#Manus

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea

Richard Flanagan writes:

So this is what we have come to as a nation.

The wretched of the earth, because they were no longer safe where they lived, sought to come here. With a determined cruelty, we kidnapped and imprisoned them in Pacific lagers. These lagers became synonymous with the idea of hellholes because it was important to our government that they be – ­and be known as – hellholes.

On this policy of deterrence, as it was called, which had as its declared purpose to make innocent human beings suffer indefinitely, we spent billions of dollars. To this end we had truck with vile regimes such as Sri Lanka’s. And to this end we began forsaking our democratic rights.

In the camps the refugees were made to answer to numbers given to them as their new identity. Denied their names they were not even allowed their stories. Every attempt that could be made was made by the Australian government, from the petty to the disturbing, to deny journalists access to the Pacific lager. When it came to imprisoned refugees free speech became a crime: for some years any doctor, nurse or social worker in the camps who publicly reported on the many instances, now well-documented, of rape, murder, suicide and sexual abuse of refugees was liable to two years’ imprisonment.

And why?

Because evil was being done to the innocent, and to that truth there is finally no justification that even the most powerful could make. And so it mattered that Australians not know of the mounting crimes for which all Australians will be finally accountable.

All this too was done in our name by our governments, of both left and right. And, more or less, if we didn’t tacitly agree, few of us disagreed enough. And perhaps we didn’t really want to know.

Once we Australians had led the world in democratic reform. Once it seemed possible that we might overcome the violence of our wars of invasion and reconcile with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Once it seemed that we might make of ourselves a beacon for freedom and tolerance, a country of many peoples that welcomed the newly dispossessed as we had in turn once been welcomed. We were a nation born out of the evils of invasion and convictism. It was not that we saw ourselves as infinitely perfectible. It was rather that we were aware of what the alternatives were.

Now we are seen globally as the inventors of a particularly vile form of 21st century repression, in which the innocent are subjected to suffering in a prison where the crime is never named, no sentence is ever passed, and punishment is assured. For this achievement Australia now enjoys the praise of European neo-fascists and American white supremacists.

Some praise. Some achievement.

It is hard to say what is most horrifying in this long saga but the intent of the Australian government to now abandon the refugees it kidnapped, scattering them across an impoverished and corrupt country with a notorious reputation for violence, is an affront to any notions of humanity or decency.

When, out of fear for what might befall them should they leave, some hundreds of refugees refused to move from the Manus compound, there began a protest in which the refugees used the only thing left to them: their bodies.

Over the years we had taken away their rights, their future, even their hope. Three weeks ago we cut off their water, food and medical supplies. Risking starvation, dysentery, cholera and violence, some hundreds of refugees asserted with their flesh the one thing which Australia could not steal: their human dignity.

On Wednesday the UNHCR described what was now unfolding on Manus as a humanitarian crisis that was entirely preventable and a “damning indictment of a policy meant to avoid Australia’s international obligations”.

On Thursday 12 Australians of the Year signed an open letter calling on the government to restore water, food supplies, electricity and medical services to the refugees, warning it was a “human disaster that was unfolding” and that “it was inevitable that people will become sick and die”.

Instead of this moderate course of action, on the same day police in Papua New Guinea began clearing the Manus compound. According to witnesses, refugees were beaten with sticks to forcibly relocate the remaining hundreds of protesting men. This violence against the most powerless and weak was supported and promoted by the Australian government, as it has previously supported and sanctioned the poisoning of the refugees’ water collected in from sumps and rainwater, the destruction of the few pieces of property they possess, and the destruction of their scant remaining food and medicine supplies.

And then there came the news the Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani had been taken away by PNG’s much-feared mobile squad, a notorious paramilitary police unit which, according to a report in the Age in 2013, is “allegedly responsible for rapes, murders and other serious human rights abuses” and funded by Australia’s immigration department “to secure the Manus Island detention centre”.

Behrouz Boochani was targeted for one reason and one reason only: he has been the voice of truth speaking from the appalling reality of the Pacific lagers.

It is difficult to believe that all this is not being masterminded – if the word is not too grand for such thuggery – at the highest levels of the Australian government.

Released some hours later, Boochani tweeted that he had been left handcuffed for two hours while he was “pushed several times”, had his belongings destroyed by the police, and was yelled at by the police commander that he “was reporting against us”. Boochani knows now, more than ever, that he is a marked man.

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And in these circumstances he has, in characteristic fashion, continued to report.

His courage over the four years of his internment in the face of the horror of Manus – a hell of repression, cruelty, and violence – has been of the highest order. Behrouz Boochani kept on smuggling out his messages of despair in the hope we would listen.

It’s time we did.

