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Dutton’s message: torture works

20 Aug

Torture Works

 

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have  described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees,southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate.Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

Australia, Vietnam & white male supremacy

18 Aug


Little-Pattie-Col-Joye-Nui-Dat-18-Aug-1966

 

I don’t know who came up with the macabre notion of recreating the concert at which Little Pattie was performing when the Battle of Lon Tân commenced fifty years ago.

I don’t know who came up with the even more macabre notion of ABC TV’s Australian Story filming the recreation.

I do know that it should be no surprise to anyone that the Vietnamese government, citing the sensitivities of the people in Lon Tân and its surrounds, have, at the last minute, baulked at the notion of Australia recreating the circumstances in which that battle took place and refused to allow planned commemorations to go ahead.

I find it difficult to imagine that Australians would permit similar commemorations being enacted in our country, had we suffered the large-scale destruction wrought upon the Vietnamese by the US and its allies in a filthy war from which we finally withdrew in so-called “honourable defeat,” leaving a napalmed, land-mined landscape behind us and the communist regime intact.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and his ministers have expressed their deep disappointment in the Vietnamese government’s decision, and are particularly outraged at the last-minute nature of it. Perhaps the Little Pattie concert was too much of a stretch for the Vietnamese.

…the gala dinner, concert and the expectation of more than 1,000 Australians at the Long Tân memorial cross was seen as an insensitive celebration.

Yes. I get that. I would have expected Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to get that as well, and nip it in the bud.

However, Australia doesn’t care much for the feelings of brown people. There’s an example of this almost daily: indigenous youth in Don Dale. Asylum seekers and refugees in atrocious conditions on Manus and Nauru. The bribing of those countries and Cambodia to take refugees off our hands because they’re all brown aren’t they, so they should get on. The death of yet another indigenous woman in police custody. The conservative white male outrage over Section 18c.

The dominant Australian attitude as expressed by politicians and media would seem to be one of white entitlement: our sensitivities are paramount in the Lon Tân situation, not those of the brown people who cannot escape the repercussions of that war. We are apparently entitled to restage the entertainment of our troops, and if the Vietnamese want to stop us they are ill-willed spoil sports who will further destabilise our veterans.

Australians should never have been conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. They were treated hideously when they returned. Successive governments have dark histories concerning their attitudes to and neglect of war veterans. Accusing the Vietnamese of destabilising them is hypocrisy.

In neighbouring Laos, the arms and legs of children and rice farmers are still blown off when they step on land mines, fifty years later. I’ve stood on the Russian airstrip in Phonsovan, Northern Laos where the CIA conducted its “secret war” and seen the napalmed jungles, and the bomb craters outside the caves to which the villagers fled when they no longer had anywhere to hide. I’ve walked the Plain of Jars on a narrow path marked by white-painted stones, on either side of which there remains uncounted numbers of active mines. This is the legacy the US and we, its allies, left in Vietnam and Laos.

So the Vietnamese government refuses to permit a gala dinner, concert and large numbers of Australians at the memorial cross? I’m OK with that. Theres nothing to prevent the veterans already in Lon Tân from holding their own ceremony of remembrance. They don’t need Australian Story to do that.

We have never been invaded.* It’s one of our deepest collective fears. The arrival of a few thousand boat people causes us to construct a fortress around ourselves, and a border force in black shirts to protect us. We spend billions on keeping invaders out. We torture them, children and all, to dissuade other potential invaders. Yet we believe are entitled to perform our ceremonies in another country where we slaughtered its people in the service of the US for seven years.

That’s privilege. That’s entitlement. That’s white male supremacy.

*Some objections have been raised to this sentence, on the grounds that it seems to imply a denial by me of European invasion of this country, and the ongoing trauma of that invasion for Indigenous people. Australia has two distinct overarching populations: Europeans who invaded and colonised and now call Australia home, and Indigenous peoples who were invaded, colonised and displaced. I’m speaking from the European position, one that has the privilege of never having experienced invasion in this country we call home.

There’s never been a better time for white men & Section 18C

16 Aug

Racist Google?

 

Oh, that David Leyonhjelm! What a scamp he is! 

As you probably know, he’s making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, after Fairfax journalist Mark Kenny called him an “angry white man,”

I don’t think Leyonhjelm, a staunch opponent of 18C, is being hypocritical: he’s perfectly open about this being an opportunity to “test” the law, rather than a genuine case of offence inflicted or taken.

And it will be most interesting to watch the arguments for and against unfold: will Kenny’s comment fall into one of the many exemptions provided by 18D? Did Kenny intend to racially insult Leyonhjelm, or was he making a contextual point by mentioning the man’s colour? How can Leyonhjelm make a complaint at all, ethically speaking, if he’s not insulted or offended?

