This was meant to be a comment on current affairs…

Boat_people_familyI was going to comment on the current fine mess our boat people fetish has embroiled us in.

I would have pointed to a bit of history. 1979, in fact, when boat people looked like the family on the right and then on to ten years later. Because that’s when the idea of discriminating against people on the grounds of their mode of transport began to take hold, and that was down to Bob Hawke’s government.

Mary Crock: You’ll recall at the end of the Vietnam war at the same time, you had a tremendous upheaval occurring in Cambodia, which is right next door to Vietnam, and the Khmer Rouge took power, they took Cambodia back to the year zero and really instituted one of the great genocides that we’ve experienced in this region.

This happened towards the end of the 1980s, and in 1989, Australia and America and other countries got together, put together what was known as the Paris Peace Plan, for the running of elections in Cambodia, and for the repatriation of the many, many thousands of refugees who had fled Cambodia during the troubles. Now in 1989, what happened was you had particularly ethnic Chinese who were under risk of being sent back into Cambodia, and a few hundred of those, round about 400, got on boats. The biggest boat that arrived had about 89 on it, we’re talking modest numbers, but it sent everybody into a spin for two reasons: 1) other boats arriving; 2) because I think there was a sense of lost control over the Cambodian settlement arrangements and you got Senator Evans and Bob Hawke together standing up and Bob saying, ‘Bob’s not your uncle, you’ve got to go home, guys.’

Bob Hawke: Compassion, constructive and orderly compassion, is not the same thing as saying ‘Here is an open door for anyone who wants to come’.

Mary Crock: Evans says, ‘You’re not refugees, you’re economic refugees, you’re only coming here for a better life’.

Quentin Dempster: Senator Evans today confirmed the Indonesian government has been assisting Cambodians who say their destination is Australia. Over 200 have arrived in the last three months, and 300 more are rumoured to be on their way here.

Mary Crock: It was the beginning of the politicisation of boat people and refugees. It was hugely damaging and really the way I see it, everything that’s happened really stems from that moment on the 29th November, 1989 when the first boat arrived.

Peter Thompson: The Immigration Minister, Gerry Hand, says if the government allows the release of the Cambodians, it would send a signal to the region which could bring a flood of boat people to our shores.

Gerry Hand: If you entered Australia in an unauthorised or illegal way by boat, there’s an expectation that you remain in custody. Now this legislation puts that question beyond doubt. But the bottom line is when you come into Australia in this way, there’s an expectation, I think right across the community, that you just can’t beach your craft, get off and wander into the society. You’ve got to be held in detention.

When you look at it, all the Howard government did was turn up the volume and descend to chicanery – excision of Christmas Island etc – that Hawke hadn’t thought about. But the policy really is much the same, isn’t it, and continues to be.

See also my post on Leaky Boat – which did minimise the contribution of the Hawke-Keating government to the current dilemma.

I don’t think we should discriminate on the basis of transport, but neither do I think we should let everyone who needs a home come in and stay. For a start, looking at the numbers of people in the world needing a home, we just can’t accommodate them all, and neither can any one country. There does have to be orderly process and international cooperation. We do have the right to expel people who are merely taking advantage of us. But we don’t need to do quite as much locking up and shifting bodies from here to there. We have made the whole thing far more angst-ridden and complex than we need have.

But, I would argue, we haven’t been racist. Stupid, yes. And people do descend into xenophobia, but racism as government policy has not existed in Australia for a very long time indeed. Before John Howard came along, for example, I saw very few black Africans or Muslim women in head scarves. Now I no longer really notice their presence. A government that allowed that can hardly be accused seriously of racism or xenophobia.

Despite idiots who think emails like the following are a good idea, I believe that is true, at government level and on most sides of politics in this country.

nong

A stinking turd from my email inbox – arrived yesterday.

Observe the wording.

Apparently Waleed Aly, Hazem El-Masri, Ed Husic and Irfan Yusuf aren’t Australians!

Very few thinking Australians would endorse nonsense like that. Even so, I do commend the article that began my train of thought: Are we a racist nation? No, but … by Graeme Innes.

… Multiculturalism is Australia’s norm. It has been for hundreds of years. It’s our present – 50 per cent of Australians are born overseas or have an overseas-born parent – and it is also our certain future.

Once we accept that multiculturalism is our norm, we will begin to appreciate the need for leadership that doesn’t problematise particular cultures, or make them wrong. We will realise that igniting and exploiting cultural or religious differences, for the purpose of political expediency, and building monocultures, is the most dangerous legacy that governments or politicians can bestow. Because it fractures our identity and constrains our development…

The proliferation of race-hate websites and materials breeds and incites real world hatred. And our cyber-racism complaints have more than doubled in the past couple of years. Racism online means that racism in our classrooms, workplaces and communities moves into our pockets and handbags.

It is the same old racism in a new space, but with increased potential for anonymity, exponential capacity to go viral, and a complex interjurisdictional environment. So what do we do about it?

Many organisations, here and overseas, are running effective anti-bullying programs and campaigns. We are having some success with discrimination complaints, and material and sites being taken down. We do not yet have all the solutions. What we do know is that, just like the broader conversation on racism, it will require partnerships between government, social networking sites and ISPs, and the community. And it will require members of connected communities to stand up and say, ”It is not OK.”

Australia is a great country. And there is no single story about Australia. Australia should be a country of which we can all be proud, and in which we can all feel safe, and at home.