All states commit criminal and sometimes wicked acts. The necessary mark of a democracy is the freedom to tell the truth about these crimes so that they can be ended and the guilty punished.

To be a writer is not to simply believe in freedom but to practise it every day with your words. Each word allows us to find ourselves in others, and in others to know we are not alone.

In the vacuum of reportage that the Australian government created one man kept getting the truth out. Behrouz Boochani’s words found me as they found so many others.

Now I hope mine find him.

We choose whether we live or whether we wait for death. Through his words Behrouz chose to live. His words showed that while our government had jailed his body, his soul remained that of a free man.

I am not sure if I would have had his courage were I to find myself in his situation. Perhaps that is why I admire it deeply.

Behrouz Boochani reminded Australia of what it had become. We should thank him and honour him for his warnings of what was happening to our country. Instead we enabled his imprisonment, and who can say what this marked man’s fate may yet be?

His detainment yesterday highlights the moral bankruptcy of the Pacific solution, its essentially criminal nature, and the growing dangers it presents to our democracy.

The shame of this time will outlive us all. Our children and grandchildren will have to remake the broken trusts, the sacred freedoms, the necessary liberties, that we traded away in our ignorance and our gullible fear. They must rekindle as necessary national virtues kindness and compassion to the weakest.

But we must begin the work now, with urgency, with determination, of rebuilding our nation’s honour, and our collective dignity. Because if we don’t, if we think it doesn’t affect us, the alternative is that what is happening on Manus will begin to happen here.

At the time of writing, Manus remains in crisis, with 300 refugees still in the compound. Who knows what fresh onslaught of violence is awaiting them? While outside wait the paramilitary thugs, inside the refugees search in the darkness for drinkable water, they scrounge for what little food was not destroyed, these 300 men who now face the determination of our government that they vanish from the face of the earth, and with them their terrible story that shames us all.

But that story demands investigation, not obliteration.

There must be a royal commission into the Pacific camps, the grotesque amounts of money wasted on them, the lies, the deceit and undemocratic practices used to ensure their ongoing existence, to determine the extent of Australian involvement in the PNG police’s latest acts, and to ascertain and if necessary prosecute those responsible for the many well-documented cases of the abuses of human rights on both Manus and Nauru.

If we can muster no feeling for the starving, sick and thirsty refugees waiting in the ruins of their prison for the next attack, spare a thought for what our future might look like if Peter Dutton begins persecuting journalists here with his newly acquired secret police powers. We should not forget the plans in 2015 for Dutton’s newly militarised Border Force officials to patrol Melbourne streets checking people’s papers, abandoned only in the face of overwhelming public anger.

Behrouz Boochani may be the first journalist to be detained for revealing the evil of our Pacific gulags. But how can we be confident he will be the last, and who knows what new government folly will need a repressive cloak of secrecy to safeguard its many failings?

In Boochani’s writings is a spirit Australia has lost: brave, honest, generous and free. Once he wanted to come here. Now we need him and all that he stands for more than ever.

And if, in these next few days any harm should come to Behrouz Boochani, for whose safety many now fear, the responsibility for that crime will not fall to PNG government or its police. It will be Peter Dutton’s.

[Reprinted with permission from The Guardian]

[Image: Reuters]

‘What kind of resistance is possible against a world without mercy?’

Hannah ArendtThe LARB has published an interesting essay by Wen Stephenson that draws upon wisdom from Hannah Arendt for those living at the dawn of a new ‘era of increasing global instability, ripe for all the varieties of political and social evil’.

The essay includes reflections on subjects such as totalitarianism, human rights, making judgements, collective guilt, conscience, evil, making moral choices, nonviolence, civil disobedience, and crimes against humanity.

And on empathy:

[Em]pathy, though much celebrated, is not always a reliable impulse toward moral action – that it can cut both ways. Because our natural inclination to empathize with the victims of crime and injustice, while generally a good thing, when mixed with our tribal instincts – our biases, conscious or not, in favor of people like ourselves, members of our own communities — can lead to a dehumanization of the stranger, the other, especially if that other is the perpetrator (or perceived to be) of a crime. It’s easy to empathize with a victim, as one should; to empathize with a murderer – to see ourselves in another who violates our deepest values and taboos – is something else, something that may seem beyond our merely human capacity.

You can read the whole piece here.

‘Human Rights and Human Wrongs’: An Evening with Gillian Triggs

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‘Then I came by boat’

During Lent 2014, Tri Nguyen, a pastor of the Brunswick Baptist Church and one of my students at Whitley College, made a pilgrimage from his church in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra to deliver a gift to the Australian Parliament. The gift was a large model of the boat in which he and his father and sister fled Vietnam in 1982, the year they also arrived in Australia as refugees.