I remain astounded that white people continue to fight for the right to offend and insult people of colour. I understand that these white people believe they are fighting for free speech and of course they are, if you are of the belief that free speech equals unrestrained speech.

It’s inarguable that Section 18C curbs free speech. Of course it does. So do the laws that make it an offence to use foul language in public places, or to call police officers cunts when they’re attempting to restrain you or move you on. Why isn’t anybody complaining about these restrictions on free speech?

Insult and offence are subjective concepts, as Leyonhjelm repeatedly points out. However, Section 18C specifies that the insult and offence must relate to race, ethnicity and religion before it is considered insulting and offensive. Its ambit doesn’t cover insults such as you’re an arsehat dickwad, and offensive statements such as all your family are loser thieving pisspots and always will be so fuck off you sad cunt. 

I’m still struggling to come up with a pejorative comment about someone’s race, religion and/or ethnicity that isn’t offensive or insulting. Can anyone help me? Please use asterisks.

There’s never been a better time to watch two white men duke it out in the racial discrimination ring. Popcorn.

Music (& politics)

13 Aug
Equus-Header-1038x500

Equus

 

I’m telling you, if you haven’t heard a Mongolian throat singer perform George Gershwin’s Summertime you haven’t lived.

Bukhu, who has just been granted a Distinguished Talent visa by the DIBP, performed this feat last night accompanied by John Robinson (oud, Turkish baglama) Peter Kennard (percussion) and Bertie McMahon (double bass). Together they comprise the group Equus and they make music, rather than just play it very well.

Aside: I was going to write a warning top of this post stating that it isn’t political, when I realised that in fact it is. The political and human point to be made is that as I sat in the audience last night freezing my bum off in the delightful but seriously cold Pelican Theatre in Grafton, I thought that we, (we being all of us who can go to concerts, all of us who can perform in them and all of us who can read about them) are amongst the world’s most privileged people. I don’t feel guilt about that, but I do think the least we can do is to acknowledge our good fortune, and send forth a passing gratitude into the cosmos in the hope of counteracting some small portion of the dark matter in which we are almost entirely engulfed. As well as using our voices and our votes.

Back to music. Equus conjures up images of vast Mongolian plains and wild horses, fused with Turkish melodies to which the western ear must accustom itself. Just when you’re lost in the world created by this fusion, up pops Gershwin, performed by Bukhu using all four of his throat voices plus one that comes entirely through his nose. You laugh, out loud, in joyous delight, because this extraordinary performer is making music with such intelligence and wit, and he’s teasing you as well.

You’re in an enriched world, one without borders, and it’s a deeply nourishing place to be.

The day before I’d had a tiresome drive  from Lismore, tiresome because the goat track that is the Pacific Highway is finally being fixed and it takes forever to get home but fortunately for me, the Australian Youth Orchestra was on ABC FM playing Mahler’s first symphony which is not my favourite, but as with Leonard Cohen, I’ll listen to anything Mahler wrote.

The orchestra recently returned from a tour of Europe and China. While away, the lead clarinet made a point of playing a cadenza adapted from a piece of music specific to the city in which they were performing. This broadcast was from Melbourne, it was their homecoming concert and towards the end of piece by Katchachurian, the clarinetist burst into a virtuoso rendition of I still call Australia Home. Stuck at the road works, I laughed out loud at the wit, the intelligence and the unexpectedness.

It was another moment of joyous delight, brought to me by music. It was another moment of experiencing the richness of a world without borders.

This is why conservatives loathe the arts, and withdraw funding from just about anything that holds a possibility of being innovative and interesting. The arts dissolve borders. The arts are not respecters of sovereignty. The arts threaten to render conservative politicians obsolete and make them objects of pity and scorn.

Conservative politicians are unmasked by the world of music, as the intrusive, sad and ignorant pests they have become.

They do have a place. They’ve forgotten what it is. They need to get back to it. It isn’t nearly as important as music or any of the arts, and they know it.

Next week I’m going to see the Bangarra dancers, and spend some hours studying paintings. So I probably won’t be posting much about politics. Or posting anything at all.  🎵 👀 🎨 👏 😀

 

 

 

No, we are not “better than this.” We are worse.

12 Aug

 

Elie Wiesel

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seems to be of the opinion that because people fleeing their home countries pay “people smugglers” for passage to Australia, it is perfectly acceptable for them to be subjected to every imaginable kind of suffering. He includes children in this belief.

