Tag Archives: unhcr

From the ‘it won’t end well’ file: nurturing callous indifference & passive complicity

2 Dec

Conventional wisdom has it that in our (and comparable) democratic systems, the political center dictates what is & what is not practical to achieve – i.e. it may well be fine to hold a principled (or otherwise) position outside of what is considered the political mainstream, as long as you recognise that decisions are made by those who turn up, and the majority of those probably don’t give much of a damn either way beyond eschewing ‘radicalism’ in favor of ‘moderation’.

10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.

– Susan Sontag

A problem arises however when we consider the context in which this all plays out. We live in an epoch of mass-media memetics, plagued by an illusion of ‘choice’ that privileges the value of nebulous & emotive intangibles like ‘opinion’ (i.e. ‘I’m not a racist! It’s just my opinion that all darkies are Muslims & all Muslims are terrorists! Am I not entitled to my opinion!?’) over more traditional – and reliable – instruments for analysing & determining ‘truth’.

Almost ubiquitously, mainstream media organisations produce ‘news’ products designed specifically to play to the prejudices & predilections of the target audience – banal & vapid cult-of-celebrity hysteria asphyxiates meaningful engagement with the issues, and as i’ve already discussed, ‘real’ news stories are framed in narratives that perpetuate fealty to one over-riding & pressing concern: defending & reinforcing existing worldviews – whether they relate to notions of ‘legality’ or ‘illegality’, determinations of ‘Australian-ness’, gender-normativity, hetero-normativity etc.

Validating nonsense in service of cultivating a comfortable & ‘friendly’ relationship with the pig-ignorant white-backlash demographic in other words, as both channels Nine & Seven frequently & unrepentantly do, seems a sure fire way of fostering ratings-loyalty in the face of widespread political discontent & a largely disengaged population – the implication is ‘we’re on your side’ – and who doesn’t love to hear that?

Though the laundry-list of problems created by this paradigm seems essentially endless to me, perhaps it is best surmised by the following observation:

There’s no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated

Into this murky & dysfunctional environment strides Scott Morrison, the Coalition’s bluntest instrument (a distinction unto itself), and (unsurprisingly) MHR for the Division of Cook, site of the infamous media-incited pogrom against vaguely brown-skinned people. A real upside of an uncritical press and dueling soundbyte media culture is the ease with which one can perpetuate pretty much any kind of nonsense without having to answer for it – once the meme enters the news cycle the job is effectively done, as everything from the print media to vacuous morning-show empires pick it up and run with it, seldom if ever pausing to consider whether the position holds any water whatsoever.

This passive acceptance of declarations from on high makes for not only remarkably asinine & insipid public debate, but tacitly enables the perpetuation of casual violence and indifference against marginalised out-groups: dehumanisation, demonisation & the deification of ‘patriotic’ forces that stand to defend the ‘honor’ of the majority from the tyranny of a completely powerless & disenfranchised minority.

As David Cronenberg’s Videodrome presciently observed, passive participation in the manic relish industry seems harmless enough until the cancer has finished gestating & festering in your own body – and by then it’s waaay to fucking late to pull it back from the brink. Beyond that point, the only victor is the all-consuming tumor.

Well into his quest to become Australia’s own Max Renn, Morrison used an appearance yesterday before the Lowy Institute to lobby for an approach to ‘dealing with’ asylum seekers that would forcibly return (specifically) Middle-Eastern refugees to, if not their country of origin, the sprawling, intense misery of refugee camps in Pakistan & Iran. Given that such a plan, blatantly contravenes the spirit & letter of international agreements, especially the principle of non-refoulement, Morrison went on the offensive pushing for an Australian-led reinterpretation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that governs rich nation refugee acceptance‘.

Should we disregard, as Morrison has, both the compelling moral argument against such a plan, and the fact that it will be practically impossible in a region as volatile as Pakistan (from floods, to the unofficial US war machine that creeps further across sovereign borders bringing with it black-ops night raids, drone-strikes & reinvigorated resistance in the form of fundamentalist groups similar to the Taliban); by any reasonable measure, Morrison’s crusade against the 1951 United Nations Convention on the rights of the refugee (and, by proxy, though less explicitly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), is still an extreme position.

It’s not only that was Australia was one of the first nations to ratify the Convention, or the fact that these agreements are recognised by the international community as fundamental measures of civility & responsibility. It’s not that both Pakistan & Iran are already struggling under the weight of millions of displaced people (the best available information suggests 1.2 million people alone in Pakistan), compared to the piddling 6000 odd arrivals on Australian shores this year.

