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<nettime> [AustHumanRightsNews] and [Dave/Cherry] dig.

   [AustHumanRightsNews] "Of love and Phobia in a Ttime of War"
     "Ozi Media-Junkie" <ozmediajunkie {AT} hotmail.com>                                  

   Mother Pleads for her Son                                                       
     Dave/Cherry <ross777au {AT} bigpond.com>                                             

   sponsor needed for refugee profiles                                             
     Dave/Cherry <ross777au {AT} bigpond.com>                                             


Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2002 13:04:26 +1000
From: "Ozi Media-Junkie" <ozmediajunkie {AT} hotmail.com>
Subject: [AustHumanRightsNews] "Of love and Phobia in a Ttime of War" : Suvendrini Perera on the Politics of Apathy

Of love and phobia in a time of war 
By: Suvendrini Perera  

What can make a mother take an axe to her baby daughter?  This is the question the Nobel prizewinner Toni Morrison sets out to answer in her famous novel, Beloved. Like all Morrison's work Beloved centres on an event of seemingly incomprehensible horror. Reading a novel by Toni Morrison begins with an act of courage. The reader must resist the instinct to turn her head away from the unthinkable, must learn to listen as the story unwraps the unspeakable, must bear to contemplate the unbearable, before finally approaching something like understanding, within her own limits, of what had appeared so monstrously incomprehensible. 
In Beloved the racial terror of slavery is slowly, relentlessly, revealed until the most awful and unnatural of actions, the murder of an almost-crawling baby girl, becomes intelligible as a deed of profound love. The reader achieves understanding of what is truly criminal and unforgivable -- the inhuman environment that confronts the mother with so obscene a responsibility. 

Beloved is based on a historical event in which a young slave woman, Margaret Garner, killed her children rather than have them returned to slavery by slave-catchers. At her trial she repeated simply: 'They will not live as I have done'. To its proponents, Garner's actions provided a fine justification for slavery: the ultimate proof of Afro-Americans' less than human status, and absolute distance and difference from whites. Yet more than anything Margaret Garner's actions testify, in the words of the critic Paul Gilroy, 'to the indomitable power of slaves to assert their humanity in restricted circumstances'. By her actions Garner keeps faith with her children, and asserts her own absolute love and responsibility for them. Through Morrison's novel we move from a complacent belief that slaves could not have loved their children as 'we' do, to the true meaning of the word Beloved. 

More than a world and a century away, Margaret Garner's story hovers like a warning spirit over Australia. Are complacency, denunciation and dissociation the only responses we can muster in the face of that which we find unbearable to contemplate? 

This year in Australia we have seen too many terrible events. A broken-hearted Sharaz Kayani set himself ablaze in despair outside parliament house after a protracted struggle to be united with his family, especially his daughter with cerebral palsy. The Ombudsman's report described the case as a history of 'administrative ineptitude and broken promises' (Sydney Morning Herald Aug 23, 2001). Responding to Minister Ruddock's comment that Kayani's act was 'not something we are used to or experienced with' Tony Birch wrote bitingly in an essay in the UTS Review: 'This man had done something very ''unAustralian''. He had publicly expressed his grief and anguish at his treatment at the hands of Australian government officials'. 

Despite official attempts to paint the manner of Sharaz Kayani's death as essentially foreign and 'unAustralian', the image of his flaming body immediately recalls a moment from Plains of Promise, Alexis Wright's historical novel of the stolen generations. Here a succession of indigenous women forcibly separated from their daughters go up in flames one by one in an agony of longing, loss, despair and love. Like Beloved, Plains of Promise is a story of mothers and daughters, and of despairing, anguished, enduring love in the face of systematic, legalised inhumanity. The burning bodies of these Australian women in Wright's novel stand as powerful images of unspeakable suffering in our not very distant history. 

