers had been found beside the road. It takes someone like Abbott to claim that he can reconstruct Christs’s teaching.
Abbott had earlier exposed his bankrupt version of Christianity when he gave the second Margaret Thatcher Lecture, in London on 27 October 2015. Among other things he said:
“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” is at the heart of every Western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”
So, a wholesome instinct is sidelined because of its consequences.
In the same speech, Abbott said this:
“…no country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of Europe now run through misguided altruism.
On a somewhat smaller scale, Australia has faced the same predicament and overcome it. The first wave of illegal arrivals to Australia peaked at 4000 people a year, back in 2001, before the Howard government first stopped the boats: by processing illegal arrivals offshore; by denying them permanent residency; and in a handful of cases, by turning illegal immigrant boats back to Indonesia.
The second wave of illegal boat people was running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising fast – by July 2013, when the Rudd government belatedly reversed its opposition to offshore processing; and then my government started turning boats around, even using orange lifeboats when people smugglers deliberately scuttled their vessels.”
(Incidentally, in addition to his lie about “illegal boat people”, his figures were false. The Australia Parliament House library shows that the largest number of boat people to come to Australia in a single year was just short of 25,000).
Malcolm Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism . He has not tried to reinterpret Christ’s teaching, but he has embraced Abbott’s practical lessons in morality by embracing his policy of mistreating refugees.
By contrast, Pope Francis has taken a principled stand on the need for compassion for the plight of asylum seekers said:
“Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.”
He was referring to a passage in the Bible (Matthew 25), where Christ says:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Sadly, neither Abbott nor Turnbull appear to have listened to the Pope or understood the Bible.
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 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; 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 they 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 call them “illegal” and punish them as if they were criminals. 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 Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison 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.
They are dishonest hypocrites.
On Sunday 15 October 2017, the Wheeler Centre put on a day of ideas at Melbourne Town Hall. The first session was called Questions for the Nation.
Here’s my contribution:
“Is democracy still working?”
Donald Trump is President of the USA.
Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister of Australia, and the alternative PM is Bill Shorten.
This is what democracy has thrown up. Whatever happened to the idea of leadership?
Donald Trump was democratically elected. Leaving aside the complexities of the Electoral College system, it seems he was elected in accordance with the democratic principles of the United States of America.
Since his election, Trump has been an embarrassing failure.
He denies the science of climate change. As a candidate he vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,”. His first budget cut the EPA’s budget by more than 30%.
Trump is famous for his use of Twitter. As long ago as 2012, he tweeted:
“The concept of global warming was invented by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”
Meantime, in the real world the past 10 weeks have seen10 tropical storms become hurricanes: Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate and Ophelia.
The strength and ferocity of a hurricane is a function of the ocean temperature: as ocean temperatures rise, so hurricanes become more destructive. There is no doubt that hurricanes will be more destructive as the oceans warm.
In the past couple of months, Texas, Florida and various Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico have suffered immense damage because of hurricanes.
The people who live on Puerto Rico are American citizens. They have been without electricity and fresh water for nearly two weeks, because of Hurricane Maria. Last week, Trump got around to visiting Puerto Rico.
He spent four hours there. He visited a wealthy suburb of San Juan called Guaymabo, which had suffered very little damage. He said he “had fun” in Puerto Rico. He might not have said that if he had visited the rest of the island, where people are still dying for want of the most basic supplies which FEMA is planning to provide once all the paperwork is done.
In Washington, Trump has not achieved any legislative success. He has not delivered on any of his electoral promises.
This is due in large measure to Trump’s shameless capacity to deny facts. So he tags as “Fake News” anything that does not sit with his world view.
Malcolm Turnbull is a very intelligent man, and likeable. When he replaced Tony Abbott as PM, most Australians breathed a sigh of relief.
If he had had the political nous to go to the polls straight away, he would probably have won a substantial majority. He would have been able to hose out the hard-right.
But instead of going to the polls straight away, he dithered until his political instincts were shown to be missing in action. And now he is hostage to the hard right, with Tony Abbott sniping at him from the back bench, and Pauline Hanson calling the shots in the Senate.
The big change in the way democracies work happened 20 or 30 years ago: the science and technology of opinion polls developed dramatically. It is now possible to get an apparently accurate, representative measure of public attitudes easily and cheaply (it does not have to cost $122 million).
As this technology developed, political parties saw a way of shaping their policies so as to suit a perceived majority of the electorate. It is an interesting irony that this technology could have been, but has not been, used to find the nation’s views on marriage equality. If it had been used, the result would be more reliable statistically and would have cost thousands rather than millions of dollars. But that’s what the government does when it does not intend to be bound by the result but rather intends to leave plenty of room for the hard right to vote against same sex marriage.
In recent years, the government has been brutalising asylum seekers in ways that would appal most Australians. It has been costing us a fortune: it costs Australian taxpayers about $560,000 per refugee per year to lock them up in hellish conditions in Nauru and Manus. And the government makes it nearly impossible for us to find out what is going on. Journalists simply can’t get to Nauru. It costs $8000 for a journalist to apply for a Nauru visa. The fee is not refunded if the application is refused. The application is refused for any journalist who does not share the government’s ideology.
The public has been persuaded to accept all this by dishonest political rhetoric:
- the Coalition call boat people “illegal”. It’s a lie
- the Coalition call the exercise “border protection”, suggesting that we need to be protected from boat people. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition says the offshore processing regime is the responsibility of PNG and Nauru. It’s a lie.
- the Coalition prevent us from learning the truth about the cruelty with which innocent men, women and children are being treated. It’s a disgrace
And the same politicians who have lied to us for years about refugees have thrown $122 million at a postal plebiscite to find our views on marriage equality: a subject on which Australian views are already very clearly known. And they don’t intend to do what we want.
That’s where democracy has got us: Malcolm Turnbull panders to a party that has Pauline Hanson as its leader and (for the time being at least) Malcolm Roberts as a successful Senate candidate.
And what better can we hope for? Bill Shorten? He’s a very nice guy personally; he is intelligent and thoughtful. But he leads a party which reintroduced the Pacific Solution and made its operation even more vicious than John Howard and Philip Ruddock managed.
Look around and identify a genuine leader in politics these days. It’s a lonely search.
The mistreatment of asylum seekers is now, effectively, a bi-partisan issue. But that is true of many issues.
There was a time when you could predict, with fair accuracy, what the Labor policy on a particular issue would be, and what the Liberal policy on that same issue would be. Because the origins and inclinations of both major parties were well-known.
There was a time when politicians would say “This is what I believe. Here is why you should agree with me”.
There was a time when political leadership included the idea of leading. That idea seems to have faded away, some time in the past 20 or 30 years.
Western democracies now have leadership in the Jim Hacker mould. Jim Hacker, in Yes Prime Minister, famously said “I am their leader. I must follow them.”
There was a time when, despite Churchill’s comment, democracy worked quite well.
That time has passed.
It is easy to forget that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. So was Richard Nixon.
It is easy to forget that Australia once had political leaders like Deakin and Menzies; Chifley and Keating.
It is also easy to forget the real point of the American Declaration of Independence. Part of the Preamble is famous, but its broader point is often overlooked. It starts like this:
“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. …”
This is not talking about just calling another election: it is about a fundamental change to system of government.
Democracy is not working. Short of scrapping the entire system, let’s try something novel: let’s see if we can find some politicians who are also willing to be leaders.
Never forget the lesson of Martin Niemoller.
The lesson is: when government’s misbehave, it’s just a matter of time before they will come for you.
Recently, two Australian citizens arrived back in Australia after a long overnight flight.
They had nothing to declare and filled out customs declarations accordingly. The dogs sniffed their bags, legs etc and soon lost interest.
Nevertheless the Australian Border Force people (ABF) decided to single them out for closer inspection. ABF staff were particularly unfriendly and treated them as suspects.
It was 6 am and ABF turned the Australians’ luggage inside out. They took X-rays of the luggage, but found nothing. Not surprising, as there was nothing to find.