We are all responsible for naming, and saying no to, racism. We must call it when we see it, when the talkback show host, the internet friend, or the person sitting next to us starts their sentence with the seemingly innocent, but loaded phrase, ”I’m not racist, but …” …

All of which I endorse wholeheartedly.

With the proviso that screaming “RACIST!” at the drop of a hat has become about as intelligent as screaming “FAGGOT!” or “COMMIE!” – it has become a very lazy way of simplifying complex issues while feeling sublimely virtuous.

So that’s what I would have said before this distracted me…

sbhs

My SBHS Powerpoint from 2004.

Yes, the internet archives have thrown up more of my past.

ITEM: Week beginning November 17, 2003

As members of the Sydney High community we recognise a range of beliefs and viewpoints in our midst, not all of which we might personally subscribe to. The key factor is that we all subscribe to the right of people to hold such beliefs and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Surely that is the aim of last Sunday, November 16, 2003 – the UN International Day of Tolerance.On that day I happened to read "Seidnaya" by UK writer William Dalrymple. Yes, there is a lesson in it…

Neil Whitfield

Seidnaya is a Greek Orthodox convent in Syria, three hours’ walk from Damascus. The monastery sits on a great crag of rock overlooking the orchards and olive groves of the Damascene plain, and at first sight, with its narrow windows and great rugged curtain walls, looks more like a Crusader castle than a convent… In 1994, while on a six-month tramp around the Middle East, I went to spend a night within its walls.

By the time I arrived at the monastery gate, it was after eight o’clock on a dark and cold winter’s night. Walking into an empty courtyard, my feet echoing on the flagstones, I wondered for a second where everyone had gone. Then I heard the distant sound of Orthodox chant drifting from the church and headed towards it…

In the … church I … witnessed a miracle, or something that today would certainly be regarded as a miracle in almost any other country in the Middle East. For the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians but almost entirely of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. As the priest circled the altar with his thurible, filling the sanctuary with great clouds of incense, the men bobbed up and down on their prayer mats as if in the middle of Friday prayers in a great mosque. Their women, some dressed in full black chador, mouthed prayers from the shadows of the exo-narthex…

Towards the end of the service, the priest circled the length of the church with his thurible, gently and almost apologetically stepping over the prostrate Muslims blocking his way. It was a truly extraordinary sight, Christians and Muslims praying together in a fashion unimaginable today almost anywhere else in the Near East. Yet it was, of course, the old way: the Eastern Christians and the Muslims have lived side by side for nearly one and a half millennia and have only been able to do so due to a degree of mutual tolerance and shared customs unimaginable in the solidly Christian West…

As vespers drew to a close the pilgrims began to file quietly out and I was left alone at the back of the church with my rucksack. As I was standing there I was approached by a young nun…

As we were speaking, we were approached by a Muslim couple. The woman was veiled – only her nose and mouth were visible through the black wraps; her husband, a burly man who wore his beard without a moustache, looked remarkably like the wilder sort of Hezbollah commander featured in news bulletins from Southern Lebanon. But whatever his politics, he carried in one hand a heavy tin of olive oil and in the other a large plastic basin full of fresh bread loaves, and he gave both to the nun, bowing his head as shyly as a schoolboy and retreating backwards in blushing embarrassment…

Extra.

The Islamic Students Society Open Forum in the Great Hall on Monday 17th was very well attended and the boys who organised it should be congratulated on their efforts.

By coincidence, the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday carried a thought-provoking feature article on the growth of Islam in Sydney.

ITEM: Fortnight ending March 6, 2004: Term One, Weeks 5 and 6.

 bugs0aFebruary 22: The first day of the first month of the Islamic year 4124 CE. February 25: Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of Lent. Ash symbolizes sorrow for wrong doings and foreheads of churchgoers are marked with the shape of the cross with ashes as a sign of penitence. March 6: Holi — This festival of colour celebrates Spring, where people play with liquid and powdered colours, light bonfires and blow horns. (Hindu and Sikh) March 7: Purim — Purim is known as the Feast of Lots, which celebrates the deliverance of Jews in Persia from the machinations of Haman. Jews dress in costume and give gifts of food to each other. Learn more with this PDF file Multicultural Calendar from the Australian Department of Immigration.

 bugs0aBefore long I should have some facts and figures about Sydney Boys High 2004. With a handful of exceptions, Year Seven have been surveyed and tested. I have spoken, I think, to all the relevant new students in Year Eleven, and just have a few more in other years to find out about. It would appear Year Seven is about the same in terms of languages backgrounds other than English as Year Seven 2003: about 80%. Two classes are 100% LBOTE, or near enough to. (I am allowing for a small number of absent students in hedging that.) The mix, however, is a little different. Please remember that "language background other than English" extends to anyone in the family (including grandparents) who speak in a language other than English. On the other hand, we do have a sizeable group who have been in Australia for less than three years: I think "a few weeks" is the upper limit! Some of those have come from countries where they spoke English, such as New Zealand or various African countries, even though their parents may have been born in a non-English-speaking country.

Perhaps some of these students have a bit more insight into the HSC Area Study "Journeys" than the rest of us. Mind you, I guess we all are on some kind of journey or another, and as an English teacher I have been making Imaginative Journeys all my life!

bugs0aHSC Results They were pretty good, weren’t they? Congratulations to everyone. It seems most students got into something exactly like (or close to) what they’d hoped for 2004. I haven’t been able to do a full analysis, but one remarkable thing: of the 24 Band 6 Advanced English results, eight went to people who had been speaking English ten years or less, and four to people speaking English seven years or less. When you realise that on average academic English takes five to eight years to develop, that is very good work.

And so on…

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