What did we expect?

Friday’s shooting in Christchurch New Zealand is tragic.

I have so many different thoughts around this.

This post is going to be fragmented and perhaps not particularly coherent, as a result. Snippets of ideas and thoughts.

But I feel compelled to write.

Firstly, I wanted to echo and wholeheartedly concur with the appraisal and sentiments expressed by my friend Tim Mansfield, so eloquently expressed in his post Pray for Christchurch.

Especially this:

“Finally, and perhaps toughest, I ask you to pray for the perpetrators of this crime, for those who encouraged them, for those in the media they listened to and for all those who share their beliefs that they may meet Wisdom, grasp justice and finally find compassion for all peoples and cease this hateful path.”

I was heartened by the early response by NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, especially this:

“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.

“They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”

There is so much power in that phrase: “They are us.” An acknowledgement of a sentiment of “other” the drives so much hatred. The “they.” And making it clear, there is no “they.” There is only “us.”

If only were would be so lucky to have a Prime Minister that could demonstrate such true leadership, and not just empty platitudes.

I was surprised that the term “terrorism” or “terrorist act” didn’t appear earlier in media reports. Why? I would venture because the perpetrator was white. Even yesterday, the Daily Telegraph’s front page didn’t cry from the rooftops that this was terrorism.

There’s no headlines proclaiming the gunman’s religious beliefs. Why? Because he’s white? Was he a Christian? An athiest? Surely we should know this, because if it was a Muslim person involved, this would surely be the lead… it would be a core part of the headline, no?

“Australian Christian migrant shoots dead 50 in act of terror”

But no. That’s not what we get.

We get the watered down language.

There is no condemnation of all Australians, or all Christians, or all white-folk, as being hell bent on taking over our country, or being violent, or hating us.

No. This was the act of some lone person. They couldn’t possibly represent the views of all Australians. Or all Westerners.

But if this were a Muslim, this would be presented without such nuance or distance.

This, is of course, indicative of a more widespread, clear, discernible and quantifiable bias in our media.

It is so reminiscent of what Noam Chomsky has highlighted for decades in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where radically different language is used depending on “which side” is being referred to. “Rocket attacks” vs. “Incursions.” “Settlements” instead of “Illegal land occupation.” We hear it in the language used around asylum seekers arriving by boat: “illegals”.

(An aside: the Refugee convention EXPLICITLY states that an asylum seeker’s method of entry into a country is not grounds for discrimination. That is, they are under international law, LEGAL by definition. Contrast this with the over 60,000 people overstay their visa in Australia each year—these could be legitimately considered “illegal” vs. around 3000 people “processed” in offshore detention—note the lightened language we use here also).)

For many people who “consume” and don’t interrogate the media, these biases become invisible. It lessens the crimes of one, and heightens the crimes of another. I see this as yet another example of these biases plainly on display, and largely missed…

If it were a Muslim person that had committed the crime, there would be cries for all Muslim leaders to condemn the act. Instead, we get words like this reportedly on an “Australian parliamentary letterhead”:

“The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism,” or, “The real cause of bloodshed is the migration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate in the first place.” Or, “As we read in Matthew 26:52: ‘All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword’. And those who follow a violent religion that causes them to murder us cannot be surprised when somebody takes them at their word and responds at kind.”

(Waleed Aly’s full response is very much worth a read, btw.)

How is this even legal? It just goes to show the depth of the rot in our Parliamentary system that this could even be permitted, let alone go mostly unreported.

Given the above, it perhaps is little surprise that I share the anger, and agree with the ALL CAPS sentiment, in this response from another friend, Meredith Schofield (reposted here in case the Facebook walled garden hides it from the rest of the world):

Australia we need to own up to our part in this terrorist act. This c$%t was clearly radicalised here in this country. If our gun laws were like NZ he would have committed this terror act here. No doubt. Our culture of hate towards Islam, Muslims, middle eastern people and asylum seekers has bred this level of violence. When you like share or retweet an anti-immigration or anti-Muslim sentiment YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you make flippant comments around the dinner table about ‘Mussies’ or ‘Queue Jumpers’ YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you support parties or politicians with anti immigration, anti-refugee or anti-Islam views YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. And 100% of the time I hear shit like this from people online and people & family I know – they never ever ever have had a Muslim friend or met a refugee.

Don’t be part of the problem be part of the solution. Reach out, educate yourself, look within at some views you have that are deeply racist at their core. We are all different we come from a nation that is the most multicultural in the world it’s time these views left our society.

I like that Meredith uses the language we commonly associate with reports of Muslim terrorism—”radicalisation.” We do need to own up to that fact. What’s scary is that this person wasn’t radicalised in some terrorist camp. They were radicalised through publicly available and accepted mainstream media and social sentiments.

