Tag Archives: London

Racist prophecies from Department of Immigration replace informed advice

8 Sep

In a briefing to Tony Abbott yesterday, Department of Immigration secretary Andrew Metcalfe warned the Opposition leader that on-shore processing of asylum seeker claims would lead to 600 boat arrivals a month. This would cause overcrowding in detention centres making community release inevitable, and this in turn would cause tensions between asylum seekers and the community comparable to those that allegedly led to the rioting in Paris in 2010, and more recently in London.

It’s enough to make a grown woman cry.

Without offering any evidence at all for this causal chain, Metcalfe takes it upon himself, along with his officials, to offer unsubstantiated opinion that is divisive, hostile, demonizing, racist and irresponsible. Is this an indicator of the culture inside the Immigration Department? Of course it is.

Metcalfe then makes a fantastical leap, linking riots in Paris with the riots in London and other UK cities, just because they’re all riots, I suppose. Just because people from non Anglo cultural backgrounds took part in both of them, as did whites, but don’t mention that. Just because immigrant families were involved in the Paris riots and some immigrant families took part in the UK riots. Or just because Mr Metcalfe and the Immigration Department don’t like refugee families who arrive by boat from the Middle East and Metcalfe just has a feeling in his water that they’ll riot if they get out into the community in sufficient numbers just like they have in Paris and London.

Metcalfe doesn’t have to substantiate this ignorant drivel before he and his staff broadcast it to Australia, it’s sufficient that they think it for it to become their professional advice to politicians.

Even the most superficial assessment of the Paris and London riots would concede that there were very different factors at work. The Paris riots broke out in a self-described immigrant ghetto on the outskirts of the city, where young French citizens, ostracised because of their skin colour and/or their immigrant parentage, rioted against French President Nicholas Sarkozy‘s right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric, and the miserable and disadvantaged circumstances of their lives.

The UK rioters came from a much wider demographic, and overt political protest was not a motivating factor. Few of the UK rioters could be described as living in ghettos comparable to those in Paris. But a riot is a riot, according to Metcalfe. Let’s not split hairs. If they’re from another culture, the Middle East in this case, if they’re refugees and if there’s enough of them, they’ll riot, causing social upheaval, fear and destruction in previously safe Australian communities.

The asylum seeker debate, (though to call it a debate is to dignify it) is top-heavy with unsubstantiated codswallop useful only to those who harbour the evil desire to whip up fear and uncertainty in the community. Has everybody turned into Pauline Hanson, because what’s come out of the Immigration Department in the last twenty-four hours could have been written by her.

We are awash with these generalizations, that are nothing better than lies and obfuscation. They are not argument and they are not debate. It’s unacceptable that public servants are given free rein to express uninformed and ignorant racial prejudices in the guise of advice to politicians. There’s opinion and there’s advice. The latter requires evidence and substance. Metcalfe’s conflation of the London and Paris riots is ignorant personal opinion, and to use ignorant personal opinion as the basis for policy advice to government and politicians is unprofessional.

On August 16 Andrew Metcalfe fronted a parliamentary inquiry into mandatory detention of boat arrivals, and suggested that politicians should consider the usefulness of detention as a deterrent. He also urged them to consider how to achieve a better balance between our international obligations and our need for border security. At the time, some of us were encouraged by Metcalfe’s stand, however in view of yesterday’s irresponsible claims, it would seem his racist fear of rioting Middle Eastern immigrants trashing our communities will inevitably dominate and prejudice his thinking.

Is this another example of senior public servants telling politicians what they think the politicians want to hear? Or have we been granted an insight into a racist culture in the department that nicely corresponds with both government and opposition policies? Is racism so ingrained in this country’s asylum seeker/border protection policies that neither senior public servants nor politicians no longer feel any need to even attempt to conceal it?

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The impotent threats of impotent leaders

11 Aug

They may come from different political perspectives (in theory, anyway) but there are interesting similarities between British PM David Cameron’s authoritarian threats against the rioting mobs, and those used by Julia Gillard on the matter of water-borne asylum seekers.

Whenever there is social unrest of almost any kind, politicians pull up the same violently repressive cliches: stamp out, crack down. I/we will not allow, full force of the law, tough stance against criminals, illegals, queue jumpers. This ritualized language is the backbone of authority’s discourse when faced with challenges it ‘s very likely incapable of controlling. The less likely the possibility of control, the more violently repressive politicians’ language becomes.

While there is a place for dissent and disobedience in a liberal democracy, these acts can only be performed within the strict parameters of acceptable middle class behaviour. It is not acceptable to riot, either in the streets of London or behind the razor wire of a detention centre. Middle class manners do not allow for extreme behaviours of any kind. This is why politicians have absolutely no hope of competently addressing extreme behaviours: they don’t understand them and they’re scared to death of them. All they can think of to do is threaten with imprisonment or expulsion, either of which may at some point become necessary, but neither of which do anything to calm a red-hot situation.

The bottom line is, David Cameron cannot control the rioters. He may bring in water cannon. Australians know from Woomera that doesn’t work. It’s a very bad look, especially for a country aiming to put on the best Olympics ever next year. The effects of water cannon are extremely temporary, unless it inadvertently kills or injures someone, and it’s use will further incite the rioters it blasts all over the streets.