Now, Marleena Forward, a Melbourne-based filmmaker, has produced this short film of Tri’s inspiring, reconciling, and challenging journey – one considerably longer than that undertaken in 2014. The film won the Audience Award in the Australian Shorts section at the Human Rights Arts Film Festival. It’s called ‘Then I came by boat’:

On losing your soul: Tim Winton’s speech at the Palm Sunday Walk

Tim WintonLast Sunday, my daughter and I marched, together with a reported 15,000, in Melbourne’s Palm Sunday Walk for Justice4Refugees. Many thousands of others across the country were doing likewise. For a number of reasons I won’t name here, it was at once emboldening and disheartening.

And over in Perth, Tim Winton offered a great speech. It bears reposting, both in its written and spoken forms:

 

Palm Sunday commemorates the day an itinerant prophet spoke truth to power. Jesus of Nazareth arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in a parody of imperial pomp. But he was a nobody. Instead of a stallion, he rode up on a borrowed donkey. In place of an army, he had a bunch of lily-livered misfits throwing down their cloaks and palm branches as if he was a big shot.  Street theatre, if you like. And a week later he was dead. He was there to challenge the commonsense of the day. Armed with only an idea.

Jesus used to say things like this. If a child asks you for bread, will you give him a stone? Awkward things like that.

His followers called his idea The Way. Many of us are here today because the idea has stuck. We try to follow the Way of Peace and Love. Just another bunch of lily-livered misfits.

For generations, in communities all over the globe, Palm Sunday has been a day when people walk for peace and reconciliation. And not just Christians. People of every faith and of no faith at all come together as we have today in solidarity. To express our communal values and yearnings, the things that bind us rather than those that separate us.

We belong to a prosperous country, a place where prosperity and good fortune have made us powerful. Yes, whether we feel it or not, we are exceptionally powerful as individuals and as a community. We have the power of safety. We’re richer, more mobile, with more choices than most of our fellow citizens worldwide. Not because we’re virtuous, but because we’re lucky. But we don’t come here to gloat. We’re here to reflect. To hold ourselves to account. We didn’t come here today to celebrate power or to hide in its privileged shadow. We’re here to speak for the powerless. We’re not here to praise the conventions of the day, but to examine them and expose them to the truth. We’re not here to reinforce the status quo. We gather to dissent from it. To register our dismay at it. We’re here to call a spade a spade, to declare that what has become political common sense in Australia over the past 15 years is actually nonsense. And not just harmless nonsense; it’s vicious, despicable nonsense. For something foul is festering in the heart of our community, something shameful and rotten.

It’s a secret we don’t want to acknowledge. We hide it from ourselves. At times, it seems we’re content to have others hide it from us and for us. But we hide this dark secret at great cost. To faceless strangers. To innocent people. To powerless children.  We hide this dirty secret at a terrible cost to ourselves as individuals and as a community.

What secret are we hiding? Well, it’s awkward, and kind of embarrassing. You see, we’re afraid. Terrified. This big, brash wealthy country. We have an irrational phobia. We’re afraid of strangers. Not rich strangers. No. The ones who frighten us out of our wits are the poor strangers. People displaced by war and persecution. We’re even scared of their traumatised children. And if they flee their war-torn countries in boats, well, then, they’re twice as threatening. They send us into wild-eyed conniptions. As if they’re armed invaders. But these people arrive with nothing but the sweat on their backs and a crying need for safe refuge. Yet, they terrify us. So great and so wild is our fear, we can no longer see them as people, as fellow humans. First, we criminalised them. Then, we turned them into faceless objects. Cattle. Well, maybe that’s not quite right. You see we’re sentimental about cattle. Especially cattle on boats. We have values, you see, standards of decency. We hate to see suffering. We’re moved to pity.

But for someone seeking asylum, someone arriving by boat, this special species of creature called a “boat person”, the pity isn’t there. Pity is forbidden. All the usual standards are overturned. Their legal right to seek asylum is denied. They’re vilified as “illegals”. And their suffering is denied. As if they’re not our brothers and sisters. Yes, we hate suffering. But apparently their kind of suffering is no longer legitimate. And therefore, it’s no longer our problem. Our moral and legal obligations to help them are null and void.

Since August 2001, Australians have gradually let themselves be convinced that asylum seekers have brought their suffering and persecution and homelessness and poverty on themselves. Our leaders have taught us we need to harden our hearts against them. And how obedient we’ve been, how compliant we are, this free-thinking, high-minded egalitarian people.