But ABF then decided to confiscate the travellers’ iPhones, iPads and laptop computers. They kept the travellers at the airport for almost 2 hours. Finally, they said that the travellers – two Australian citizens who had just returned from a holiday – were suspected ‘people smugglers’.
ABF then confiscated the travellers’ iPhones, iPads and laptop computers “for forensic testing”. They kept them for the next ten days. Nothing was done to protect their personal, private and confidential information on their electronic devices.
During the ten days they kept the electronic devices, ABF made NO effort to contact either of the Australian citizens. Instead, the citizens had to chase ABF in an attempt to have their electric equipment returned.
Eventually the equipment was returned. The Australian travellers have not been charged with any offence (probably for the good reason that they had committed no offence). But there was no apology from ABF, and no explanation.
Just for a moment, try to imagine how it feels: You arrive back in Australia tired, the ABF men in black rummage through all your luggage and then keep your iPhone, iPad and computer for ten days. I thought that’s what happened in Police States. But with two former Queensland policemen in charge (Dutton and Quadvlieg), expect the unthinkable.
Be aware, be very aware!
And remember the words of Martin Niemoller (he is in the centre of the photograph of people taken in by the Nazis), the Lutheran pastor who was taken in for questioning by the Nazis in July 1938:
When they came for the Communists I said nothing, because I am not a Communist.
When they came for the trade unionists I said nothing, because I am not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I am not a Jew.
And when they came for me There was no-one to speak for me.
On 1 July 2017 I gave the inaugural Ralph Summy lecture for Ngara.
The event honoured Ralph Summy and was also the occasion of the award of the inaugural Australian Activists of the Year Awards. The winners were Murrawah Johnson and Adrian Burragubba of the Wangan and Jagalingu Traditional Owners Family Council, for their tireless work in opposing the Adani coalmine, which will destroy the traditional lands of the Wangan and Jagalingu.
NGARA: Inaugural Ralph Summy Speech: 1 July 2017
WHAT SORT OF COUNTRY ARE WE? WHAT SORT OF COUNTRY CAN WE BE?
Ralph Summy; … Two steps forward, one step back; … The Melian dialogue; … Slavery.; … The Zorg; … The American Declaration of Independence; … Dred Scott; … The Declaration of the Rights of Man; … The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; … The Trevorrow case; … Australian Values; … Conclusion
Today’s talk is given in honour of Professor Ralph Summy.
Professor Summy taught political science at the University of Queensland for more than 30 years. He established an interdisciplinary major in peace and conflict studies.
In 1971 he wrote a thesis called Australian Peace Movement 1960-67: A Study of Dissent. He wrote it for the purpose of a Master of Arts at the University of Sydney. It is an interesting thesis because it covers the history of a movement of which I was vaguely aware during my years of blind passivity. The period covered by his study begins in 1960 (when I was in Grade 6 at school, and hopefully I can be forgiven for not paying attention to what was going on) and ends in 1967, which was my first year at university and had become vaguely aware of things that were happening. The big name in political activism during the years that I remember included Jim Cairns. Jim Cairns gets numerous references in Ralph Summy’s thesis. It is easy to forget these days that the big issues back then included the nuclear arms race, the war in Vietnam and (in Australia specifically) conscription. I was acutely aware of the war in Vietnam and conscription because my birth date had come out of the ballot, by which people were chosen for conscription, and because I was a university student when I turned 18 I was able to defer my call-up until I finished my degrees. I finished at university in 1972. The Federal election that year was fought at least in part on the issue of conscription, and I was due to be called-up at the start of the following year. But Gough Whitlam won that election, and had promised during his election campaign to abolish conscription. He did so and as a result I wasn’t called up. That was a relief, of course. But it has to be conceded that I had voted against self-interest in December 1967, because I voted Liberal.
It is easy to forget that the 1966 election followed shortly after Harold Holt (who was then Australia’s Prime Minister) had said that Australia would go “all the way with LBJ”.
It is also easy to forget that Holt had been given the Prime Ministership by Sir Robert Menzies, who had begun his record run as Prime Minister of Australia in 1949 (the year I was born – I didn’t catch up with the news until a bit later) and Liberals continued to hold government in Canberra until 1972. Ralph Summy’s thesis includes the useful reminder that a Victorian SOS pamphlet included this sentence: “Why … the Menzies-Holt government committed Australian troops is because the government believes that Australia must blindly follow American policies in order to consolidate the Australian-American alliance, which the government regards as necessary to Australian security”.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The catchcry “all the way with LBJ” was universally recognized in Australia, although it originated in America. In March 1964, Democrat Party supporters in New Hampshire called “all the way with LBJ and RFK”. In October 1966, LBJ visited Australia and Harold Holt declared that Australia was “all the way with LBJ”. Holt had been treasurer until January 1966, when Robert Menzies stepped down as Prime Minister and handed over to Holt. Holt was sworn in as Prime Minister on Australia Day 1966. (Interestingly, his first Cabinet included Billy McMahon, John Gorton and Malcolm Fraser). LBJ’s visit to Australia was usefully timed in October 1966, because the Federal election was held in November that year.
Holt’s declaration that Australia would go “all the way with LBJ” was wildly contentious, because of course it was a direct reference to Australia’s continued involvement in the war in Vietnam. Holt disappeared in late December 1967, presumably drowned at sea near his beach-house at Portsea. So, his big issue and his death fit neatly into Ralph Summy’s thesis.
Summy’s thesis notes that the Parliamentary party of the ALP had made known in May 1966 that conscription would be a major issue in the election later that year. Arthur Calwell in a motion of dissent from the policies outlined by Harold Holt in his first statement as Prime Minister, noted as the first item “emphatic opposition to the dispatch of conscripted youths for service in Vietnam”. It is easy to forget what a contentious issue conscription and the war in Vietnam had been. It is altogether fitting that this speech is in honour of Ralph Summy, whose thesis provides such a powerful reminder of the simple truth that political activism can ultimately achieve results.
Tonight we honour Ralph Summy.
Two steps forward, one step back
Because Ralph Summy was an activist, and because the Australian Activists Award is to be presented tonight, I was asked to keep my talk largely upbeat. After all, activists should not be discouraged.
It will be no surprise to anyone here that occasionally I find it difficult to remain upbeat in my pursuit of something approximating justice for refugees in Australia. However, it is important to notice that political activism sometimes takes a while to meet its mark (for example, the activism summarized by Ralph Summy and which was in large part responsible for the end of conscription and the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War). And equally it is important to notice that various other forms of political activism have also produced striking and enduring results – results which should still be celebrated.
The cause of human rights often advances and then slips back. We are in a slippage phase at present.
My general proposition tonight is that the slippage phases should not discourage us: taken in the long sweep of history, the activists are helping humankind make progress.
The Melian dialogue
Although I am sure there are many earlier examples, it is useful to start with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars. The second Peloponnesian war ran from 431BC until 404BC. Athens wasn’t doing too well and decided that it needed a launching place somewhere close to Sparta. The island of Melos was an ideal candidate. But the island of Melos had never done anything to harm the Athenians and was, in all possible respects, a neutral. The Athenians sent a delegation to speak to the commissions of Melos and explained to them fairly bluntly that they were planning to take over Melos and that there was an easy way and a hard way. They acknowledged that the Melians had never done any harm to the Athenians but then pointed out that this was irrelevant “You know as well as we do” they said “that justice is only relevant between equals in power. Where power is unequal, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must” (the Melians stood their ground and Athens took them over the hard way: they murdered the men and raped the women).
Although it is easy to be cynical about our conceptions of justice, the legal system still aims to achieve justice and in particular justice of a kind which does not depend on whether the antagonists are equal in power or one weak and the other strong. It may not be a perfect system, but at least its objectives have taken us some distance from the theoretical underpinnings and harsh consequences of the Melian dialogue.