In the few months since Sharaz Kayani's charred body was covered with a white sheet outside parliament house, we have heard of a procession of more terrible events: of a six-year old boy, Shayan Badraie, too traumatised to eat or speak in detention; of teenage detainees who sewed their lips together in protest against years of incarceration; of Vulliame Tanginoa, a detainee who leapt to his death from a basketball pole; and a number of other stories of despair and desperation. Now we are assailed by allegations of asylum seekers flinging their children into the sea as their boats were fired over, boarded and turned back by the Royal Australian Navy. 

The image, regardless of its veracity, should give us pause. So should its gleeful reception by our politicians as ultimate proof that these asylum seekers are not the 'kind of people we want in Australia'. It is a reaction that signifies an imaginative and human failure of truly frightening dimensions. 

Australians need to ask ourselves: What country dares claim a monopoly on humanity? How long can we hide behind 'unAustralian' as a response to events and emotions that challenge us? Is 'decency' really an innate national attribute of any one people? For how much longer can we disown the terrible incidents that happen in our detention camps and along our coastline as too alien or foreign for our understanding? Or denounce the people who commit them as 'barbaric' and inherently different from -- and lesser than -- ourselves? What responsibility do we bear to contemplate the unbearable, or try to understand the incomprehensible? How long can we refuse any implication in the hateful events occuring with increasing frequency at the edges of our society? 

On the day after the Prime Minister asked 'what kind of people would throw their children into the water?' Paul Sheehan argued (Sydney Morning Herald October 10, 2001) that the question of asylum seekers was 'not a moral or political crisis' for Australia. Yet the Prime Minister's question was fundamentally a question of morality. It questioned the humanity and morality of the asylum seekers now on board the HMAS Adelaide and concluded on those grounds that they were not the kind of people who could be allowed to live in Australia. 

There is no way Australians can ignore that the terms on which the asylum seeker debate is being played out are terms of ethics, morality and humanity. 

This debate is also political. Close to three years ago, in a time that now seems impossibly remote, Senator Brian Harradine 'blinked' in the debate over the Wik legislation because the possibility of a 'race election' seemed too awful to contemplate. Today Australia indeed faces a race election, with remarkably little display of public repugnance by any of our major politicians. The consensus between the chief parties should not obscure the fact that the 2001 election is being fought in a climate of war against primarily Arabic, Middle Eastern and South Asian asylum seekers at home, as well as war abroad. 

Dehumanising the enemy is a time-honoured tactic of war: in World War 1 Germans were objectified as 'the Hun' and denounced as baby killers. Our internal war on refugees and asylum seekers uses disturbingly similar tactics: people become 'cargo', 'traffic' and 'illegals'; a sick six year-old child is described as 'it', while his parents are implied to be manipulating his condition; asylum seekers are demonised as the kind of people who would exploit their own children, forcibly sew up their lips, and even throw them overboard to drown. Meanwhile politicians advocate the firebombing of asylum seekers' boats, and Australian armed forces are given the unprecedented legal authority to use 'necessary and reasonable force' to 'push off' asylum seeker boats from our waters. Warning shots and even automatic fire are used to scare off asylum seekers. 

If these are not issues of morality, what are they? 

In 1901, at Federation, Australia locked itself in a fortress of whiteness, consumed by phobias of marauding Aboriginals within and encroaching Asians without. Exactly one hundred years later we are a nation that, in Prime Minister Howard's words, will not be 'held hostage to our own decency'. (Our self-definitions, like our coastlines, shrink to a barrage of rebuttals.) But how shall we name the thing that does now hold us hostage, cordoned anew in a sea of delusions, with a few unarmed asylum seekers we have 'unpeopled' (Tony Birch's phrase) into 'the enemy'? 

Can our decency and humanity be substantiated except by acknowledging the humanity and suffering of others? To the degree we deny the human suffering of others, isn't it our own humanity that we imperil? 

- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2002 08:35:52 +1000
From: Dave/Cherry <ross777au {AT} bigpond.com>
Subject: Mother Pleads for her Son

Dave McKay here.  I tried to get the media to take an interest in 
this, but no response so far.  If people have any contacts, could you 
send this on to them?  Thanks.