We’re afraid. But the government has made them go away. They have stopped the boats. And spirited the victims away. Now, we don’t have to see their suffering. In fact, we’re not allowed to see it. They’re out of sight, and out of mind. And here at home, all is well, all is calm again. For the past few years, as traumatised people have fled towards safety, towards what they believed was a civilised and compassionate haven, our national peace of mind has been built upon the hidden, silent suffering of others.

And that, my friends, is what our elected representatives have done. Using the military, using warships. Using spin and deception in Parliament. Shielding its deeds from media scrutiny.  With the collusion of our poorer neighbours, the client states of Nauru and PNG. The political slogans have ground their way into our hearts and minds. The mantras of fear have been internalised. We can sleep at night because these creatures are gone. It wasn’t enough to turn these people away. We had to make them disappear.

So. All is well. Nothing to be afraid of any more. Until we find other poor people to be afraid of. Folks who are here already. Australians who are poor and powerless and, therefore, somehow troublesome, embarrassing, even dangerous. Because that’s the thing. Once you start the cycle of fear, there’s always someone new and different to be afraid of, some new group to crack down on.

But will we ever sleep easy? I wonder. Because there’ll always be the creeping suspicion that some poor person could be white-anting our prosperity, our privilege, our Australian specialness. Or maybe we won’t sleep because, deep in the back of our heads, somewhere in our spirit, we’ll feel a flicker of shame, a twinge of conscience. Maybe I caught a glimpse of a child’s face behind the wire. For a second, I saw a resemblance. Could have been my kid, my grandkid, the little girl next door. Just a kid. A face behind the wire.

My friends, we weren’t always this scared. We used to be better than this. I remember because I was a young man when we opened our arms and hearts to tens of thousands of Vietnamese. Australians were poorer then, more awkward, less well travelled as a people. And yet, we took pity on suffering humans. No cages, no secret gulags. We had these people in our homes and hostels and halls and community centres. They became our neighbours, our schoolmates, our colleagues at work. I was proud of my country, then, proud of the man who made it happen, Malcolm Fraser, whose greatness shames those who’ve followed him in the job. Those were the days when a leader drew the people up and asked the best of them and despite their misgivings, Australians rose to the challenge. And I want to honour his memory today.

It breaks my heart to say it, but fear has turned us. In the past 15 years, it’s eaten into our public spirit and made a travesty of our most sacred values, the very things we thought we stood for as a society: our sense of decency, fairness, justice, compassion, openness. In our own time, we have seen what is plainly wrong, what is demonstrably immoral, celebrated as not simply pragmatic but right and fair. It’s no accident that both mainstream political parties have pursued asylum seeker policies based on cruelty and secrecy. First, pandering to irrational public fear and then at the mercy of it. Because these policies are popular. I don’t deny it. It hurts me to acknowledge it. But it’s a fact. A hard-hearted response to the suffering of others has calcified and  become the common sense of our day.

We used to be better than this. I still believe we’re better than this.

So what’s happened to this country? I’m confused. I read the news. But as events unfold, I don’t always recognise my own people. This still looks like the country I was brought up in but it doesn’t always feel like it. You think mining royalties have had a dip? Well, spare a thought for the Fair Go. Because that currency has taken a flogging. There’s a punitive spirit abroad, something closer to Victorian England than the modern, secular, egalitarian country I love.

In the days of Charles Dickens, child labour was acceptable, respectable. It was common sense. So was the routine degradation of impoverished women. Charity was punitive. Until Victorian reformers like Dickens exposed the common sense of his era as brutal nonsense, the suffering of children was inconsequential. The poor were human garbage. They were fuel. Victorian England extracted energy and sexual pleasure from the faceless bodies of the poor. When they became a nuisance, they were exported, “offshored”. In chains. Some of these faceless, degraded people were our ancestors. Mine was an unaccompanied minor, a little boy. A boy consigned to oblivion. A boy without a face. I’ve been thinking of him lately. Public events have made it unavoidable.

And yet from this brutish convention, this hellish common sense, we made something new here in this country, something better. Where Jack was as good as his master. We turned away from the callous feudalism of the Old World and made this place a haven for decency. We granted everyone a face. Some, to our shame, later than others.

The face is the window of the soul. It’s the means by which we make ourselves known. To those of us of religious faith, it’s the means by which we recognise the Divine spark in each other, the presence of God. To those who aren’t religious, it’s the way we apprehend the sacred dignity of the individual. We present ourselves to one another face-to-face, as equals. When you rob someone of their face, of their humanity, you render them an object.