Let me give another example of progress. It is easily forgotten how differently slaves were seen before the heroic and pioneering work of William Wilberforce in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Before Wilberforce started campaigning against slavery, slavery was common and accepted and, in some places at least, was regarded as fundamental to the continued economic prosperity of the British Commonwealth.
In 1781, a ship variously called The Zorg or The Zong (one appears to be a misreading of the other) set sail from the coast of West Africa, bound for Jamaica. The captain was Sir Luke Collingwood. As was the custom at the time, its cargo was fully insured.
The cargo comprised 470 slaves.
Because of faulty navigation and changes in the weather, supplies of food and water on the ship looked as though they might not last the distance. By the 29th November, 1781 overcrowding together with malnutrition and disease had resulted in the deaths of seven crew members and about 60 slaves. Captain Collingwood decided to throw a further 133 slaves overboard. By that extreme measure, he hoped that the remaining food and water would be sufficient for the balance of the voyage.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the case ended up in court: not on a charge of mass-murder but on an insurance claim. The insurer defended the case on the footing that the market value of the slaves had fallen below the insured value. There was no suggestion that anyone would be charged with murder. In fact, the Solicitor-General John Lee said that a master could drown slaves without any impropriety. He said: “What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. … The case is the same as if horses had been thrown overboard”.
The case of The Zorg is one which is almost inconceivable in modern times. In that simple proposition you see that we have, in fact, made some progress in our conceptions of justice. William Wilberforce was a great activist and although it took a long time he succeeded.
The American Declaration of Independence
It is easy to forget that, at least until the English Civil War, the received theory of Government was that Kings ruled by divine right and they could not safely be removed.
The English Civil War (1642-1647) was the result of growing tension between King Charles I and his Parliament but it had not been fought when the British colonized North America by establishing a settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. By 1773, the Americans had tired of being taxed by a British Government in which they had no say. Their direct expression of discontent was called the Boston Tea Party. The British Parliament had been trying to raise funds to help out the East India Company. It increased import duties by passing the Tea Act in 1773. On December 16, 1773, the so-called “sons of liberty” boarded three ships in the Boston Harbour under cover of night and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbour. This was a trigger for the American Revolution which began in 1775 and ran through until 1783. However, by July 1776, the revolutionaries had decided that the time had come to declare America’s independence from the British. On the 4th July, 1776, in congress, the 13 United States of America declared:
“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 entitlement, 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 power in such form, as to then shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness …”
The reference to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is widely known and universally famous. But the simple explanation of the nature of government and the source of power to form government is often overlooked but was truly revolutionary.
The Declaration of Independence was a truly revolutionary act, the result of years of careful thinking and calculated activism. Even though some of the large objectives of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence have not yet been achieved, it has to be said that it was a great triumph and a step in the right direction.
When I say that not all the objectives had been achieved, I have in mind in particular the case of Dred Scott
Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia, in 1799. He was owned by Peter Blow. The Blow family moved to St Louis, Missouri, in 1830. Missouri had been acquired in 1804 in the Louisiana purchase. It had been admitted to the Union in 1820, as a slave State, as part of the Missouri Compromise. The Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri into the Union as a slave State, but otherwise prevented the admission to the Union of slave States above 36º30’ north latitude. In effect, it guaranteed that slavery would not spread to the other States acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. It had been a hotly contested measure. Since Eli Whitney had invented the cotton gin in 1794, cotton had been a great source of wealth in the southern States, but its profitability depended on slave labour to pick the cotton.
In 1830, Blow sold Scott to Dr Emerson, an army surgeon. Emerson took Scott with him to his various postings. They spent the next 12 years in free States, principally Illinois. They returned to St Louis in 1842. Emerson died in 1846. His executors were his wife, and her brother John Sanford.
In 1846, Scott sued Mrs Emerson in the St Louis Circuit Court. In form, it was a petition for freedom, based on the fact that he had spent years in a free State, and was therefore released from slavery. A decision of the English courts (Smith v. Brown & Cooper (1705) 2 Salk 666) provided an argument that the simple fact of having spent time in a non-slave State meant that Dred Scott’s condition of slavery was dissolved
Judge Alexander Hamilton heard Scott’s case. A technicality in the evidence led to its failing. The Judge granted leave for a new trial. He won; but the decision was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852.
By this time, Mrs Emerson had remarried. Her new husband was an abolitionist. She made over Scott to her brother and co-executor, John Sanford. Sanford lived in New York. Thus Scott was able to sue in the Federal jurisdiction, since the suit was between residents of different States. The action was for assault.
Sanford (erroneously called Sandford in the Court record) filed a plea in abatement on the basis that Scott was a slave and therefore not a citizen. Accordingly, so the argument went, there was no suit “between citizens of several States” and the Federal jurisdiction was not attracted. In other words, he sought to have the action struck out peremptorily as incompetent.
The matter was argued in December 1855, and was re-argued in 1856. Powerful interests wanted to retain the institution of slavery: American plantation owners, as well as English manufactureres and merchants. Slavery had been abolished in Britain and its Colonies by the Emancipation Act 1834, but that did not prevent English commerce from benefitting from it indirectly. Such was still the position when Roger Casement undertook his tour of investigation in the Congo Free State (1901-04), and Brazil (1906-11).
The first question in issue resolved to this: was a slave capable of being a citizen under the Constitution, so that his action against a citizen of another State would attract the Federal jurisdiction?
Chief Justice Taney and Justices Wayne, Nelson, Grier, Daniel, Campbell and Catron said that the answer to the first question was No. Taney J said:
“The question before us is whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them. …
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.” (emphasis added)
The ideas expressed, and the intensity of the language used, strike the modern ear as shocking, especially in light of the introductory words of the Declaration of Independence (1776):
” … 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.”
Taney J dealt with those words in this way:
“The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included … for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted …”
McLean J (dissenting) did not agree in the result on this issue, but expressed himself in language not much happier than that of Taney J:
“In the argument, it was said that a colored citizen would not be an agreeable member of society. This is more a matter of taste than of law. Several of the States have admitted persons of color to the right of suffrage, and, in this view, have recognised them as citizens, and this has been done in the slave as well as the free States. On the question of citizenship, it must be admitted that we have not been very fastidious. Under the late treaty with Mexico, we have made citizens of all grades, combinations, and colors. The same was done in the admission of Louisiana and Florida …” (per McLean J at 533).
Curtis J (dissenting) found in the words of the Constitution ample authority for the proposition that a slave could be a citizen of the United States.
The second question was whether a slave could become a free man by entering a free State. The question had precedents in English case law. In 1678, it had been held that if a Negro slave came into England and was baptised, he thereupon became a free man. If he were not baptised, he remained “an infidel” and was not freed: Butts v. Penney 2 Lev 201. This rule was later relaxed: in Smith v. Brown & Cooper Holt CJ had said:
“As soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free: one may be a villein in England, but not a slave.”
In Somerset v. Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499, Lord Mansfield had decided on a habeas corpus application that a Virginian slave who had arrived in London must be set free. Lord Mansfield’s decision is famous for its declamatory final sentence “The black must go free”. It is less well-remembered that his Lordship had tried to avoid having to decide the matter. He had said in the course of argument:
“… a contract for the sale of a slave is good here; the sale is a matter to which the law properly and readily attaches … The setting 14,000 or 15,000 men at once free … by a solemn opinion, is much disagreeable in the effects it threatens … An application to Parliament, if the merchants think the question of great commercial concern, is the best, and perhaps the only method of settling the point for the future …” (emphasis added)
The majority in Dred Scott’s case held that the English authorities had no application in the different constitutional framework of the American Union. Specifically, the 5th Amendment prevented the slave being freed by passing into a free State. So far as relevant it provides:
“No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
To allow that a slave be freed by virtue of travelling to a free State would involve a deprivation of property without due process. It is an interesting irony that a slave owner could not be deprived of ownership of his slave without due process, but the slaves were deprived of liberty without due process. The relevant difference is that slaves were not considered “people” for Constitutional purposes.