No, it’s a question of consistency – are we so fair? Are we so great? We’re told constantly and in no uncertain terms that we are – by our media, by our advertisers, by our politicians – but when it comes to anything more tangible than selling an identity as a branded product, our actions (or lack thereof) speak volumes about our true nature… not that it’s ever allowed to get in the way of a good old fashioned platitude. It will surely be a cold day in hell when any Australian politician dares to concede the rhetorical flag-waving pretense that we are the most free, fair & like totally fucking awesome country on the planet.

Quite simply Morrison, you can’t boast about our nobility without us actually having done anything noble… er, that is without indulging in profound myopia & cognitive dissonance… which probably goes a long way in explaining why the Coalition & it’s sycophants atop lofty perches in the right-wing punditocracy have, especially since the Mad Monk’s ascension to the Liberal leadership, increasingly resorted to peddling highly-emotive isolationist narratives about the dangers posed to everyday hardworking Ozstraaayaans by Australia’s good-faith participation in the international community. I really don’t think that even Morrison would actually be dumb enough to try and have Australia back out of a cornerstone agreement that it has already been a signatory to for over 50 years, but then again, he doesn’t need to be that dumb. All he needs to do is drop the suggestion – thump his chest, roar about ‘illegals’ taking away security & opportunity from the poor Australian working man – and then lurk on the fringes of the debate ready to paint anybody who doubts the magnificence of his scheme as wanting to take something away from aforementioned Australian working man.

Flagrantly dishonest narratives like the above aren’t favored because they are good arguments, but rather because most people are low-information voters that make determinations about issues far too complicated to be understood without conscientious engagement instead on the basis of what they ‘feel’, or more accurately, what makes them ‘feel’ better about themselves. Remember President Governor Bush and the prominence his administration gave to emotive feel-good narratives like ‘fuck the French/UN/Dixie Chicks/Bono etc in it’s march towards the war on the people of Iraq? Or perhaps the UN-is-out-to-get-us meme is more familiar in it’s current incarnation as the the ideological meat & potatoes of proto-fascist militia groups inside the United States.

Whilst Morrison’s rhetoric is by no means as extreme as that of the batshit ‘black helicopter’ brigades, nevertheless he continues to blast away with his tumor gun – sewing division, fostering disinformation, passionately encouraging the proliferation of the same cancerous reactionary invective. Whether or not it is his specific intention to embolden & enfranchise organised xenophobia is largely immaterial – what actually matters are the tangible effects of kow-towing to malignancy:

The far-right Australia First Party, which was revealed yesterday seeking to exploit resentment toward the proposed Inverbrackie immigration detention facility by letterboxing a viciously anti-refugee pamphlet, has started publicly identifying “supporters” of the Inverbrackie immigration facility as part of its effort to “mobilize” the people of the Adelaide Hills against asylum seekers.

The party, which stood candidates in Queensland in the recent Federal election, has distributed a pamphlet in the Adelaide Hills that refers to a refugee “invasion” and calls for a “community strike” to ostracise anyone who supports the facility. It claims the Government is “handing over army bases” to “cashed-up ‘asylum seekers’” as part of “recolonization of your land”


The dark terror that will be waged by Moslem extremists, Tamil Tiger guerrillas, Afghan drug criminals, African animists and so on is but a matter of time. It sums to culture busting (the process by which Australian community feeling and identity is broken down) and is also a type of state-terrorism against the Australian population — ethnic cleansing!

These seeds were planted long ago in Australia’s history, and took firm root years before any of us were born. Perhaps for a little while, we thought this cloying quest to nurture our pathological fear of ‘the other’ was all but over. And maybe so – is it a good sign that even explicitly racist organisations now seek to shed the ‘racist’ label?

Or does the fact that this is only the latest in a long line of stillborn policy-lite hatchet jobs from Scott Morrison to be taken seriously by the press say something much more serious about the state of our society & discourse – that utterly discredited impulses, like that which led successive north American governments to turn away the MS St. Louis, carrying 930 Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany – are being regurgitated into the Australian political mainstream and allowing new currents of xenophobia, jingoism & casual violence to burrow into our collective flesh?


Whatever you do, don’t fuck with the narrative

26 Nov

It’s been my firm contention for quite some time that the viability of Australia’s mandatory detention regime hinges on the willingness of the corporate press to ‘report’ on the issue in very specific ways.