In this country, a nation built upon people fleeing brutes and brutality for 200 years, we have a tradition of fairness and decency and openness of which we’re rightly proud. Whether we’re inspired by the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan, the universal dignity of humankind, or the sanctity of the individual, we’ve always thought it low and cowardly to avert our gaze from someone in trouble or need, to turn our face from them as though they did not exist. When I was a kid, there were a few salty names for people like that. You didn’t want to be called out as one of those. That’s where our tradition of mateship comes from. Not from closing ranks against the outsider, but from lifting someone else up, helping them out, resisting the cowardly urge to walk by. It distinguished this country from the feudalism and patronage of the Old World. When the first boat people arrived in the late ’70s, we looked into their traumatised faces on the TV and took pity despite our misgivings.

Now, of course, we don’t see faces. And that’s no accident. The government hides them from us. In case we feel the pity that’s only natural. Asylum seekers are rendered as objects, creatures, cargo, contraband, and criminals. And so, quite deliberately, the old common sense of human decency is supplanted by a new consensus. Built on hidden suffering, maintained by secrecy. Cordoned at every turn by institutional deception. This, my friends, is the new common sense. According to this new dispensation, Australia does not belong to the wider world. We’re nobody’s fool. We have no obligations to our fellow suffering humans. Unless it suits us. Because we are exceptional. And beyond reproach. It seems we are set to distinguish ourselves by our callousness, by our unwavering hardness of heart. We will not be lectured to by outsiders. Or, come to think of it, by insiders, either. Not about human rights, not about torture, not about the incarceration of children. We will bully critics and whistleblowers into silence. We will smear them. We will shirtfront them.

Which is to say that we live now as hostages to our lowest fears. But to assent to this newly manufactured common sense is to surrender things that are sacred: our human decency, our moral right, our self-respect, our inner peace. To passively assent to this is to set out together on a road that leads to horrors, a path from which we must turn back before we lose our way entirely.

To those in power who say they’re exiling and caging children for their own good, I say we’ve heard that nonsense before. So, don’t do it in my name.

To those who say they’re prolonging misery to save life, I say I’ve heard that nonsense before. You don’t speak for me; I don’t recognise your perverse accountancy.

To those in power who say the means will justify the end, I say I’ve heard that nonsense before. It’s the tyrant’s lie. Don’t you dare utter it in my name.

To those who say this matter is resolved, I say no. For pity’s sake, no. For the love of God, no. A settlement built on suffering will never be settled. An economy built on cruelty is a swindle. A sense of comfort built upon the crushed spirits of children is but a delusion that feeds ghosts and unleashes fresh terrors.

If current refugee policy is common sense, then I refuse to accept it. I dissent. And many of my countrymen and women dissent alongside me. I don’t pretend to have a geopolitical answer to the worldwide problem of asylum seekers. Fifty million people are currently displaced by war and famine and persecution. I don’t envy those who make the decisions in these matters, those who’ve sought and gained the power to make decisions in this matter. I’m no expert, no politician. But I know when something’s wrong. And what my country is doing is wrong.

Prime Minister, forget the boats for a moment. Turn back your heart. Turn back from this path to brutality. Turn back from piling trauma upon the traumatised. Because it shames us. It grinds innocent people to despair and self-harm and suicide. It ruins the lives of children. Give these people back their faces, their humanity. Don’t avert your gaze and don’t hide them from us.

Because the secret won’t hold. It’s out already. There are witnesses. There will be testimony. We will remember. In another time, and very soon, I think, our common sense will be nonsense. And you’ll have to ask yourself, was it worth it? This false piece of mind, this stopping of the boats. Was it worth the price paid in human suffering? You’re not alone; the rest of us will have to face it, too.

Jesus said: “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world only to lose his soul?” And I wonder: What does it profit a people to do likewise, to shun the weak and punish the oppressed, to cage children, and make criminals out of refugees? What about our soul as a people?

We’re losing our way. We have hardened our hearts. I fear we have devalued the currency of mercy. Children have asked for bread and we gave them stones. So turn back. I beg you.  For the children’s sake. For the sake of this nation’s spirit. Raise us back up to our best selves. Turn back while there’s still time.

[Image: Marziya Mohammedali]

Surely there is room …

Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan. After Delacroix 1890

New Zealand songwriter Malcolm Gordon, no stranger to this blog, has been at it again. This time, as he tells it, he has been

churned up by what is happening in Australia with the asylum seekers. Some of the friends we met and made in Adelaide last year have been protesting in MP’s offices and been arrested as a result. It’s a justifiably upsetting situation.

This song is one result of that churning:

In these wide open spaces
This land needs tilling
But there’s rumours of war
There’s whispering of killing
Over mountain and flood and over the plain
This dark cloud reigns.