For good measure, 6 of the 7 judges in the majority held the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional, as contravening the 5th Amendment. Thus they struck down the measure which had, in effect, quarantined slavery to the southern States where the cotton industry was the principal source of wealth, and slave labour was the principal engine of that industry.
The Dred Scott case [reported under the name Scott v Sandford 60 US 393] was decided by the US Supreme Court on 6 March 1857. It provoked bitter controversy. It was one of the precipitating causes of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Abolition was the great question over which the war was fought During that war, on 19 November 1863 (87 years after the Declaration of Independence) Abraham Lincoln famously re-stated the founding proposition of the American Union:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. …”
In so saying, he was unequivocally advancing the cause of abolition. His address at Gettysburg is regarded as a clarion call for the abolitionist cause.
The Dred Scott case resulted in the resignation of Curtis J, and blighted the reputation of Taney J. He was a decent man and a fine lawyer. He had voluntarily freed his own slaves, at great personal cost, and had 35 years earlier described slavery as “a blot on our national character”. Ironically, the decision in the Dred Scott case is generally regarded as a blot on the record of the US Supreme Court.
The decision was an exercise in strict construction which reached an unpalatable result by chaining the words of the Constitution to their historic origins. In 1992 Scalia J. – himself no bleeding-heart liberal in matters of construction – said that “ … the Court was covered with dishonour and deprived of legitimacy” by the Dred Scott decision.
On 28 July 1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the effect of the decision was overturned by the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
The French Revolution started in 1789. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was prepared at about the same time. It is not surprising to learn that Thomas Jefferson had a hand in drafting it. It was influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment and principles of human rights, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence was. Jefferson had prepared the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The first five articles of the Declaration are immediately recognisable as a reflection of modern thinking:
- Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
- The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
- The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.
- Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.
- Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law…
For all this, it is worth noticing that these principles expressly did not apply to women or slaves. And it is worth noting that in 1791 Olympe de Gouge prepared the Declaration of the Rights of Woman. The following year she was executed by guillotine.
Two steps forward, one step back…
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The next giant step forward resulting from activism which I would identify did not happen until the middle of the 20th Century, although I am sure there were plenty of other significant advances between 1776 and 1948.
It is widely forgotten that anti-Semitism was common through the Western world until the end of the Second World War. Arguably, anti-Semitism hasn’t disappeared but has simply gone underground. There are clear traces of anti-Semitism in the earliest version of Magna Carta. There are clear instances of anti-Semitism in Shakespeare, notoriously in the Merchant of Venice. But the horrors of the holocaust gave anti-Semitism the bad name it always deserved.
The Second World War gave rise to a new need to protect human rights. After the war ended, it was impossible – indecent – to permit a continuation of the anti-Semitism which has disfigured many countries (including England and Australia). The holocaust showed where that line of thinking leads if left unchecked. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Refugees’ Convention in 1951 were the most prominent expressions of a new global concern to see that those who fear persecution should be protected.
The Universal Declaration (10 December 1948) 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.
When I say Eleanor Roosevelt was a true egalitarian, it is worth remembering that from the death of FDR in 1945 until her death in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt spent most of her time at a small property called Val-Kill in upstate New York. Val-Kill is truly remarkable in a number of ways. It is strikingly plain. It is a very simple old farmhouse. The sitting-room is furnished with very ordinary chairs and very simple bookshelves. But there are photographs on the wall one of which is a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt having tea in that very room with John F. Kennedy. Next to the sitting-room is the dining-room. The dining-room table seats 10 or 12 people. Many great heads of state dined at that table. But Eleanor Roosevelt was always conscious of the need to have equal numbers of locals whenever she was entertaining dignitaries. And the crockery on which dinner was served had been bought at a Five and Dime store. Eleanor Roosevelt must have been a truly remarkable person. Her sense of the equality of all human beings still lives and breathes at Val-Kill.
After the end of the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt set her heart on creating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It begins as follows:
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, …
As with the Declaration of Independence, some of the rhetoric goes beyond what has ultimately been achieved but it remains the case that for such a document to be universally acknowledged in the United Nations is a mark of progress to which all activists can aspire.
The Trevorrow case
The Trevorrow case happened half a world away, and 150 years later.
Bruce Trevorrow was the illegitimate son of Joe Trevorrow and Thora Lampard. He was born in November 1956. They lived at One Mile Camp, Meningie, on the Coorong. They had two other sons, Tom and George Trevorrow.
They lived at One Mile Camp because, in the 1950s, it was not lawful for an aborigine to live closer than one mile to a place of white settlement, unless they had a permit.
When Bruce was 13 months old, he got gastroenteritis. Joe didn’t have a car capable of taking Bruce to the hospital, so some neighbours from Meningie took him to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital where he was admitted on Christmas Day 1957. Hospital records show that he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, he was treated appropriately and the gastro resolved within six or seven days. Seven days after that he was given away to a white family: Mr & Mrs Davies.
The Davies lived in suburban Adelaide. They had a daughter who was about 16 at the time. She gave evidence at the trial as a woman in her late middle age. She remembered the day clearly. Her mother had always wanted a second daughter. They had seen an advertisement in the local newspaper offering aboriginal babies for fostering. They went to the hospital and looked at a number of eligible babies and saw a cute little girl with curly hair and chose her. They took her home and, when they changed her nappy, they discovered she was a boy. That’s how Bruce Trevorrow was given away in early January, 1958.
A short time later Bruce’s mother, down at One Mile Camp Meningie, wrote to the Department asking how Bruce was doing and when he was coming home. The magnitude of her task should not be overlooked: pen and paper, envelope and stamp were not items readily obtained in the tin and sackcloth humpies of One Mile Camp, Meningie. But Thora managed to write her letter, and it still exists in the South Australian State archives. The reply is still in existence. It notes that Bruce is doing quite well but that the doctors say he is not yet well enough to come home. Bruce had been given away weeks earlier.
In South Australia in the 1950s, the laws relating to fostering required that foster mothers be assessed for suitability and that the foster child and foster home should be inspected regularly. Although the laws did not distinguish between white children and aboriginal children, the fact is that Bruce’s foster family was never checked for suitability and neither was he checked by the Department to assess his progress. He came to the attention of the Children’s Hospital again when he was three years old: he was pulling his own hair out. When he was eight or nine years old, he was seen a number of times by the Child Guidance Clinic and was diagnosed as profoundly anxious and depressed and as having no sense of his own identity.
Nothing had been done to prepare the foster family for the challenges associated with fostering a young aboriginal child. When Bruce was 10 years old, he met Thora, his natural mother, for the first time. Although the Department had previously prevented his mother from finding out where Bruce was, the law had changed in the meantime and they could no longer prevent the mother from seeing him.
The initial meeting interested Bruce and he was later to be sent down to stay with his natural family for a short holiday. When the welfare worker put him on the bus to send him down to Victor Harbour, the foster mother said that she couldn’t cope with him and did not want him back. His clothes and toys were posted on after him.
Nothing had been done to prepare Bruce or his natural family for the realities of meeting again after nine years. Things went badly. Bruce tried to walk from Victor Harbour back to Adelaide (about 80 kilometers) to find the only family he knew. He was picked up by the police and ended up spending the next six or eight years of his life in State care. By the time he left State care at age 18, he was an alcoholic. The next 30 years of his life were characteristic of someone who is profoundly depressed and who uses alcohol as a way of shielding himself from life’s realities. He had regular bouts of unemployment and a number of convictions for low-level criminal offences. Every time he was assessed by a psychiatrist, the diagnosis was the same: anxiety, profound depression, no sense of identity and no sense of belonging anywhere.
The trial had many striking features. One was the astonishing difference between Bruce – profoundly damaged, depressed and broken – and his brothers, who had not been removed. They told of growing up with Joe Trevorrow, who taught them how to track and hunt, how to use plants for medicine, how to fish. He impressed on them the need for proper schooling. They spoke of growing up in physically wretched circumstances, but loved and valued and supported. They presented as strong, resilient, resourceful people. Their arrival to give evidence at the trial was delayed because they had been overseas attending an international meeting concerning the repatriation of indigenous remains.