Dutton’s world view is mirrored by politicians such as Adam Giles in the Northern Territory, who share the narcissistic sense of entitlement that regards any perceived offence against them and their laws however mundane, however explicable, as a crime deserving of extreme punishment guaranteed to destroy the spirit.

In short, if you offend me I’ll destroy you. The crime here is offending these men, and both Giles and Dutton are profoundly offended by recalcitrant indigenous youth in the first, and waterborne asylum seekers in the second. You can see their indignation seeping out of every shining pore. They are incapable of seeing context: they can only perceive offence.

This overblown sense of offence and indignation, coupled with a sociopathic inability to imagine the conditions of lives other than their own, is the breeding ground for an extreme cruelty that ought never to be coupled with power, but unfortunately all too frequently is.

The manner in which successive immigration ministers, including those from the ALP, have treated waterborne asylum seekers beggars belief. They have been able to do this because enough Australians share the same narcissistic sense of entitlement and belief that being offended, personally, collectively and nationalistically, is a crime for which, unlike real crimes, punishment must be unrestrained and infinite. So kids in Don Dale don’t ever deserve a chance at life. So waterborne asylum seekers and refugees don’t ever deserve a chance at life. They’ve both offended white Australia in a variety of ways, and so they must die, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

It isn’t even so much what they’ve done. It’s the fact that they had the bloody gall to do it in the first place.

When outrages such as Don Dale and the Nauru files erupt, a lot of people get on social media to claim: “We’re better than this.”

Well, here’s the thing. We are not better than this. We’ve been torturing indigenous people since invasion day and we’re still doing it. We’ve been torturing waterborne asylum seekers for almost two decades, and we’re still doing it. We’re still voting in politicians who’ll continue the barbaric practices we don’t really want to know about as long as we feel we’re “being kept safe” from boats, or thieving black kids.

There are no innocent bystanders in these situations. We all know what’s happening. We’ve always known about our off-shore concentration camps. Keeping your mouth shut is enabling torture. These crimes are perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless because “good” people keep their mouths shut. Well, here’s another thing. You aren’t a “good”person if you keep your mouth shut. You’re an enabler of torment and torture.

As Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs pointed out yesterday, the only way anything will change in our treatment of asylum seekers is through public pressure. The government knows this as well, which is why they don’t allow anyone to see the camps and the suffering people in them. This is what every government intent on the torment and torture of a particular group do: they herd them into facilities where no one can hear their screams.

And when we do finally hear their screams, as we have since the Don Dale revelations, Adam Giles blames those who bring their screams to our ears, and Peter Dutton blames the victims for screaming.

Think about that. I mean, really, really think about the mind sets of Giles and Dutton and those who support them, who shoot the messengers, and blame the victims for the suffering they inflict upon them.

Then get on social media and say “we’re better than this.” We aren’t. We could be, but we aren’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So they want to change 18c

8 Aug

Be Polite

 

Returned Senator David Leyonhjelm and new One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts both want rid of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Section 18c makes it illegal to carry out an act if: “(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group”.

There are those in both houses who support the removal or amendment of 18c, on the grounds that it collides with concepts of freedom of speech, though it’s slightly alarming to imagine what any of them want to say that requires the removal of 18c in order for them to be able to legally say it.

The section is a little over-written: a reasonable person can assume that if someone is humiliated or intimidated they have also been offended and insulted, and my understanding is that it is the words offend and insult that most aggravate the two senators.

Both Leyonhjelm and Roberts put forward the argument that offence is always taken, never given, and that each one of us has a choice as to whether or not we feel offended and insulted by the word or actions of another.

I find this notion particularly quaint coming from Senator Leyonhjelm: if indeed we can choose not to be offended and insulted, why does he so frequently choose to be angry and aggressive in reaction to others he feels have offended him? Especially on Twitter. He can get quite foul in that medium.

Leyonhjelm was apoplectic when The Chaser parked a van outside his house, and he threatened them with the police. Why did he choose that stressful and incendiary reaction if he’s in control of his feelings like he says we all should be?

Increasingly, this argument sounds like the justification of bullies for a perceived right to bully. I am tormenting you because I can, and you can choose not to be tormented so it’s your fault if you are.

What kind of person wants the right to behave like that towards another?

Of course it’s true that in theory no one can make us feel anything: we react and respond to others and those reactions and responses are influenced by all manner of prior experiences, and our degree of understanding of our own psychology.

