This past week I, like many others I know, have been feeling ashamed to be Australian.
The events on Manus Island, in which a man was killed and many more were injured, and the subsequent denial and secrecy by our government, have rightly attracted anger and criticism, not only from old lefties such as myself, but from people who are, like Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, christian and conservative — including a previous conservative Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.
This is because these events starkly expose the inevitable brutality of policies which appeal to the worst fears and prejudices of the electorate. Journalist Waleed Aly put it bluntly:
‘Put simply, this tragedy is not … evidence of policy failure. It is, in fact, the very best form of deterrence. This is what it looks like when the policy works.’
Racism and xenophobia have long been used by leaders to divert people’s attention from poor policies and to exploit genuine concerns — for example about the economy, or job loss. This is not by any means exclusive to Australia, but many Australians this week have been grieved, deeply shamed and angered that the racist rhetoric, policies, and actions of both our current LNP and previous Labor governments have culminated in such a tragedy.
So I bring you music that I hope will remind you of our shared humanity, because that is what has been lost in the long and vitriolic debate about asylum seekers.
First, some music from Iran, which is where 23 year old Reza Berati — the young man who was killed on Manus — was from. I don’t know which ethnic group in Iran he belonged to, but this lovely compilation shows the richness and diversity of the people of Iran. It’s a bit long, but then, Reza Berati’s life was very short. I think we can all spare a few extra moments to notice the beauty and humanity of his Iranian heritage.
Next, music from Papua New Guinea (PNG), of which Manus Island is a (province?). This is to remind you that although it’s possible Reza was killed by the PNG police, and it’s alleged that the asylum seekers in Manus were attacked by local people, PNG has its own problems — as do many other poor, ex-colonial countries. It was never fair of Australia to offload our ‘problem’ onto PNG. It was always predicted that this policy could exacerbate local problems. No-one likes to say ‘I told you so’ (well, I don’t), but the blame for what occurred should be laid squarely at Australia’s door. As Waleed Aly said, the policy is working as it’s meant to. So here’s a video to remind you that yes, in spite of everything, the people of PNG are also human; as capable of caring as they are of horror. Don’t let them be vilified too.
Finally, a song of protest from fellow Australians, the John Butler Trio. This was composed around 10 years ago, about a range of different issues, but the message is relevant today. Without love, there’s no hope; there’s no life. I’m dedicating this one to all the people who yesterday stood up to be counted at candlelight vigils for Reza Barati across the nation. Keep up the protest everyone, and keep talking with each other about the issues, so these vicious policies can be reversed. Remember your humanity.