The second striking feature was the fact that the Government of South Australia contested every point in the case. Nothing was too small to pass unchallenged. One of their big points was to assert that removing a child from his or her parents did no harm – they even ventured to suggest that removal had been beneficial for Bruce. This contest led to one of the most significant findings in the case. Justice Gray said in his judgment:
“ I find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the separation of a 13 month old Aboriginal child from his natural mother and family and the placement of that child in a non-indigenous family for long-term fostering created real risks to the child’s health. The State through its emanations, departments and departmental officers either foresaw these risks or ought to have foreseen these risks. … ”
That finding was not only supported by evidence, it also accords with common sense. We all have an instinct that it is harmful to children to remove them from their parents. The finding was based on extensive evidence concerning the work of John Bowlby in the early 1950s, which showed that it is intrinsically harmful to remove a child from his or her parents, in particular when this occurs after nine months of age.
At the time Bruce was given away, the Aborigines Protection Board of South Australia had already been advised by the Crown Solicitor that it had no legal power to remove aboriginal children from their parents. One of the documents tendered at the trial was a letter written by the secretary of the APB in 1958. It read in part:
“… Again in confidence, for some years without legal authority, the Board have taken charge of many aboriginal children, some are placed in Aboriginal Institutions, which by the way I very much dislike, and others are placed with foster parents, all at the cost of the Board. At the present time I think there are approximately 300 children so placed. …”
After a hard-fought trial, the Judge found in Bruce’s favour, and awarded him a total of about $800,000.
There are a few things to say about this. First, Bruce’s circumstances were not unique. There are, inevitably, other aboriginal men and women who were taken in equivalent circumstances while they were children and suffered as a result. Although they may seek to vindicate their rights, the task becomes more difficult as each year passes. Evidence degrades, witnesses die, documents disappear.
Second, litigation against a Government is not for the fainthearted. Governments fight hard. It took Bruce’s case eight years to get to court, and the trial ran for some months. If he had lost the case, Bruce would have been ruined by an order to pay the Government’s legal costs.
Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was elected in late 2007. The new parliament assembled in Canberra on 13 February 2008. At that first sitting, the Government said ‘sorry’ to the stolen generations. It seemed almost too good to be true: the apology so many had waited so long to hear. And it was astonishing and uplifting to hear some of the noblest and most dignified sentiments ever uttered in that place on the hill. It is worth recalling some of the words:
“Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. …
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and Governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. …
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say ‘sorry’.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say ‘sorry’.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say ‘sorry’. …
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. …”
13 February 2008 will be remembered as a day the nation shifted, perceptibly. The apology was significant not only for marking a significant step in the process of reconciling ourselves with our past: it cast a new light on the former Howard government, which had refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations. It set a new tone. And it reminded us of something we had lost: a sense of decency.
Most of the worst aspects of the Howard years can be explained by the lack of decency which infected their approach to government. They could not acknowledge the wrong that was done to the Stolen Generations; they failed to help David Hicks when it was a moral imperative: they waited until his rescue became a political imperative; they never quite understood the wickedness of imprisoning children who were fleeing persecution; they abandoned ministerial responsibility; they attacked the courts scandalously but unblushing; they argued for the right to detain innocent people for life; they introduced laws which prevent fair trials; they bribed the impoverished Republic of Nauru to warehouse refugees for us. It seemed that they did not understand just how badly they were behaving, or perhaps they just did not care.
One of the most compelling things about the apology to the stolen generations was that it was so decent. Suddenly, a dreadful episode in our history was acknowledged for what it was. The Prime Minister’s apology makes no difference whatever to whether or not Governments face legal liability for removing aboriginal children. But it acknowledged for the first time that a great moral wrong was done, and it acknowledged the damage which that caused. The most elementary instinct for justice tells us that when harm is inflicted by acts which are morally wrong, then there is a moral, if not a legal, responsibility to answer for the damage caused. To acknowledge the wrong and the damage and to deny compensation is simply unjust.
In recent times there has been considerable discussion of the statement of Australian values which, it seems, will become inextricably linked with applications for citizenship. The statement includes the following:
“Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair-play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good;
Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background …”
It would be good to see Federal parliamentarians place hand on heart and swear that these are values they embrace. The wilful mistreatment of asylum seekers sits uncomfortably with these values.
As I have been asked to be optimistic in this talk, I won’t say much about refugees, nor will I attempt to reconcile the Statement of Australian values with the facts surrounding our treatment of refugees. But let me give you an example that we might choose to follow. Just a few weeks ago I was in Jordan, investigating their treatment of refugees. Jordan is a country which faces some interesting challenges: it has Israel and Palestine on the west; Iraq on the east and Syria on the north. One way or another, this means that quite a few uninvited refugees have walked from one or other of those countries into Jordan, looking for a place of safety. In addition, Jordan has a population of only 9.6 million people and a fairly fragile economy, because it does not have any oil.
In the north of Jordan, just about five kilometres from the Syrian border, is a refugee camp called al Za’atari. The Za’atari camp presently holds about 80,000 people, all of whom arrived in Jordan as uninvited refugees. But for the fact that they arrived on foot, they would have been boat people. The Za’atari camp is an open one: people inside the camp are allowed to get jobs outside the camp and they go out each day and return each evening. The camp contains almost 2,000 shops which have been established by refugees and are run by refugees. They include not only the best falafel shop I’ve ever been to but also two shops where you can hire bridal gowns!
The 80,000 people in the Za’atari camp are just the tip of the iceberg. There are about 1 million refugees living in the community in Jordan. They are all informal refugees: that is, refugees who have simply turned up looking for protection. To put that figure in perspective: in the approximately 60 years since Australia signed the Refugees’ Convention, we have received fewer than 1 million refugees in total. Of that group, fewer than 100,000 were informal refugees. It need hardly be said that in recent years Australia has been hostile, to the point of paranoia, about informal refugees arriving here. Jordan manages informal refugees with remarkable grace, and yet it has not signed the Refugees’ Convention. In the last few years it has received far more informal refugees than we’ve received since we signed the Convention 60 years ago, but Jordan treats them well.
So, if you are an activist in relation to the interests of refugees, keep at it. Human decency will eventually find a way. Sometime, perhaps even in the near future, Australia will find that it is able to respond to refugees as generously as Jordan does.
To conclude, on the same trip that took me to Jordan I was taken to Lesbos. Lesbos is a Greek island just four kilometres off the coast of Turkey. As a result of that little accident of geography, Lesbos has received a lot of refugees who have fled through Turkey and who want to get to safety in Europe. A lot of them land on Lesbos. While I was in Lesbos, I heard a story about a beach there which, occasionally, has a big tide which washes up tens of thousands of starfish. The starfish are stranded on the beach as the tide recedes. If they stay on the sand they will dry out and perish. A little girl who lived in Mytilene, the main town on Lesbos, was very concerned about the starfish. She went down to the beach. A grown-up said to her “you can’t save them all”.
Her response was to bend down pick up one starfish, throw it into the ocean and say “well I saved that one”.
And that is my message tonight: every one of us, by seeing the difference between what is right and what is wrong, every one of us can make a difference by doing something. And if enough of us do something, we can achieve everything.
It is alarming to see the views some Australians have. On 23 May, Roger Franklin published an article in the online edition of Quadrant, in which he said it would have been better if the bomb which killed so many in Manchester had instead been detonated in the ABC studios during last Monday night’s Q & A. Specifically, he wrote:
“Life isn’t fair and death less so. What if that blast had detonated in an Ultimo TV studio? Unlike those young girls in Manchester, their lives snuffed out before they could begin, none of the panel’s likely casualties would have represented the slightest reduction in humanity’s intelligence, decency, empathy or honesty.”