And it’s not just about the endless (often ridiculous) appeals to fear, resentment, distrust & pogrom printed daily in the pages of notable propaganda rags like the Herald Sun. In fact I’d go as far as to say that the ‘Bolt factor’, despite it’s dedication to the promotion of loud & proud ignorance, is subservient to a much more pressing concern: whatever you do, don’t fuck with the narrative.

I mean, who would want to right? It’s not like the issue is in anyway complicated by a myriad of factors including (but not limited to) war, persecution or climate disaster – ‘these people’ are coming (On boats! What gall!) to have their feet washed by the Australian tax-payer!

In service of the don’t fuck with the narrative rule, it is vitally important that all ‘journalists’ remember to refer to refugees/asylum seekers (who, awkwardly, just so happen to be fellow human beings) in the most abstract & sterile possible terms – in groups versus out groupsgrew here‘ versus ‘flew here‘ – in order to perpetuate & reinforce the rigid dichotomies that grant governments the domestic political cover they need to maintain & expand the detention apparatus. To humanise a refugee is essentially to relinquish the most vicious & effective cudgel, good ole fashioned appeals to fear, that both the government & their unwitting allies in the neo-fascist ‘protectionist’/’patriot’ lobbies have.

In this light, it seems more than a little odd that the Gillard government is suddenly rushing to try and tell sell the (fake) stories of people desperate enough to attempt to seek protection in Australia by boat, when similar attempts to tell (actual) stories about what it is like to be an asylum seeker (from Amnesty International & Getup to name just two) have been completely shut out of the press.

Perhaps the most useful way to look at this is as a further piece of evidence about what Labor’s priorities really are on asylum seekers & mandatory detention issues. We could use a whole lot of words to describe Gillard’s motives, but I think craven is probably the most accurate.

I have contacted Cultural Perspectives (the agency tasked with actually creating the new scare-the-brown-people-away advertisements) several times to ask them whether they see any inherent conflict between exploiting human tragedy in service of perpetuating what is (at best) misinformation, and their self-described ‘expertise’ on handling multicultural issues, which they themselves describe as ‘an area historically considered sensitive, complex and difficult’.

I’m sure you will all be shocked to learn that, despite talking to several different people, nobody from Cultural Perspectives has wanted to even put their own side of the story on record, much less answer any actual questions about the nobility of such an undertaking, or what it is going to cost taxpayers, or how effective they expect it to be.

I was referred on to the media department at the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, but my previous experience in attempting to communicate with the sophists employed to spin & shill for government departments lead me to laugh so hard when it was suggested that the functionary from Cultural Perspectives took umbrage & promptly ended our call.

I will persist in getting them to say something other than ‘no comment’, and if they do it’ll be published here.

But don’t hold your breath.

Speaking of Siev X…

25 Nov

As I referenced the Siev X disaster in the last post (and the second video ‘Left Behind‘ all but explicitly invokes it), I think I can almost get away with crow-barring an already prepared piece in here.

I delivered this speech on the 23rd of October, 2010 to a rally calling for an end to mandatory detention at Sydney Town Hall:

To the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the owners of the conquered ground on which we stand today, the latest wave of rose-coloured proto-nationalism in the Adelaide Hills must represent a sickening irony. Australia, a nation of immigrants, founded on the imperial exploitation of open borders, that loudly proclaims it’s own fairness, magnificence & opportunity to anybody who will listen… before hastening to add that these opportunities be afforded only to those who’s ancestors arrived on boats at a different point in our history. Though most prefer lazily-guised dogwhistling to flat out racist invective, the message is clear – we’ve got what we wanted out of this land, declared it our own, the rest of you be damned.

For Leela Krishna, a young Tamil man from war-torn Sri Lanka, Australia embodied what it has always represented to desperate people. From the British Isles to Vietnam, from Africa to the subcontinent, from China to the Mediterranean; Australia has stood at nobler times in our history as a distant beacon of opportunity & safety. Now it seems, unless one is an offshore mining conglomerate, that flickering torch has been all but extinguished.

Leela simply hoped for another kind of existence – free from the shelling, the immense human misery of concentration camps, the roaming government death squads, the arbitrary arrest & imprisonment, and the very real threat of persecution due to his sexuality. Forced to abandon everything he knew and loved, Leela arrived on Christmas Island over a year ago. In the time since, Leela has endured systematic abuse of his rights under both the UNHCR & Geneva conventions, and has lived every day plagued with terminal uncertainty endured by every incarcerated refugee.