Put my hand to the plough
There’s no turning home
For this stirring within
Won’t leave me alone
And alone is one thing that you’ll never be
There is no ‘them’, there is only ‘we’.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

The weight of these times
Is measured in tears
The risk of this love
Is death to our fears
Give our voice for the groaning
Of children in chains
Forever there’s hope wherever there’s pain.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
Picture what we could be
A generous family
Where welcoming arms hold open the door.

In these wide open spaces
The wind blows alone
And the streets are just valleys that wander and roam
There is room for the pilgrim to lay down their load
And build a home.

Mary Meets Mohammed

My local Amnesty International group in Dunedin will be screening Mary Meets Mohammed at the Pioneer Hall in Port Chalmers on Friday 28 November at 7pm. This is a heart-warming movie made by AI Australia about the friendship that develops between an asylum seeker from the Middle East and a Tasmanian woman who initially thinks that such people should be ‘sent back to where they came from’. A gold coin donation for entry will go to AI Australia to support our own Mary Morwood who has committed herself to a sponsored walk in Australia, raising money to support asylum seekers in detention, and the rights of Australian Aboriginal people. There will be refreshments available after the film. All welcome.

Mary Meets Mohammad

Here’s the trailer:

Dr Peter Young on Australia’s ‘torture’ camps

While the Australian Human Rights Commission conducts its own inquiry into children in detention, and while Scott Morrison (and Tony’s ‘gift to our nation’) stays on his own delusional courseThe Guardian has published this piece based on an interview with the courageous Dr Peter Young:

Read the full article here.

Seeking asylum in Australia

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, MelbourneRecent weeks have witnessed no shortage of ink spilt on the matter of the Australian government’s disgraceful – and illegal – policies vis-à-vis asylum seekers. And appropriately so! A number of people have asked me to comment on this question, and at some stage, when I have more moments to spare than I do this week, I may spill some ink of my own on it. In the meantime, however, I wish to draw attention to, and to commend, one editorial (among the many dozens that I have read) that I found particularly helpful. It’s Robert Manne’s piece (published in March this year and so before developments in recent days), ‘Tragedy of Errors: Australia’s shipwrecked refugee policy’.

[There is also an edited transcript of a speech by Barry Jones: ‘Asylum is the greatest moral challenge of our time’. The latter is significantly less satisfying than Manne’s piece, but worth a read all the same, not least given Jones’ long and high profile relationship with the ALP.]

‘Piping songs of peasant glee’: Around the aether

Public conversations with Paul Oestreicher

The Centre for Theology and Public Issues and the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (both of the University of Otago) are hosting a public conversation with Canon Paul Oestreicher.

Paul Oestreicher has had an extremely interesting career – from being a refugee in Dunedin from Germany in 1939 and a student at Otago, to co-founding and chairing Amnesty International, to pioneering the Centre for International Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, to being both an Anglican priest and a Quaker chaplain – and this will be a rare opportunity to hear, not just about his current research, but about his past work and what has driven him to devote his whole life to the cause of peace-making, East-West reconciliation, human rights and disarmament. Paul was last year awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by Otago University where he is currently a Visiting Fellow at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

This public conversation will take place in the Allen Hall (corner of Union and Leith Streets, near the Clocktower on campus) on Thursday 6 May from 5.30-6.45pm. Contact: Ann Hassan.

The other public conversation that Canon Oestreicher will engage in has been organised by the Otago University Amnesty International Group. It will take place in Archway Lecture Theatre 2, at 6pm on Monday 10th May. At this event, Paul will be speaking about his own experiences as a refugee from Germany to Dunedin in 1939, his work with Amnesty and why we should all care, and take action, on human rights abuses around the world. Enquiries for this event can be directed to Stefan Fairweather.

Australia’s Apartheid

Freemantle Prison

‘Since Rudd‘s apology, Aboriginal poverty indicators have gone backwards. His “Closing the Gap” programme is a grim joke, having produced not a single new housing project.

An undeclared agenda comes straight from Australia’s colonial past: a land-grab combined with an almost prurient need to control, harass and blame a people who have refused to die off, whose genius is their understanding of an ancient land that still perplexes and threatens white authority. Whenever Canberra’s politicians want to look “tough”, they give the Aborigines a good kicking: it is a ritual as sacred as Don Bradman worship or Anzac Day.

The indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, has decreed that unless certain communities hand over their precious freehold leases, they will be denied basic services. The Northern Territory contains abundant mineral wealth, such as uranium, and has long been eyed by multinationals as a lucrative radioactive waste dump. The blacks are in the way, yet again: so it is time for the usual feigned innocence. Rudd has said his government “doesn’t have a clear idea of what’s happening on the ground” in Aboriginal Australia. What? The learned studies pour forth as if the sorcerer’s apprentice is loose.