Beyond that bit of foolish poison from Roger Franklin, there is a person who emails me regularly, advocating various anti-Muslim responses. For example, he advocates:
- banning all Muslims from Australia
- supporting Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump
- putting all Muslims in Concentration Camps
- strafing Muslim boat people (for the millennials, strafing means machine gunning)
More recently, he wrote this:
- (in relation to Angela Merkel): “Poor Herr Hitler must be rolling in his grave to see that Germany is being led by: (i) a women, (ii) a former Communist, (iii) who is inviting in the enemies of the Aryan race to destroy the Fatherland. This is not going to end well”
- (in relation to the Manchester bombing): “After the attack in the UK do [you] now agree Concentration Camps are the answer to protect our children from Muslims?”
- (in relation to 2 Sudanese refugees, accused of involvement in a home invasion): “How about electrocuting these bastards as well or at least putting them in concentration camps as did our former Prime Minister – Billy Hughes?”
- “the famous “Rivers of Blood” speech of Enoch Powell … must be one of the greatest speeches of our time.”
- “Human Rights are bullshit”
And he fired up about Yassmin Abdel-Magied:
“Do you recall the fate of the American William Joyce who was better known as Lord Haw Haw? Joyce promoted an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media. Yassmin Abdel -Mageed (sic) is also promoting an evil ideology of world domination through violence using the media.
The British hung Joyce. What punishment should be given to Yassmin the Traitor?”
The trouble with stuff like this is that it gives vent to some weird inner frustration with no regard to the facts. Lord Haw Haw campaigned against Britain during the second World War and was hanged as a traitor. Yassmin Abdel-Magied quietly invited us, when we are not at war, not to forget refugees held on Manus and Nauru, and not to forget Syria and Palestine. They are things we should not forget. Maybe my frequent emailer is the real traitor, for betraying the values Australia defended during two world wars.
What people like Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) do not seem to understand is that their rabid views are just as dangerous as the views of Islamic extremists and other madmen. Dangerous because, by inciting hatred against all Muslims, they run a very clear risk of radicalising some Muslims who (understandably) feel that they are not welcome in our community, even if they have never said or done anything which could be a threat to any of us. Radicalising young people is a foolish and dangerous thing to do: it creates the very risk Roger Franklin (and my frequent emailer) are so upset about.
Incidentally, Roger Franklin was very rude about Lawrence Krauss, who was on the Q & A panel which Franklin would have liked to see bombed. What Franklin wrote was this:
“A smug stick insect and tireless self-promoter, fellow guest Lawrence Krauss, the warmist shill who has the gall to present himself as a man of science, couldn’t resist the temptation to demonstrate a nuanced acuity. Below are his actual words, reproduced verbatim. Try not to throw up.
You’re more likely to be killed by a refrigerator, in the United States, falling on you.
If you need to read this loathsome creature’s glib sophistry once more, just to grasp the full breadth of its breathtaking brazenness, brace yourself and do so.
Tumbling refrigerators are a bigger hazard than Islamic terrorism? God Almighty but that Krauss is a filthy liar.”
Let’s put to one side that Franklin did not understand Krauss’ point. The simple fact is that dying in a terrorist event is a very unlikely way of dying. I am not trivialising it: it is a terrible thing. But here are the statistics:
The piece below was written by Mem Fox, the much-loved Australian children’s author. It details the shocking treatment she received when she tried to enter USA recently.
It is important to remember that, if you give people great power, they will use it. And some will misuse it. Read this piece and imagine being a hapless traveller to gulag America. Imagine being a boat person stranded in Nauru or Manus. .
I was pulled out of line in the immigration queue at Los Angeles airport as I came in to the USA. Not because I was Mem Fox the writer – nobody knew that – I was just a normal person like anybody else. They thought I was working in the States and that I had come in on the wrong visa. I was receiving an honorarium for delivering an opening keynote at a literacy conference, and because my expenses were being paid, they said: “You need to answer further questions.” So I was taken into this holding room with about 20 other people and kept there for an hour and 40 minutes, and for 15 minutes I was interrogated. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying The room was like a waiting room in a hospital but a bit more grim than that.
There was a notice on the wall that was far too small, saying no cellphones allowed, and anybody who did use a cellphone had someone stand in front of them and yell: “Don’t use that phone!” Everything was yelled, and everything was public, and this was the most awful thing, I heard things happening in that room happening to other people that made me ashamed to be human. There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – “Arabic? Arabic?”. They screamed at her “ARABIC?” at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say “Farsi”. And I thought heaven help her, she’s Iranian, what’s going to happen? There was a woman from Taiwan, being yelled at about at about how she made her money, but she didn’t understand the question. The officer was yelling at her: “Where does your money come from, does it grow on trees? Does it fall from the sky?” It was awful.
There was no toilet, no water, and there was this woman with a baby. If I had been holed up in that room with a pouch on my chest, and a baby crying, or needing to be fed, oh God … the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart. When I was called to be interviewed I was rereading a novel from 40 years ago – thank God I had a novel. It was The Red and the Black by Stendhal – a 19th century novel keeps you quiet on a long flight, and is great in a crisis – and I was buried in it and didn’t hear my name called. And a woman in front of me said: “They are calling for Fox.” I didn’t know which booth to go to, then suddenly there was a man in front of me, heaving with weaponry, standing with his legs apart yelling: “No, not there, here!” I apologised politely and said I’d been buried in my book and he said: “What do you expect me to do, stand here while you finish it?” – very loudly and with shocking insolence.
The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!” He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard. They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all. I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath. In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. Later in the hotel room I was shaking like a leaf. I rang my friend, my American editor and bawled and bawled, and she told me to write it all down, and I wrote for two hours. I fell asleep thinking I would sleep for eight hours but I woke up an hour and a half later just sobbing. I had been sobbing in my sleep. It was very traumatic.
After I got back to Australia I had an apology from the American embassy. I was very impressed, they were very comforting, and I’ve had so many messages of support from Americans and American authors. I am a human being, so I do understand that these people might not be well-trained, but they now have carte blanche to be as horrible and belligerent as they want. They’ve gone mad – they’ve got all the power that they want but they don’t have the training. They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power? That’s the heartbreak of it. Remember, I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the frontline. If we don’t stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest. That’s what it has taught me. I thought I was an activist before, but this has turned me into a revolutionary. I’m not letting it happen here. Instead of crying and being sad and sitting on a couch, I am going to write to politicians. I am going to call. I am going to write to newspapers. I am going to get on the radio. I will not be quiet.
No more passive behaviour. Hear me roar.
It is blindingly obvious that something is seriously wrong with politics at present. In the West, at least.
Barry Jones wrote a great piece on that theme for The Saturday Paper. The article included the following observations:
“Lincoln’s views, published on broadsheets, were extremely subtle and nuanced, without bitterness, personal attack or exaggeration. He could always see the other side of an argument and often set it out, fairly. … In 2016, 156 years later, Donald Trump won the Presidential nomination of Lincoln’s Party. … Lincoln was reflective, self-doubting…Trump is unreflective, posturing in a way that may conceal deep insecurity, narcissistic, always personalising issues (the hero v. the devil), talking – shouting, really – in slogans, endlessly repeated with no evidentiary base. He appeals to fear, anger, envy and conspiracy theories. …”
Here is the full article. It should be compulsory reading in Canberra: Trumpism-Barry Jones
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.
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
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.
The Guardian Australia today published the views of a panel on the effect of the election on various aspect of Australian life. I was asked to contribute a bit about refugees.
The whole Guardian article is here. My bit is set out below:
So far, the election result is too close to call with much confidence.
For refugees, it hardly matters which major party wins government, since both have struggled to keep their policies as close as possible. The Coalition policy calls the exercise “border protection”. Labor said it would “stand firm on maintaining a policy of offshore processing”, while claiming that it would be humane and compassionate to the innocent people it would lock up.
It looks as though the balance of power will not be held by the Greens, but by Pauline Hanson (whose attitude to refugees makes Nigel Farage look tolerant) and Nick Xenophon (who still needs to understand that calling boat people” illegal” is a lie).
Offshore processing and intentional cruelty seem likely to remain.
