Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Ghali Hassan: Letter from Australia

Axis Of Logic | 30 August 2006

It is getting harder to describe Australia in term of an independent, democratic and morally responsible nation. Australia has moved from a forward looking to a backward sliding society. Many people, including many Australians are regarding this shift in direction as morally reprehensible.

In recent time, Australia’s vote at the UN has taken a dive into the sea of extremism by following in the footsteps of George W. Bush, sacrificing Australia’s sovereignty and identity as an independent nation. Australia has voted against strengthening the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), and abstained from a vote to support the economic rights of all countries to better their living conditions. Australia was the only nation to vote against a resolution expressing concern about the impact of globalisation” on human rights, and abstained from a resolution to draft a right to development. Finally, Australia is one of only two (the U.S. is the other) countries not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol combating global warming, and remains opposed to reducing Greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Government of John Howard, Australia’s new defined (imperialist) role has been the U.S. “deputy sheriff” (i.e. subservient to U.S. power). In order to fulfil it role of bullying and intimidating its small and defenceless neighbours, Australia’s military spending has increased dramatically – at the expense of other important services – and considered the highest in the region. The growing militarisation in connected with Australia’s superiority and imperialist mentality.When asked about Australia’s plan” for the Pacific, Papua New Guinea independence leader and current Prime Minister Michael Somare said: “Their real intention is they want to have some controlling device in the whole region. They want to control the region so that the Prime Minister [John Howard] can go back and talk to Prime Minister of Britain and President of United States and say, “The Pacific is no problem, [and] we’re looking after it.” I have a lot of time and respect for John, he’s a good friend of mine, but I think the imposition of that kind of mentality in the Pacific amongst the Pacific leadership, you’re undermining the integrity of the Pacific Island people”. The old imperialist mentality that is many people in Australian and Britain want to revive.

Despite the years-long exploitation of its rich natural resources by Australian corporations, Papua New Guinea has been sliding into poverty. The Solomon Islands remain under the control of Australian police, army and NGOs. East Timor has just lost its democratically elected Prime Minister – replaced by an Australian puppet – and its aspiration for independence as a result of ongoing Australian interference in its affairs.

In addition to its new imperialist role, Australia has been moving in a direction of intolerance and extremism, thanks to the Howard Government’s right-wing ideology and a very biased and inherently racist media. The Australian media, a small fish-bond controlled by Rupert Murdoch and the Government, have been promoting the Howard Government’s ideology and fomenting racism and divisions among the Australian diverse community.

Since elected to govern Australia in 1996, the Howard Government (a coalition of right-wing elites) has moved swiftly to oppress dissent and stacked the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) board with political allies who have an agenda to steer the ABC further to the right and break its perceived ‘impartiality’. The current ABC board is a cabal of right-wing of Government appointees and Liberal Party cronies. The “public” broadcaster has become a school for Islamophobia and Anti-Muslims hatred. Its journalists and commentators is a collection of liar and bigots. The main aim is to manipulate the Australian public by aiding an abetting the Howard Government’s ideology and support the U.S. and Israel war crimes in the Middle East.

The largest chunk of the fish-bond is controlled by Rupert Murdoch media business. Murdoch is a global propagandist; a modern version of Nazism propagandists. His target has always been the defenceless Muslims and Arabs wherever they live. His latest attack was on Muslim Australians. He told Australian (Anglo-Saxon Australians) recently: “You have to be careful about Muslims, who have a very strong, in many ways a fine, but very strong, religion, which supersedes any sense of nationalism wherever they go”.

Murdoch was the “Australian” who renounced his Australian citizen for a U.S. citizen, so he can pursue his Zionist ideology on a global scale. Murdoch knows how to manipulate the public to promote his Zionist ideology of pro-war jingoism and anti-Muslim racism, but he does not know anything about Islam. Any Australian, regardless of origin, religious affiliation and the length of time in Australia makes far better and loyal Australian citizen than Murdoch.

As rightly described by Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch magazine; “Murdoch is far too fearsome an affront to any civilized values to escape with mere facetiousness … Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favours such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent FCC ruling on the acquisition of Direct TV) monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it’s the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK’s Sun and News of the World or shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square”. Indeed, Murdoch’s promotion – fabricated by his despicable Fox TV – of racism and war is not only affront to any civilised society but also destroying democracy and guiding the peoples of Australia (Britain and the U.S.) into becoming racist and intolerant societies.

It is important to remember that, Muslim Australians are the most marginalised and alienated community in Australia. They remain unsophisticated, divided and poor community. The level of unemployment among Muslim Australians is around 30 per cent and rising. Muslim Australians are discriminated against and denied employment just because they have a Muslim name, not because of their fabricated “disloyalty” to Australia.

The racist cliché of “loyalty” – a variant of U.S. false patriotism – to Australia, promoted by the Howard Government and Murdoch, is only applied to Muslim and Arab Australians. When an Israeli soldier – who happened to have an “Australian” citizen – was killed during Israel’s violent aggression against Lebanon, he was simply immortalised as a hero. His name and photos were all over the country. Had he been an Australian with a Lebanese citizen, he would have been portrayed as a “terrorist” and his family and friends would have been questioned by Australia’s new special police squads. In fact, Australians were up in arms against the evacuation of Australian citizens – of Lebanese descent – from Lebanon during the Israeli fascist attack on Lebanon. “Leave them die. Don’t bring them back”, a caller told 2GB Radio, the most racist talkback radio in the history of radio. It is no wonder why John Howard described the deliberate and indiscriminate wanton destruction of Lebanon the murder of more than 1300 innocent Lebanese civilian, mostly women and children, as an act of Israeli “self-defence”.