One example: the rate of incarceration of black Australians is five times that of black South Africans during apartheid. Western Australia imprisons Aboriginal men at eight times the apartheid figure, an Aussie world record.

On 16 November, a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy appeared in court charged with receiving a Freddo Frog chocolate bar from a friend who had allegedly taken it from a supermarket. Only the international headlines forced the police to drop the case. Two-thirds of Aboriginal children who have contact with the police are jailed; two-thirds of white children are cautioned. A young Aboriginal man was jailed for a year for stealing £12 worth of biscuits and soft drink’.

– John Pilger, ‘Return to a secret country’. New Statesman 26 November 2009.

It seems that I can’t put away my sackcloth and ashes just yet …

Online Activism & Human Rights in China

Online activismThose within cooee of Dunedin might like to diary that Amnesty International’s Human Rights Book Club (which is not really a book club at all) is meeting again on Monday 12th October, 5:30pm, at the Dunedin Public Library, 1st Floor, LearnIT Left room. The topic of this month’s meeting is ‘Online Activism & Human Rights in China’ and our guest speaker will be Paola Voci, Senior Lecturer in Chinese in the Department of Languages & Culture at Otago University.

For more information, contact the very approachable Betty Mason-Parker.

This discussion is timely with the recent crackdown on human rights defenders, including media in China and Rebiya Kadeer’s just-announced visit to New Zealand.

Karen Brounéus on Rwanda, psychology and processes of reconciliation

Karen_BroneusThose within earshot of Dunedin might like to know that the next gathering of the Human Rights Book Group is Monday 14 September 5:30pm @ the Dunedin City Library, 1st floor, ITLeft Room (behind the room with the computers). We are very pleased to have as our guest speaker Dr Karen Brounéus, a post-doc fellow from the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies within the Humanities Deptartment at Otago University. Her work has focused on the psychological benefits of the reconciliation process in Rwanda and this will be the focus of our meeting this month. Her talk is titled ‘Rwanda – Are there psychological benefits to the reconciliation process?’

Growing up under militarisation

The Karen Human Rights Group has just released a 174-page report on the effects on children growing up in the context of violence – because of both ongoing armed conflict in Burma and Karen State (Kawthoolei; lit. ‘the land without evil’) and because of other more serious structural violence committed by the State. The report makes for sombre reading even while its very existence is a voice of hopeful protest; or, as Moltmann puts it, ‘There is already true life in the midst of the life that is false’. Here’s a blurb:

As the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta currently ruling Burma, works to extend and consolidate its control over all areas of Karen State, local children, their families and communities confront regular, often violent, abuses at the hands of the regime’s officers, soldiers and civilian officials. While the increasing international media attention on the human rights situation in Burma has occasionally addressed the plight of children, such reporting has been almost entirely incident-based, and focused on specific, particularly emotive issues, such as child soldiers. Although incident-based reporting is relevant, it misses the far greater problems of structural violence, caused by the oppressive social, economic and political systems commensurate with militarisation, and the combined effects of a variety of abuses, which negatively affect a far larger number of children in Karen State. Furthermore, focusing on specific, emotive issues sensationalises the abuses committed against children and masks the complexities of the situation. In reports on children and armed conflict in Karen State and elsewhere, individual children’s agency, efforts to resist abuse and capacity to deal with the situations they live in, as well as the efforts made by their families and communities to provide for and protect them, tend to be marginalised and ignored. Drawing on over 160 interviews with local children, their families and communities, this report seeks to provide a forum for these people to explain in their own words the wider context of abuse and their own responses to attempts at denying children their rights. With additional background provided by official SPDC press statements and order documents, international media sources, reports by international aid agencies, as well as academic studies, this report argues that only by listening to local voices regarding the situation of abuse in which they live and taking as a starting point for advocacy and action local conceptions of rights and violations can external actors avoid the further marginalisation of children living in these areas and begin to build on villagers’ own strategies for resisting abuse and claiming their rights.

The full report can be downloaded here as a pdf.

As for Burma’s ruling junta, that trinity of evil – Maung Aye, Than Shwe and Shwe Mann – convert or kill them Lord. How long, O Lord? How long?

‘We Own the World’: a Chomsky lecture

We Own the World is the name of a new DVD out by Noam Chomsky in which he looks (surprise, surprise) at the US government and corporate elite policies over the years. These policies, he argues, ‘violate international and domestic laws, and involve imperialist designs that depend on targeted assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians on a mass scale. Yet, US elites still lay claim to being just, democratic, and humane. How can they do this? As Chomsky refrains over and over … they can do it only if we accept the basic assumption that “We own the world” – and therefore have the right to do whatever we want.’ More information here.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And [he who really owns the world] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24–27)

It seems to me that those who find any encouragement from being associated with the One who really owns the world, any comfort from his love, any participation in his Spirit, any affection and sympathy, ought to be at one with him in mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Surely they are those who do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than themselves. Surely they are those who look not to their own interests, but to the interests of others.