This means that no-one seeking protection who gets to Australia will be allowed to settle in Australia. They will be taken, by force and against their will, to PNG or Nauru. Their claim for asylum will be processed there (at Australia’s expense) but those found to be refugees will not be allowed to come to Australia. Where they would be resettled is anyone’s guess. How long they will be left on Manus or Nauru is anyone’s guess.
I expect a Liberal win by a narrow margin. For several months I have been predicting the Liberal party room is likely to replace Turnbull with Scott Morrison. Morrison’s track record for lying about boat people, and his strangely un-Christian attitude to them, means that the future for boat people (and this country) looks very bleak.
There is an interesting discussion on the ABC about the correct way to pronounce the name of “H”, the 8th letter of the English alphabet. It is a long-running debate. I recall that, as a child, I was told firmly that I should say ” aitch” not “haitch”. The debate is much older than I am.
“I am told on good authority that in schools of a certain denomination, and in those schools only, it is pronounced invariably as haitch, an oddity I cannot explain” (Arnold Wall The Queen’s English, 1958). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the pronunciation aitch is hard to explain. The pronunciation of the letter H is one of Australia’s great social shibboleths: not just the way it is sounded as the first letter of a word, but more particularly the way the name of the letter itself is said. Some people say haitch, others call it aitch.
Although the spirit of our times is generous, forgiving and tolerant, the choice between aitch and haitch can cause a good deal of anxiety and even hostility. Generally speaking, haitch is used by those educated in that part of the Roman Catholic system which traces its origins to Ireland. Aitch is preferred by the rest. Some apostates deny their origins by abandoning haitch; but there is little traffic in the other direction. When I was a child, I was forbidden to say haitch; friends who said haitch were appalled that I ate meat on Fridays.
It is not at all surprising the issue is so confused, since the pronunciation of h, when used as the initial letter of a word, has changed significantly over the past couple of millenia.
Although nothing much is certain in matters of language these days, the prevailing view, perhaps illigocally, supports the pronunciation aitch. The Oxford English Dictionary gives it thus, and does not recognise haitch as an alternative. I say this is illogical, because it might be expected that the name of a letter of the alphabet would give a clue about the sound normally associated with it. In this matter, h, w and y stand isolated from the rest of the alphabet, although the names of c, e and g represent only the lesser part of the work done by those letters.
The issue is manifested in at least 3 ways: how is the name of the letter to be said; is the h sounded or not before a vowel; does a word beginning with h accept a or an as the indefinite article?
The sound represented by H was known in the Semitic, Greek and Latin alphabets. In the Semitic it was a laryngeal or guttural aspirate, and remained so in the Greek and Latin. It passed from the Latin into the Germanic languages as a simple aspirate, that is, the sounded breath. It has been variously called ha, ahha, ache, acca, and accha. These earlier forms of the name explain the current form, and are clearly referrable to the sound represented.
In late Latin, and in early Italian and French, the aspirate gradually ceased to be sounded. In Italian, the h was progressively dropped in the written form of words, so that it is now absent from words which, in the French, retain it without sounding it: eretico (hérétique); istorio (histoire); oribile (horrible); osteria (hôtel).
In Anglo-Saxon speech, h was always sounded, but since the Norman conquest, the English pronunciation of words with an initial h gradually adopted the French manner: the english language has always been something of a trollop, pursuing advantage where it can. So for hundreds of years, the h was seen but not heard in “proper” speech, at least in words which derive from the romance languages.
If the initial h of a noun or adjective is not sounded, then the word naturally takes the indefinite article an. At least from the 11th century then, it was natural to refer to an (h)istory, an (h)otel, an (h)our, an (h)onourable woman, an (h)umble person. The ambivalence of usage survives in words like hostler/ostler.
However, from the 18th century on, English usage began once more to aspirate the initial h. This coincides with the arrival of the Hanoverian monarchs, whose native language had always sounded the h. Thus words which had come into English via French began to be said with aspirated h’s, although the change was gradual and patchy. Published in 1828, Walker’s Dictionary says that h is always sounded except in heir, heiress, honest, honesty, honour, honourable, herb, herbage, hospital, hostler, hour, humble, humour, humorous, & humorsome. Since that time, those underlined have also changed, but in the USA herb is still said with a silent h. Abominable was originally abhominable at least from Wyclif’s time, and was explained as deriving from ab homine. It lost its h in pronunciation and then in spelling, and remained unaffected by shift in the wake of the Hanoverian kings.
One of the oddest anomalies of this process is habitué, which is an unassimilated French word but which is generally spoken with a sounded h. By contrast, an (h)abitual liar is commonly said with a silent h, although it would be odd not to sound the h in habit. Homage is likewise anomalous
As the shift back to aspirating the h was slow and illogical, it is not surprising that it provoked uncertainty in the choice of indefinite article. The choice is made the more difficult by a dread of dropping an aitch, which in many circles is a shocking thing if done incorrectly. The unhappy result is such usages as: an hotel, an historic occasion, an hypothesis, an heroic effort, an hysterical outburst, &c. If the h is sounded, the result is silly and indefensible.
The rule is simple enough: a word which begins with a vowel sound takes an; a word which begins with a consonant sound takes a. So, an honest person, an hour, an heir, an unusual event &c.; a hypothetical case, a historic occasion (but colloquially an ‘istoric occasion), a useful suggestion, &c. Before initials, the choice of article depends on the way the name of the letter is sounded: a UN resolution; an S-bend, an HB pencil, an X-rated film, an MP. But if the collection of letters is a recognized acronym, then the choice of article depends on how the acronym is said: a UNICEF official, an UNCITRAL official; a NATO resolution, a SALT meeting, a HoJo restaurant.
Since the publication of my article about the word fuck, I have received many comments, mostly complimentary. That article attracted far more comment than any other I have written, which shows where the market is! Readers will remember that I identified subagitate as the only polite word in the English language which has as its primary meaning have sexual intercourse.
However, correction comes from the least expected quarter: Robin Brett QC drew to my attention to the OED entry for swive, which reads as follows:
“swive, v. Obs. or arch.
- trans. To have sexual connexion with, copulate with (a female). …
- intr. To copulate…”
I had always believed, without checking it, that swive was a slang word. In fact it is a sturdy Old English word, related to the Old High German sweib (meaning sweep or swing). But for the fact that (apparently) its primary meaning is not gender neutral, it deserves to be ranked alongside subagitate.
Chaucer used it in The Miller’s Tale, The Reeve’s Tale and also in The Manciple’s Tale:
For all your watching, bleared is your bright eye
By one of small repute, as well is known,
Not worth, when I compare it with your own,
The value of a gnat, as I may thrive.
For on your bed your wife I saw him swive.”
Chaucer’s use of the word may not be enough to ensure its respectability. Later in The Manciple’s Tale, the episode above is referred to again:
Masters, by this example, I do pray
You will beware and heed what I shall say:
Never tell any man, through all your life,
How that another man has humped his wife;
He’ll hate you mortally, and that’s certain.
On balance, it may still be advisable to prefer subagitate in genteel company, where clarity of meaning is traditionally subordinated to elegance. But swive is justifiable on historical grounds, and hump will not cause too many problems, as long as you sound the h.
Recently, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that “They won’t be numerate or literate … They would languish on unemployment … These people will be taking Australian jobs.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, May 18 2016). He said this in an attempt to make his deliberately cruel treatment of boat people seem vaguely respectable.
But in saying that he unwittingly created what might be called Schrödinger’s Refugees, by postulating that refugees would both languish on unemployment and take Australian jobs,.
Schrödinger’s cat is an idea from the strange realm of quantum physics. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what Schrödinger saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead, a state known as a quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur. (courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
In any debate about evolution or existential threats to the survival of the human species we are inclined to under-estimate the time-frame of the Universe.
Most people know that the Big Bang was about 13.8 billion years ago. But that’s such a long time that it is hard to give it full weight.