Mother Pleads for her Son

A 34-year-old Iranian nurse recovering in the Woomera town hospital 
from a near-fatal suicide attempt, has sent a message to well-wishers 
promising that she will continue to seek ways to take her own life in 
a desperate attempt to get her seven-year-old son accepted into 

She fears for her own life and for the life of her son if she returns 
to Iran, but she believes that if she dies here, welfare authorities 
will allow an Australian family to adopt her son, and he will then be 
allowed to live on in Australia.

In a dramatic turn-around from the children overboard myth, here is a 
refugee mother who is throwing away her own life in an attempt to 
save her child.

"She is not a bad mother at all," said Ross Parry, a representative 
from the Refugee Embassy in Woomera, who received a letter from the 
woman this week, outlining her plan.  "She is, in fact, trying to 
make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son.  It is time that others 
took notice of this tragic case."

In a letter to the Refugee Embassy, received today (Thursday, 19 
June), the woman said, "I know you wanted to visit me but they didn't 
permit. I didn't succeed in my suicide, but I do again if DIMIA 
doesn't accept [my son] get out!  I told them one family look after 
him if not.

"I know you know my pen friends.  Please tell them all my story.  I 
can't send letter to all them.  If you want, you can send letter to 
me.  I can answer you and you can follow my case."

The woman wrote another longer letter to a woman who tried, 
unsuccessfully, to visit her, which was also delivered today.  In it 
she said, "I don't want to make all my friends sad and upset.  You 
know my story about going to full federal court.  I couldn't tolerate 

It is understood that the woman won an appeal against the Refugee 
Appeal Tribunal, but the Tribunal overturned the court ruling and 
banned her once again from status as a refugee.  This information has 
not, however, been verified officially as yet.

The letter continues:  "I wanted to be free from everything, but 
unfortunately [my son] found me and the others stopped me.  I 
suggested to my doctor for adopting.  I must choose [my son's] 
happiness with choice like this (between bad and worse) like 

"God has chosen me.  I must have suffering more.  It was not enough. 
I was not angry to him.  I satisfy with his decision, but I want to 
suffer only, not [my son].  If I need to kill myself (the best way, 
not like before), I will do it.

"Recently I had many anxieties, so it moved to [my son].  His 
behaviour is changed.  I will lose half (or more) of my heart if [my 
son] gets out, but I should [do it].  I visited him last Tuesday.  He 
is not too good.  He shout during sleeping, wet his bed, because he 
saw me in blood and cry in his heart.  He told me himself.

"Pray for all detainees.  Immigration play with us, all of us, not 
just me.  They are cruel to children.  They think about dirty policy, 
that is just money.  All Iranians escaped from dirty policy, but 
unfortunately in here we found it [again].  I can't write any more."

Ross Parry and Dave McKay,  Refugee Embassy, Woomera 5720
Phone 0407-238805
- -- 
for the moment, mail to fold {AT} idl.net.au will be automatically 
forwarded to ross777au {AT} bigpond.com, so you may reply to either 
address and it will reach me. 


Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2002 11:31:30 +1000
From: Dave/Cherry <ross777au {AT} bigpond.com>
Subject: sponsor needed for refugee profiles

Dave McKay here, in Woomera, with a request that I hope someone will 
be able to help me with.

I am nearing completion of a small book (only about 50 pages) that 
contains about 25 profiles of refugees here in Woomera (with names 
changed, of course), that will be called "The Worst of Woomera".

It emphasises the fact that these are the so-called "worst" cases 
amongst Australia's thousands of boat people, and yet some of their 
stories are tragic.  If these people cannot get in, and if some of 
them are going to be deported back to their deaths, then one must ask 
exactly what it takes to be accepted as a bonafide refugee in 

Anyway, I would like to make these booklets available in bulk for 
distribution all over Australia (by letter-boxing if nothing else) in 
order to introduce the general public to the human face of the 
"refugee problem".