 

Conference on Bible and Justice

The University of Sheffield is organizing a Conference on Bible and Justice for 29 May – 1 June, 2008. The Conference promises to bring together scholars from around the world to explore how the ancient texts of the Bible can play an active role in addressing twenty-first century social concerns.  The purpose of the conference is to foster discussion about the relevance of the Bible to modern social issues, and promote bridges between the academic field of biblical studies and the various endeavours for a just world.
Areas of focus include Human Rights, Economic Justice and Environmental Justice.

Keynote Speakers are Stanley Hauerwas (Duke University), Timothy Gorringe (University of Exeter) and John Rogerson (University of Sheffield, Emeritus). Other speakers include James Crossley, Philip Davies, Daid Horrell, Louise Lawrence, Mary Mills, Hugh Pyper, Christpher Rowland, Gerald West, and Keith Whitelam.

Faculty members and research students are invited to submit abstracts, which will be accepted until 24 January 2008, and participate in this conference. For more information visit the website or contact conference organizer, Matthew Coomber.

Slavery and Human Trafficking

‘Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug looms of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa. Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings’. So begins the recent title, NOT for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone. [Reviewed here]

In today’s TimesOnline, Ruth Gledhill draws our attention to a video shot in Zanzibar during the Primates’ Meeting earlier this year in Tanzania. The film was made to promote the Church of England’s Walk of Witness which took place to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Today it won the IPTV award, a £2,000 award for internet television, at the Jerusalem Awards ceremony in London. I’ve embedded it here:

Watching this film, I was reminded of some words from Theissen’s investigator regarding the Essene community:

‘The first thing that I heard about the Essenes was that they reject slavery. They reject it because it is an offence against human equality: they argue that it goes against the law of nature, which bore and brought up all men. All are children of nature. All men are brothers. Riches led them astray, turned trust into mistrust, friendship into enmity. I was fascinated. Where else is there a community which rejects slavery? Nowhere’. – Gerd Theissen, The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form (trans. J. Bowden; London: SCM Press, 2001), 47.

While I do not believe that the Church – as the Church – should ever identify itself wholly which any social programme (individual believers are free to so do), the Church is impelled – by the Gospel itself – to be at the forefront of practicing, equipping and celebrating all acts of liberation, compassion, sanity, hope, and justice, of naming all that demeans and devalues life, and to lead the way in repentance when it fails to do so. I think here of such statements made not only by official bodies such as the WCC that ‘all forms of slavery … constitute crimes against humanity’, but also of those made by individual believers, such as PT Forsyth’s 3 moving letters to the Editor of The Times in January 1906 protesting against the British Government’s trafficking of Chinese human beings in South Africa. Another example, he suggests, of the ethical giving way to an economic rationalism gone mad.

Following the UN Protocol on Trafficking, countries have been enacting their own legislation and policies to prevent human trafficking. But at what cost? A new report commissioned by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, has found that many of the strategies to eradicate trafficking are having an adverse affect on the human rights of the very people they are trying to protect. For more, listen to this recent podcast.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets; A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” This is what God the LORD says – he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness’. (Isaiah 42:1-7)

Weekly Meanderings

‘Hundreds of demonstrators have defied the military junta in Burma to stage a rare protest march, despite the arrests of 13 leading pro-democracy activists.

Witnesses said 300 people staged an hour-long march then were dispersed by gangs of unidentified men, believed to be members of the regime-created Union Solidarity and Development Association (Usda).

There has been a series of midnight raids aimed at confronting the growing protests over rising fuel prices. Among those arrested were some of the country’s most important dissidents.’ Read on here.

Also, there’s a wee interview with Pat Dodson, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Long and Bishop John Selby Spong here and, more interestingly, Clive James here. Also, there’s an interview here with an Iraq veteran speaking out against the war and media coverage of Iraq.

More MP3’s of interest include this one on Religious Toleration in an Age of Terrorism (at about 18 mins) and this one on Minority Religious Groups in Iraq, and The War For Children’s Minds.

I really enjoyed this wee piece by Brendon O’Connor entitled Just something about George or is an anti-American century likely? and this piece by George Williams on ‘Does Australia need a Charter of Rights?’

And finally there’s Robert Fisk, who is always worth reading, on The Iraqis don’t deserve us. So we betray them… and this shocker on Abu Ghraib abuse.

And after all that heavy reading and listening …