The bottom line is, Julia Gillard cannot control the asylum seekers who are already here awaiting assessment, or those she intends to expel to Christmas island. She cannot stop them trying to poison themselves, going on hunger strikes, sewing up their lips or killing themselves. Her plan to despatch them to Malaysia is now completely out of her control, and in the hands of the High Court. Even if she has them shot again them with bean bag bullets she’s still got no control over them, and that’s a bad look too.

You cannot control human beings who feel they have nothing to lose. You can only attempt to create a society in which human beings are not driven to that extreme. People exhausted by failure frequently resort to savagery. Politicians consistently fail to understand this. There’s no votes in understanding it.

Once, in less sophisticated times, the public might have been reassured by politicians using tough language in a crisis. Not anymore, but politicians haven’t caught up with the change in the public’s credulity. Consequently they look increasingly impotent as it becomes more apparent that their rhetoric is hollow. The objects of their wrath are entirely un-cowed by the blustering, and more often than not, they’re driven to greater extremes by the threats.

So Cameron throws hundreds of youths in jail. Imprisonment then becomes a right of passage and the offenders emerge even more brutal and brutalized than when they went in.

God only knows what’s going to happen to the asylum seekers, but it doesn’t look like the boats are doing any stopping, and there’s still the problem of expelling unaccompanied minors into very uncertain conditions and futures.

So what exactly do the politicians hard line positions achieve?

Votes, of course. Because there’s still enough of us who want to hear the rhetoric, even if we know it doesn’t work. The authoritarian rhetoric reassures. It makes us think somebody’s in charge even though we don’t really believe it. In full authoritarian flight, the politician appears to possess the “truth” about the situations we’re facing, and the right things to do about them. It’s a chicken and egg thing: the use of authoritarian language facilitates authority.

Of course, the fact that these events are taking place at all signifies the degree to which our politicians really have lost control.

London’s burning: Blame it on the BlackBerry

9 Aug

We live in a global culture in which the ability to consume is the primary measure of human freedom. To be a prosperous consumer is to be free. Given this reality, violence, theft, and rioting by disaffected youths stealing trainers and plasma TVs, while shocking, should not come entirely as a surprise.

The marauding gangs have been described as criminal opportunists, a description that can be as accurately applied to the News of the World phone hackers,  the Wall Street financiers who gave us the first global financial crisis, the private companies making exorbitant profits from the misery of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sub-prime mortgage mongerers, authorities entrusted with public well-being who take bribes to work against the common good. Countries such as Australia, the UK and the US have been governed by men who are widely considered to be war criminals: make up your own list, the possibilities are endless.

We commit our crimes in accordance with our means and circumstances. The better our means and circumstances, the less likely we are to engage in the crimes of looting and arson. The London riots are complex in their genesis but without doubt unemployment, poverty and lack of hope play their part.

Of all the reports and analyses I’ve read thus far the one that grabbed my attention was the blame it on the BlackBerry explanation. BlackBerry offers its customers a private messenger service (BBM) that encrypts your messages, unlike the other social media that are available to everyone, including the authorities. It seems that many rioters are communicating via their BlackBerries, and when this is the case, police cannot find out until it’s too late where the next outbreak of violence will be. This has allegedly led to the rapid expansion of trouble spots around the country, as agitators’ communications cannot be decoded by authorities in time to prevent new outbreaks.

It seems something of a long bow. Presumably  an intercity tweet can also get things going faster than police can organize officers on the ground. The real objection to BBM is that it thwarts official surveillance, and when disaffected youth have a means of communication that excludes any possibility of the authorities cracking their codes, this is perceived as a menace in principle, if not in practice.

The mobile phone is one of the iconic symbols of consumption. BlackBerrys cost less than smartphones and BBM is both essentially cost-free and invisible to police. In order to communicate, BBM users must exchange PINs, but their conversations are private. They can spread their PINs via SMS, Twitter or other means.

There’s little doubt that the use of social media is a vital force in getting uprisings of all kinds off the ground, and its use enables rapid expansion. But to blame the London riots on the BlackBerry is like blaming the Arab Spring on Facebook. Social media is a tool available to everyone to use how they see fit. Undoubtedly there’ll be a call to ban BBM before too much longer, or distribute the facility only to those authorities deem to be worthy of their trust.

The violence and looting is awful. But blanket condemnation of the guilty is too simplistic. Yes, they have to be held accountable. Yes, they have to face the consequences of their actions. But these events don’t happen in a vacuum. Criminal behaviour is not peculiar to disaffected youth. Stealing trainers and plasma TVs is no more or less criminal and deserving of punishment than hacking phones, exploiting dead children, starting illegal wars and ruining the global economy. We don’t call for a law and order crackdown except when the crimes are perpetrated by disaffected youth. It’s a class-based demand.

Western culture worships consumerism. We measure worth by what we have and what we can afford. Everywhere we look there’s corruption and criminal behaviour. It’s the zeitgeist. Commentators have been quick to point out that these riots are not political uprisings because one of the goals is to steal stuff.  They’re wrong. These riots are absolutely political. The ultimate assessment of human worth in Western culture is what the human owns and is capable of owning. The middle class aspire to wealth. The working class aspires to what the middle class has. When a large enough group feels it has no stake in society, that group will revolt. Trainers and plasma TVs are the pathetic symbols of the revolt of the have nots against the haves. Not political? You must be dreamin.’

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