Over the last 4 years I have seen some acts around the world that I have had an increasingly hard time reconciling with the Governments of supposedly democratic nations. Nations that New Zealand has long called great friends or even allies, which the New Zealand Government has many times said we as a nation should look up to, are committing acts against ethnic and religious groups that amounts to abuse.
The rationale for this abuse, knowledge of which the Governments of these nations go to great lengths to avoid being made public, is national security. Or so it goes. The reality is quite different, often irrational and definitely outright xenophobic in nature. Two years ago it was an attempt to silence Australian doctors working at Manus and Nauru Island Detention Centres. More recently – i.e. just last week – the Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton offered to pay Rohingya refugees to go back to face the genocidal ways of the Myanmar army. Even harder though was accepting the rationale for doing so – I simply refuse to, and in the next two paragraphs I tell you exactly why.
These doctors are not political agents. They are simply doing their profession to the best of their ability, and part of that involves sounding the alarm when they sight symptoms of abuse, self harm – evidence that the immediate well being of the people they are caring for is in immediate and potentially lethal danger. So too are the teachers who have taught primary and high school level children at some of these camps, who are openly talking about committing suicide, because they see no future. We are talking about children who see rapes, beatings, and other violence no person should be exposed to.
What have the Rohingya done wrong? They are simply getting away from a campaign that has genocidal overtones, which the Government of Myanmar is backing. The Australian Government – long known for its infantile fear of refugees and asylum seekers – has never had a flash record on these matters, but volunteering to pay them to go home and face almost certain death, takes it to another level altogether.
That infantile irrational fear is clearly worsening. The Minister in charge of the camps, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thinks it is a colossal hysteria and denies that any wrong doing is going on in the camps, despite overseas newspapers such as The Guardian doing substantial investigative work on the subject.
New Zealand is still viewed as welcoming to refugees. However it has slipped in recent years with the Government of John Key showing a degree of indifference to those fleeing from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria despite supporting the nations whose bombs are responsible for many of their homes being destroyed. It will continue to slip as human rights appear to be a low priority for a Bill English led Government as well, should one be elected.
Not so lucky are nations that normally espouse democracy, such as Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. Following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 all of these nations passed law to strengthen the hand of the State in dealing with terrorism. Whilst New Zealand did as well, a combination of geographical factors and a cool public reaction to the “war on terrorism”, meant that the drums beating of the call to arms was not answered with the same enthusiasm.
These nations are also perhaps more deeply in the grip of the Rupert Murdoch-influenced news media, which constantly runs a xenophobic theme of black lawlessness, Muslim terrorists that contrasts starkly with a white law abiding, God respecting hard working society. Fox News in the United States is particularly bad at doing this. Mr Murdochs media interests however exist also in Britain, where he runs News Corp, New Zealand where Fairfax Media used to be owned by Mr Murdoch and Australia where he has been associated with Sky News. The Murdoch media are often quite virulent in their attack on the political opposition as evidenced by their support for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the last Australian election.
To me, the politics of fear is as damaging to the well being of a nation as an actual attack on it. To pass an agenda that permits wars to be fought, enables suppression of human rights to occur, one needs a population that is scared. To make the population scared, one needs an enemy – the question is whether it is a potentially fake enemy, or one that exists but is grossly exaggerated. It needs to have a national security apparatus that is on a constant state of alert with regular threats – fake or otherwise – being reported. To show his Government’s support for defeating the enemy, about which he is not very exact, Mr Abbott is constantly shown on television by sympathetic media beating the drum of national security and Australians are falling for it.
This is what Tony Abbott did when he was Prime Minister in Australia with refugees being imprisoned at detention centres. His successor Malcolm Turnbull has continued with Mr Dutton remaining in charge of immigration.. Mr Abbott claimed – as Mr Turnbull does now – that they are a threat to Australian society and security. He claims that the best way to stop the boat people is to turn them around on the high seas, whilst ignoring and even trying to silence the numerous critics that are springing up and who are as diverse as human rights activists, medical professionals, social workers and Opposition Members of Parliament.
This is not the work of Governments that genuinely want a more socially stable society, but that of those Governments which have a deep and abiding distrust of anyone with a different agenda. We should be scared.