The profiles are interspersed with a brief history of the Refugee 
Embassy, chronicleing the many problems we have encountered with a 
corrupt government as we have tried to break through the red tape 
that has cordoned off these poor people from the rest of Australia.

What I need is some organisation that will sponsor the publication of 
this booklet, as well as volunteers to distribute it.  I would like 
to get it printed as cheaply as possible (probably by a newspaper on 
newsprint), so that we can print up tens of thousands of them, and I 
would like to get them out as quickly as possible, before some of 
these people are sent back... which the government is threatening to 
do in the next few weeks for many of them.

Does anyone know of a sympathetic organisation that might be willing 
to sponsor such a project.  I am assuming that we could get them 
printed for about 50 cents apiece, so if we wanted to print 20,000 of 
them, it may cost $10,000.

Even if you cannot find a sponsor, could I get some feedback about 
how many copies various people and groups think they could distribute?

Below is a sample of an excerpt from our story which faces a profile 
of a particular refugee.  Each page will be like that, with 
background material on the left and a profile on the right, and each 
dealing with a different topic.

Dave McKay
Refugee Embassy, Woomera
Phone 0407-238805

4. Visits

There had to be a better way to meet the needs of these imprisoned 
people than for them to become fugitives in Australia.  Ross and I 
approached the other members of the HOPE caravan about a plan for the 
two of us to stay on in Ross' bus, and to become a 'refugee embassy'.

We believed that the first step in giving detainees hope was to 
provide sustained contact with decent, law-abiding Australians who 
support their cause.  Contact could come through phone calls, by 
mail, or by approved visits.

Visits would be the most beneficial, of course, but they were also 
the most difficult to secure.  The remote location made personal 
visits to Woomera so rare that the Woomera IRPC did not even keep 
records of them at that time, nor did they have any official 
procedure for processing visitors.

People would arrive at the gate asking to visit, and it was the task 
of the guard on duty to fob them off in whatever way he or she could. 
"Not taking visitors today," was the most common excuse.  "Cyclone 
warning has been issuedŠ repairs are being carried outŠ the person in 
charge of that is on holidaysŠ visits are only allowed on the weekend 
(or on weekdays)", as the case may be.

We shared with police negotiators at the demonstration campsite on 
Easter Sunday about our intentions to stay on and become fulltime 

It was a costly mistake.


Mira had written to Nancy, a young nurse from Iran, promising to 
visit her personally at Woomera.  Nancy, like most Woomera detainees, 
had never had a visitor.  She and her 7-year-old son Porter, looked 
forward to the visit with excitement.

The Woomera Department of Immigration representative had given Mira 
verbal permission to make the visit, but when she got there, the 
guard on duty said that Nancy had changed her mind, that she did not 
want to see Mira.  Mira was incredulous.  She showed him the letter, 
in which Nancy had expressed her great desire for a visit.

"Sorry, no can do," the guard reported.  "If you don't like it, you 
can tell it to Canberra."
Three days later, Nancy wrote to say that the visit had been 
cancelled "because they don't want anyone to know about our suffering 
in here."

The letter continued: "I've prepared something for dieing - just I 
tell you before ...  I can't continue, I can't more ... I will die 
because Ruddock and Howard's dirty policy ...  goodbye."

She then stationed her 7-year-old son outside their room, with 
instructions not to let anyone in, and she slashed a major artery on 
her arm.  Blood sprayed all over her cell.  Another prisoner, Kyle, 
sensed something was wrong and broke in.  "Go away.  Don't tell 
anyone!" Nancy pleaded as she lay in a pool of her own blood, near 

Kyle called for help and she was rushed to the hospital for treatment 
and a slow recovery.
- -- 
for the moment, mail to fold {AT} idl.net.au will be automatically 
forwarded to ross777au {AT} bigpond.com, so you may reply to either 
address and it will reach me. 


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