THAT is the scariest part of this whole episode from my perspective…

And it’s also, for me, the call to arms…

Plainly, this could have been avoided.

Not by extra security, or additional Police power, or foregoing our rights and handing them over to the State.

It could have been avoided by not perpetuating and propagating the culture of fear and hatred. The type peddled by the shock jocks, the mainstream media, our politicians, our so-called “thought leaders.”

I find it hard to acknowledge that our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, might have had anything poignant to say about this incident (which reportedly he did), in the face of his and his party’s, and successive Governments’ over the past 20+ years, treatment of Aboriginal people, of migrants, of people of ethnicity, of asylum seekers. Treatment that is effected both through policy and public statements.

All of this contributes to this culture. All in pursuit of a victory in the next (News)poll.

I am waiting for the shock jocks to decry this act of violence, then spout some tripe about “but it’s easy to understand the sentiment.”

Update 18 Mar 2019: Seems I spotted the argument correctly, but missed where it would come from—a Senator instead?!?

This is the underlying “problem.”

We need leaders that actually respond to the real issues that are affecting us, instead of peddling fear and intolerance.

Like owning up to the fact that one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence.

Like keeping things in perspective: 1,143 people die on our roads each year. Or that 29% of Australian deaths in 2014 had Cardiovascular Disease as the underlying cause—that’s 45,000 deaths a year—many of the drivers being preventable: “being overweight, lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and smoking.”.

Contrast this with terrorism—that big fear that drives our inhumane, abusive, illegal, and obscenely expensive (1, 2) detention system—where just 12 people have died from terrorism-related incidents on Australian soil in 36 years.

Which is the bigger threat?

I want to see our political priorities, and the same vehement language and sentiment, addressed at the real, not imagined, issues and threats.

How can we achieve that?

I feel strongly that focusing first on your circle of influence is the critical “first step.” Don’t let racist, fear-driven comments or sentiments stand in your family and friendship circles. It doesn’t cost a cent, but does take a lot of courage. Don’t just laugh it off. Step into it.

Have the conversation (or argument if it comes to that.) Importantly, let them know you don’t think it’s ok, that you think their fear and anger is misguided. Seek out the source of the fear beneath the comments, and encourage them to look harder at what’s actually going on, where the truth really lay, and not to rely on the headlines for making up their mind.

Write to or otherwise speak to the politicians in your electorate and tell them that you don’t think it’s ok that they perpetuate this, neither through policy nor in public statements and comments.

And consider joining or financially supporting organisations doing work in creating a more inclusive and just Australia. There are many, but I am a fan of one in particular that is working hard on the underlying drivers—All Together Now. Their vision is “a racially equitable Australia … [achieved] by imagining and delivering innovative and evidence based projects that promote racial equity.”

IMO, we need more of this positive action to combat the megaphones in the media peddling fear and hatred…

My thoughts and heart is with the people of Christchurch, and Muslim communities there and here in Australia especially. And I hope that this jolt genuinely triggers some serious reflection of the deeper issues at play. Though, sadly, I can’t say I have much expectation it will…

Illegal acts: boat people vs. the Australian Government

I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)

One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:

Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):

Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.

Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.

If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.

If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.

And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.

The cost of the Iraq war

This isn’t going to be a long post, just a short observation.

Just before Christmas I read with great interest this piece in Time Last U.S. Troops Leave Iraq as War Ends about the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

I’ve been a long time opponent of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, which I believe was launched on false pretences. One of these was that Iraq was somehow involved in the Sept 11 attacks (it clearly wasn’t).

But even if we take that at face value (which I don’t), the final casualty rate from Sept 11 was just under 3,000.

The Time article notes:

The mission cost nearly 4,500 American and well more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion from the U.S. Treasury.

So the Iraq invasion, the retaliation of sorts, cost 1,000 more lives than the initial attacks, and cost more than the $700 billion bail-out of the US banks during the GFC.

Iraq Body Count estimates that civilian — i.e. non-combatant — casualties alone are greater than 100,000. A 22:1 ratio of Iraqi to American casualties. (I feel it important to note that estimates of civilian deaths while Saddam was in power are higher than this figure.)

As Time notes, “The question of whether it was worth it all is yet unanswered.” Indeed.

(White) Australia Day

Every year I approach the “Australia Day” holiday with a sense of agitation. I want to celebrate my country, but to hold the holiday as a marking of the British invasion of this country has long been of concern to me. (As an aside, in the lead up to this year’s event, Ang and I were considering ways that we could show solidarity with the first Australians on the day – sadly we weren’t that successful – suggestions welcome…).