Everyone is moulded by their individual experiences as well as by the social and economic systems in which we develop.  For example, if you suffer from, say, PTSD, you are less likely to be able to freely respond to distressing circumstances you encounter in the present, as one of effects of the illness is that it can make a present event indistinguishable from an event in a traumatic past.  Humans need models in our childhoods. We need to be able to learn how to choose our responses, this is not knowledge we acquire at birth. Some are taught better than others, some are not taught at all. The emotional life is by no means a level playing field, and saying we can all “choose’ not to be insulted or offended is like saying obesity is a choice, or poverty, or that we can all be millionaires if we only choose to.

Roberts and Leyonhjelm can take no credit for having being born white with the advantages that whiteness can bring, equally, those of ethnicities, race, colour and nationality that are frequently subject to hate speech had no choice in the matter of their birth either.

We are not islands: we are affected by others and we affect others. Leyonhjelm and Roberts’ argument is the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s belief that there is no society, there’s only individuals.

The question is not whether people should learn to be immune to feeling hurt and insulted when kicked by a donkey, but why do we tolerate donkeys who feel compelled to kick in the first place? The indigenous men and woman who took Andrew Bolt to court won their case, but Andrew Bolt has yet to adequately explain why he felt compelled to question their validity as people of colour.

This latter question would seem to me to be far more serious, and far more in need of urgent address than the removal or amendment of 18c. Why do these people want to amend or remove 18c? What will be gained from its removal, and who will profit?

I can see nothing to be gained, and a great deal that could be lost, unless it is your life goal to abuse those who are different from you, and if it is, you are the problem, not Section 18c.

By the way, we don’t actually have any constitutional rights to free speech in this country:

The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensible part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals. 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexualise this

5 Aug

leopard print cardigan

 

I’ve just read a piece in The Conversation titled: Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

Who defines what constitutes sexualisation, and using what criteria?

Examples from the article: Highly sexualised clothing (a short dress and a leopard print cardigan) or a girl in a black bikini.

To the authors of this article a short dress combined with a leopard print cardigan is a signifier of a sexually easy female, and thus highly inappropriate when worn by a young girl.

I would not view any young girl wearing these garments (or any other garments for that matter) as a sexualised object. Would you?

If your answer is yes I think there might be something slightly askew in your perceptions, and you might like to ask yourself not why the young girl is wearing those outfits, but why you see her as a sex object because of them.

If as a consequence of perceiving that young girl as “sexualised” you decide she is less morally worthy and of lesser intelligence, you probably should ask yourself why, in your moral universe, a “sexualised” female (young or mature) is less worthy of moral consideration and inevitably of lesser intelligence, than a female you perceive as free from sexualisation.

In other words, why do you hold those views, and where do they come from? Are they any different from the views held by, say, racists? Are they even, perhaps, a tad misogynist?

The sexualisation debate as represented in The Conversation article is warped. Research criteria are based on the assumed authority of a male-centered gaze, introjected by women, that continues to define female sexuality in terms of how much flesh we display and the manner in which we choose to display it or clothe it. This bias remains unacknowledged and unquestioned, and ought itself to be the subject of investigation.

Somewhere in our history there developed the notion that women who are open about our sexual desire and the expression of our sexuality are correspondingly brain-dead, and undeserving of moral consideration. It’s from these notions the concepts of sexualisation and objectification evolve, not from anything women do or wear.

Obviously the signifiers of objectification and sexualisation vary with fashion and culture: a modest 2016 swimsuit would have caused its wearer to be objectified as less than morally human in 1816. The point surely must be that we have not evolved beyond our need to define ourselves as moral beings against women and girls identified as less worthy, because they are pejoratively perceived as overtly sexual, sexualised or objectified.

Concepts of sexualisation and objectification are constructed concepts and as such fluid, always open to interrogation and contestation. They are not a given, and they do not come from any transcendental exteriority. Because Collective Shout or anyone else declares a garment objectifying does not make it so.

Nothing can make a child a sexualised object other than the warped perception of an adult. As we know to our cost, warped adult perceptions of children as sex objects are rampant, and to be found in our most esteemed institutions.  If you choose to view children through that warped perception there is, in my opinion, something unexamined in your thinking.

The fact that some adults care less about the welfare of women and girls they consider sexualised and objectified seems to my mind a much more urgent topic for investigation than chain stores selling pole dancing kits and Playboy stationery. To draw an equivalence between female sexuality and worthiness is warped reasoning, and that so many people in our society do this is cause for serious alarm.

The problem lies not with the sexualisation or objectification of young girls and women. It lies with unexamined attitudes to female sexuality, fear of female sexuality, and the ongoing desire to control female sexuality. If you are seeing children as sexualised and objectified have a good look at your beliefs about female sexuality, because you are likely part of the problem, not of the solution.

 

 

 

 

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