He has self-harmed and attempted to take his own life several times. He has suffered physical, sexual & emotional abuse at the hands of Serco’s footsoldiers; and despite being deemed a genuine refugee in April, he continues to languish inside detention whilst ASIO dither over security checks. Earlier this year as a campaign to free Leela from Villawood Detention Centre gained momentum, and a sponsor was found to house him in the community, Leela was suddenly and unceremoniously uprooted by the Department of Immigration and moved to Melbourne’s Maribyrnong detention centre, torn away once again from everyone and everything he knew.

The reason? None have been forthcoming, but the motive is not hard to identify. As a microcosm of the whole sordid affair, Leela’s experience perfectly personifies everything that mandatory detention seeks to do: hide him away, out of sight, out of mind. As a nation, we’re getting quite good at it. There is bipartisan agreement on the need to talk about human lives as if they were abstract, and the corporate media does their part with sterile, dehumanising language… to ensure that we do not recognise in Leela, or any other refugee, anything that reminds us of our own humanity.

Yesterday was Leela’s 21st birthday, a right of passage sacred to many Australians. But for Leela, this doesn’t mean a party, or cake, or laughter with his family and friends… it just means another day in a cage, waiting for the day that he gets to stand as a free man on the boundless plains to share that Australia proclaims in it’s anthem, uncertain that that day will ever come.

For Leela, and so many countless others like him; gone is the fair go, the mateship, and the recognition that though we hail from every corner of the world, we stand together as one people in a free land.

For the ten family groups currently on hunger strike in Leonora detention centre, the promise of Australia – it’s safety, it’s stability, it’s liberty – has similarly been replaced with the most wrenching & abject human misery: 10 months and counting of utter powerlessness, locked in glorified human cages, trapped behind razor wire.

Their first plea for asylum has already been rejected, and faced with terminal uncertainty as to their fate, they are so powerless that literally the only option they have left is to slowly starve themselves to death, in the desperate hope that we will heed their call of distress. As has been the case for so many others forced into such desperate actions, the silence must be deafening.

And still, our body-politic refuses to answer, refuses to help, refuses to admit that a problem even exists. First we were told that the over 700 children in immigration facilities were not being held in detention, rather ‘detention like environments’. Despite the myopic and flagrantly dishonest rhetoric of the Rudd & Gillard governments, who seek to defer vociferous domestic & international criticism, this is more than even under the Howard government.

Even the latest decree from the minister this week, whist superficially reasonable, is nothing more than a capricious political bait-and-switch. Chris Bowen assures us that even he agrees that children should not be held in mandatory detention, and that his department will move to alter their circumstances…

In June 2011!

How’s that for a rallying cry? ‘What do we want? A small improvement! When do we want it? By an arbitrary, non-binding date sometime next year!’

In return for this tiny improvement, which still would not guarantee the removal of all refugee children from immigration detention (in fact, the government has already ordered a new facility in the Adelaide Hills that will house 400) the Gillard government is hoping we don’t notice it’s other hand pouring yet more tax-payer money into a rapid expansion of Australia’s most infamous collective punishment facility, Curtain detention centre; and the construction of another 1500 bed prison in Northam, WA.

This is all of course on top of the huge diplomatic pressure currently being applied to East Timor; a nation battling profound disadvantage, poverty & the lingering scars of it’s own immense human tragedy; to step in and whisk the problem out of sigh & out of mind. After all, as a prosperous first-world nation ‘with boundless plains to share’, we are clearly not equipped to even offer the chance of a new life to those forcibly displaced by war, tyranny & manifest suffering.

If this despicable indifference, the willful ignorance, the perpetual divide-and-conquer racism is what it means to be an Australian, then I stand here today and proudly renounce my nationality. The inhumanity of mandatory detention, of offshore processing, of callous disregard for the rights of our fellow human beings is happening in our name, on our watch, and brothers & sisters the time has come to say enough.

We need political leaders with the courage to empathise, not demonise. We need institutions that serve a nobler purpose than the enriching of private misery-profiteer corporations. We need a government that is willing to acknowledge the blood 353 of our brothers & sisters that remains on our hands, and is willing to heed the lessons of such a disgraceful moment in our history.

If we are so free, if we are so fair, if we are so great; we need to acknowledge that mandatory detention dehumanises us all. Until the last lock breaks, none of us are free.