With that in mind, I think Mick Dodson’s suggestion that the date be changed is a worthy one. If Australia Day is truly about celebrating inclusiveness and everything we love about this country, and we have any respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we should emphatically not be “celebrating” on this day.

Imagine if your ancestors were nearly wiped out by a colonial power, only to have the “national day of celebration” occur on the first day of that offensive? How would you feel?

The fact that Rudd isn’t even willing to have the conversation, likely due to the political ramifications of accepting to do so (it would be political suicide), is a sign of how deeply ingrained the racism, especially towards this nation’s original owners, is in this country. Why shouldn’t this be on the national agenda? It makes that word “Sorry” sound hollow…

This is an opportunity to step beyond the empty rhetoric and actually acknowledge what really happened when this country was “settled”. Sadly, it may take far too long before we see that step taken…

Anyways – News Limited is running a poll on whether or not the date should be changed – feel free to add your voice. At the moment it seems the crowd is oblivious to the problems with calling 26 January “Australia Day”.

Disproportionate force

Israel has reportedly lost 8 people in the current conflict, 3 of those civilians. Palestinian casualties amount to over 668 , make that 774, with civilian deaths at around 50% according to the UN.

The recent attacks on a school in Gaza raised the death toll by as many as 42 people, including 13 children.

I have yet to find any details of deaths related to the Hamas rocket attacks that supposedly justify Israel’s massive military offensive (though I’d be interested to learn more if anyone has links).

I was watching the 7:30 Report last night on the ABC and a UN representative responded to the school massacre. He passionately yet eloquently spoke against Israel’s attacks, calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities (on both sides) and called for international humanitarian law to be upheld (i.e. for Israel to cease attacks on civilian-populated areas and Hamas to not use human shields – which it should be added there is scant evidence of outside of IOF statements as far as I can tell). During the interview he used the words “disproportionate use of force”.

Given these statistics, I’d have to say I agree with his conclusion…

Ban the bombs

GetUp’s latest campaign action: Ban the bombs:

As the international community is meeting in Dublin to ban cluster bombs – that saturate the ground with mini-bombs awaiting innocent civilians – our government is going out of its way to frustrate the process.

They’re calling for their own stockpile to be excluded – and for the treaty to be watered down. We’ve got just a few scarce days left before the fragile international agreement is drafted.

The petition calls on Kevin Rudd to support the ban without loopholes or exceptions…

Expression = prison

Amnesty International: Expression = prison: Hu Jia.

Tibet has (rightly) been in the spotlight of late, but this is a timeline reminder that these human rights abuses continue to occur throughout the country. I dearly hope that the spotlight remains firmly on these abuses in the leadup to the Olympics.

It is these kind of sentences that create the culture of self-censorship within the Chinese community.

Rebecca McKinnon suggests that we can’t expect too much to change – I hope that at least the embarrassments and increased pressure do at least help move things for the better, at least in some way.

Uncensor China

This is a cross-post from the Zumio blog.

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday, Amnesty International Australia’s Uncensor site was launched. This is the project I’ve been involved in, though the work I’m doing isn’t on the site yet.

The site is part of Amnesty’s campaign in the lead up to the Olympics being held in August in China, focusing on internet censorship and repression. I’ve been following the blog for a couple of days now and the writing there is excellent – really informative.

The “Search for Freedom” function (in the right sidebar) shows first hand China’s censorship regime at work, and clearly highlights how Google is participating in the “Golden Shield” system.

You may have heard about the Fuwa, the Chinese Olympics mascot. Well it seems that they left someone out – meet Nu Wa the Uncensor mascot. Nu Wa (who’s name means “outraged, angry young boy”, wants to set the record straight by speaking about the human rights abuses suffered by people in China.

I really dig the site, as does Priscilla. Well worth checking out…

Another action for Tibet

Again, fromAshley:

Another urgent online action for Tibet – this one is to ask the IOC to intervene and ensure that the olympic torch doesn’t go through Tibet (including Lhasa and Mt Everest). The Chinese government are planning these stops on the torch relay to try and legitimise their occupation of Tibet. At this point in time, we have grave concerns that if the torch were to go through parts of Tibet it would only inflame the already tense situation, leading to further protests and likely violent reprisals from the large Chinese military presence now assembled in Tibet.

(More from Ashley, who is an active member of the Australia Tibet Council, on the situation here.)

The email action is here.

And GetUp now have an action targeting our PM:

As Australians, we are in a unique position right now to help stop the cultural genocide taking place in Tibet. That’s because Kevin Rudd is visiting Beijing to meet the Chinese President and Premier – the two men who are able to put an end to this crisis. With the impending Beijing Olympics, where the world’s eyes will focus on China, we have a once in a decade chance to make a real difference.

The GetUp action is here.