As always, John Howard thrives and gains political mileage out of the tears and sorrow of others, whether they are refugees or defenceless civilians in the Middle East. Refugees (mostly from Muslim countries) were used as political pawns – in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention – to light the flame of racism, instil fear and win elections. We now know that Australia’s participation in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians has nothing to do with “democracy” or “human rights”. The Howard Government cut a deal with the U.S. in return for Australia to sell cheap quality wheat to Iraq. However, the naivety of the Howard Government and its unawareness of the power of the U.S. farmers lobby saw Australia end up with just few crumbs.

The other group of Australians who bears the brunt of the Howard Government’s right-wing ideology are Australian Aboriginal people. While the majority of Australian enjoy a high standard of health and life expectancy in the world, Aboriginal Australians health is shameful. There is a 20-year gap in the life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The infant mortality rate of Aboriginal Australian is comparable to that of the most impoverished countries in the world. Aboriginal Australians infant mortality rate is at 11.4 per 1000, it is much bellow the infant mortality rate of New Zealand Maoris (6.8 per 1000) and Canadian First Nations People (8.6 per 1000). Other critical areas, such as education, employment and housing are similarly neglected.

Australian Aborigines accounted for almost 40 per cent of all young people on remand and sentenced to detention in 2004-05, according to the department’s figures. In June 2006, Aborigines made up about 50 per cent of the more than 300 young people in detention in NSW. There are more Australian Aborigines locked-up in detention now than ever before. According to a Legal Aid Commission study, Australian Aborigines have the highest incarceration rate for indigenous people in the world. Despite this, the Department of Juvenile Justice will go ahead with a proposed “transition of positions” that would eliminate its six Aboriginal program support officers, said John Doyle, and industrial officer with the public service Association.

A report, Evaluation of the Aboriginal Over-representation Strategy, released recently, found that the Department had failed on almost every level to deal with the problem of high numbers of young Aborigines in detention. “The Department of Juvenile Justice is a downstream agency with limited ability to influence the decisions of police and the courts”, said Andrew Vickery, a spokesman for the Department. In other words, racism is institutionalised and needs to be rooted-out, not just seasonally modified to political opportunism.

The economy has benefited the rich and the well-off with tax cuts and wage rise. By contrast, low-income Australians got poorer. To increase the misery of low-income Australians, the Howard Government has began importing cheap workers from Asia, the right to strike has been banned and employers have been given greater power to negotiate wages, hire and fire as they see fit. In addition, the Government has increased the policing of workers, removed the union from negotiations and abolished workers rights to silence when questioned about meetings and industrial actions. It is a shocking reminder of the rise of Fascism in Europe.

The public education system, particularly the tertiary education sector, is starving of funds and continues to rely on full fee-paying international students, destroying a unique education system in the process. Special visas are in place to allow foreign graduates to remain in Australia and compete with debt-ridden Australian graduates and the newly-arrived migrants to Australia.

The justice system and human rights law have been replaced by unjust system and draconian “anti-terror” laws. These new laws – specifically targeting Muslim Australians – are a threat to democracy and an attack on the basic rights of citizens. With no legislation to provide the rights of a person for a trial, Muslim Australians are left at the mercy of a very extreme and unfair justice system.

The current trial of Muslim Australians accused of terrorism is just a case in point. “The combination of ASIO’s [Australian Security and Intelligence Organisations] coercive powers, the broad definition of terrorist offences, the extremely harsh conditions of custody in which terrorist suspects are held, and the running commentary of politicians and the media about the arrest, prosecution and detention of terrorist suspects are all combining to create very difficult conditions for the trials of these people”, defence barrister Phillip Boulten, told the ABC.

The trial of Faheem Lodhi, a Muslim Australian fraudulently accused of terrorism, was simply a farce. Lodhi was convicted on circumstantial evidence for “intention” to plan “unspecified” act of terrorism and sentenced to 20-years in solitary confinement. There were no witnesses or hard evidence to support the charges. There was no presumption of innocence. During the trial Lodhi was asked by Judge Anthony Whealy about his view of the U.S. war on Iraq. Lodhi replied with courage that the war was an illegal act of aggression in violation of international law.

Lodhi’s conviction is used to justify the new “anti-terror” laws and as a deterrent to “others”, i.e. Muslim Australians. Indeed, Lodhi’s lawyers rightly argued that their client’s actions were far less serious than those of Jack Roche, the Anglo-Saxon Australian who conspired to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, and should receive a lesser sentence.

Finally, of great concern to the Australian community in general is the blurring of the military and police functions. The creation of new paramilitary units and the embedding of these units with the police increased the state repressive power and policing incidents, such as fatal shootings and abuses of demonstrators.

Any society with no dissent voices and no opposition to government’s policies becomes submissive to state power and loses its moral responsibility and civilised destiny. Australians have a choice to join the civilised community of nations undermining the violent, imperialist and racist ideology or risk being complicit spectators.

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia.

© Copyright 2006 by

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