Wikipedia has a Cosmic Calendar (it’s not as “hippy-trippy”as it sounds. It was popularized by Carl Sagan). It compresses the history of the Universe, from the big Bang to the present, into 12 months. You can see it here.
What is truly remarkable is to recognise that, if you take the Big Bang as 1 January and the present as midnight on 31 December, life on earth did not emerge until November. And that was just pond-slime. Dinosaurs appear on 25 December and disappear on 30 December: they survived 130 million years. Homo Sapiens emerges about 6 minutes before midnight on 31 December.
Think about it: if dinosaurs existed for 5 days; we have existed for 6 minutes, and agriculture began just 21 seconds ago. On the same scale, Christ was born about 5 seconds ago.
Those of us who grew up in one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are taught that the Creation took 6 days. Here’s how the days went:
Day 1: “Let there be light”
Day 2: “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” (The sky)
Day 3: “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. … Let the land produce vegetation”
Day 4: “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night…”(The Sun and the Moon)
Day 5: “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
Day 6: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals…”
So we grow up with the idea that we have been here from close to the beginning, that we are made in God’s image, and that we are in charge.
In the 17th century, Bishop Ussher of Armagh added up all the events recorded in the King James version of the Bible, and calculated that the creation happened on 23 October 4004 BC. As it happens, that is about 8 seconds before midnight on 31 December.
Taking the most generous view of the Creation story in Genesis, human beings emerged on the last of the 6 days of Creation. If you divide the actual history of the Universe into 6 parts, the last day stretches back a bit more than 2,000,000,000 (2 billion) years. But Homo Sapiens emerged about 200,000 years ago.
But these details do not matter much: the Creation story has us believing we were here from the start, and it’s not too bold to reckon we will be here to the end. After being around for 130 million years, dinosaurs probably thought something similar (if they thought at all).
We should step back and ask whether our place on this planet is as secure as we think. Maybe we need to take better care of it.
A brief account of australia’s offshore detention regime
Accomodation for refugees
Detention, australian style
Poetry: get angry, by oliver hovenden
Refugee resettlement: getting the facts straight
Myki: it just keeps getting worse…
And another myki outrage. This is beyond beyond…
More outrages on the flawed myki system in melbourne
The border force hits town: operation fortitude
The impact of cuts to art funding
Serco and border force bring cruelty to new levels
Wind Farm Music Dedicated To Tony Abbott
Year 12 student taken from school and put in detention
Detainees in Manus Island face grim prospects
More letters returned from Manus Island
Write to federal MPs about refugee policy
Speech to Labor national conference
Australia: becoming a pariah on climate change
Analysis of Border Force Act by George Newhouse
More letters to elected representatives, but…how disappointing they are
A brief account of Australias offshore detention regime
There is an astonishing number of proverbs and aphorisms which use apples as their key ingredient. A small selection of the best known would include:
- Don’t upset the apple cart.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
- One bad apple spoils the bunch.
- Adam ate the apple, and our teeth still ache.
- An apple never falls far from the tree.
- Don’t upset the apple cart.
- As sure as God made little apples.
- She’s the apple of my eye
- Apples ain’t apples.
It is hard to know why it is that apples have insinuated themselves so far into our language.
A Biblical connection is the likely explanation. It is commonly thought that, consigned to the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve misbehaved by eating an apple from The Tree of Knowledge.
However that may be, the Bible offers no support at all for the idea that the Tree of Knowledge was an apple tree. The King James version of the Bible has only a few references to apples. They are mostly the metaphorical “apple of the eye”. So, taking them in the order of their appearance, we find:
10 He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
8 Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings,
- Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.
- A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Incidentally, apple of the eye is a reference to the pupil through which the dark retina is seen. It was once thought that the pupil was a solid, globular body.
So, Deuteronomy contains the first reference to an apple, and even then it was a reference to the pupil of the eye. The story of the Creation and the Fall appears in Genesis. Here is part of Genesis Chapter 3:
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
No mention of apples. And that is not surprising: apples are generally found in temperate climates. The books of the Old Testament were written in much warmer places, and they were written in Hebrew and Aramaic so there is scope for adjustments in translation. One view is that the Tree of Knowledge was a reference to the pomegranate tree. OED2 says apple is:
“…part of the name of a large number of fruits; as apple Punic, obs. name of the pomegranate; apple of Sodom, or Dead Sea Fruit, described by Josephus as of fair appearance externally, but dissolving, when grasped, into smoke and ashes; a ‘traveller’s tale’ supposed by some to refer to the fruit of Solanum Sodomeum (allied to the tomato), by others to the Calotropis procera”
So an apple Punic is a pomegranate. Punic is a reference to Phoenecia (Carthage). The name for the Phoenecians comes from the Greek Phoinikes (‘purple people’) because of Tyrian Purple – a fabulously expensive dye for which they were famous. Incidentally, the word pomegranate (the fruit of the tree Punica Granatum) literally means apple with many seeds, so it is quite plausible that the pomegranate was the fruit originally understood as coming from the Tree of Knowledge. The pomegranate is native to Carthage.
Still, the apple now refers to a fairly specific kind of fruit and, despite its many varieties, is not readily confused with a pomegranate.
Apples were originally sold by the costermonger (originally meaning apple seller). We don’t have too many –mongers left in Australia, but the London barrow-man, who sells fruit and vegetables, still calls himself a costermonger, but the man who supplies apples (and nothing else) to the market does not. It is likely that costermonger derives from costerd, which means apple. Costerd and custard both mean apple: the so-called custard-apple is a pleonasm.
* * * *
A popular film in cinemas recently is The Imitation Game. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. If Fortune has any sense of generosity, it will fix the name of Alan Turing in the minds of millions of people who might not otherwise have heard of him.
Alan Turing was born in 1912. He was a brilliant but erratic student. He was educated at King’s College, Cambridge and at Princeton. During the Second World War he was one of the leading figures at Bletchley Park where the Germans’ Enigma Code was ultimately cracked. At Bletchley Park, Turing created the theoretical design of a programmable computing machine. As The Imitation Game illustrates, the Bletchley Park team had to use electro-mechanical devices, at a time when the most sophisticated electronic device available was the vacuum tube valve (transistors were not invented until the late 1950s; the integrated circuit was not devised until 1973).
There is a story that Turing was asked how many discrete states a computing machine would need to have. The prevailing wisdom suggested it would need 16 states. Turing thought about it overnight and came back with the answer: 2. That insight lies at the heart of the binary logic of all modern computers, which recognise just two states: one and zero; on and off.
As he wrestled with a means of encoding logical propositions in a machine, Turing recalled having read the work of George Boole (1815-1864), an English mathematician and logician. Boole had become mildly famous for a book in which he described a means of reducing logical propositions to a form of algebra. It was well-regarded in his lifetime and was soon forgotten after his death. But Turing remembered it, and used it to create the basic logic steps which lie at the heart of all computing: and, or, nand (not-and) & nor (not-or). Boole’s contribution to the area passes almost unnoticed every day, but the next time a search panel offers you a Boolean search, you will know it is a reminder of George Boole, courtesy of Alan Turing.
The received wisdom is that Turing’s work at Bletchley Park was crucial to Britain winning the war.
But Turing was gay. He had never recovered emotionally from his attachment to Christopher Morcom, a school friend he met at Sherborne, who had died in 1930. In 1952, Turing was convicted of a homosexual offence. He was not able to call in aid his extraordinary work at Bletchley Park: it was a State secret. He was offered a choice: prison, or chemical castration. He chose chemical castration, but soon regretted it. In June 1954 he committed suicide by taking cyanide. Cyanide has a very bitter taste. When his body was found, there was an apple on the bedside table. He had taken a bite out of it, apparently to dispel the taste of the cyanide.
It is widely thought that the logo of the Apple Computer is a reference to the Tree of Knowledge. That would be a fair assumption and a reasonable connection to draw. But there is an alternative which I prefer. It is thought that the Apple logo – an apple with a bite out of it – is a silent nod to Alan Turing.
I hope it is true: nothing could be more appropriate.