Go Back to Where You Came From 2012–revisited–Part 1

See the transcript of ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’ Insight special.

There are more things in that transcript than I can possibly comment on in one post. Let’s try for three.

1. Angry Anderson discovers Hazaras exist at least ten years late…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Angry, did you know what it was like for Hazara’s before you went to Afghanistan?

ANGRY ANDERSON: I had no idea, I had no idea. One of the things I think was illuminated for me; one of the many things, was that – I mean, we all understand that press is selective. I mean, there’s a bias, whether it be left or right or there’s a bias, you know, towards some sort of – CNN, we’ve heard those remarks are made about the bias, and we all understand that. I think when you see a situation where that fundamentally important fact has never been explained and I never saw it in press. I had to go there to find that out. We were introduced to it in Melbourne.

There was persecution from one sect, tribe – however you like to describe it – and two fundamental things came to me, glaringly, you know, and it made the picture a lot clearer for me, was that, you know, it was Muslims persecuting to death other Muslims, so it’s not so much a religious thing and I still don’t understand the complexity of it, but I understand the fundamentals of it. Once I became aware of that simple fact, which had never been illuminated to me before, never in the press have I ever seen that there were eight people being persecuted in their own country. In their own country they are known as "non-people" seemingly somehow they don’t exist.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think you didn’t know that, though?

ANGRY ANDERSON: I don’t know why. It’s the irresponsibility, I suppose, of the bias – not so much call the bias – but why would that not be explained to us, as a population, that very simplistic dynamic, so that we understood the picture, the larger picture even more. I mean…

JENNY BROCKIE: But where does that leave you now, six months on. Where does that leave you now in terms of your view views about asylum seekers and the kind of public statements you will make about them as a politician – if you do become a politician? Where does it leave you, what will you be saying?

ANGRY ANDERSON: Well, the thing about it is how could I possibly have the same view now that I know and I don’t have the same view. That’s the simple answer.

This is Ahmad, who I think still lives in the USA.


The picture is linked to his blog which was last updated in 2007 but still worth reading. You could say Ahmad wrote his way out of Afghanistan, but he clearly, though still a teenager when that picture was taken at Bamian in 2006, had some advantages compared with the average Afghan.

… But some of you might know that last year I traveled to Bamian for research for an upcoming book I am co-authoring. Also, that on my way to Bamian, I nearly got killed.

Well, it had been in the pipeline for months that I go there once again for more research. But due to the security situation, I find myself unable to make the trip. That’s because in the past two weeks, there have been two separate incidents involving civilian passengers who were slaughtered by Taliban. In one of the incidents, seven Hazara passengers in a public van were hand picked, abducted and slaughtered in cold blood. In another one, four Hazara travelers were killed the same way after their car was stopped by the Taliban. Both incidents occurred on the highway between the restive southern province of Bamian and the capital Kabul.

The Hazaras are one of the four main ethnic groups of Afghanistan. They have a long history of oppression, ethnocides, genocides and subjugation, mainly fueled by ethnic and religious prejudice in the hands of different governments. And I, being an ethnic Hazara, find it extremely risky to make a trip to my home country for the purpose of writing a book that portrays the culture, history and current situation of my people…

I wrote:

The picture on the right is Ahmad Shuja standing where the great Buddha statue once could be seen in Afghanistan. His latest post, Greetings from Bamian, tells us what he is doing there. My first thought was that this can’t be the safest of journeys for an Afghan teenager, but he assures us “Bamian is the safest of all provinces in Afghanistan. And if all goes well, I will hopefully be back home [in Pakistan] in after a week.” Let’s hope he will be.

I note Ahmad is a Hazara. In a Diary-X entry for 30 August 2004 (saved to disk!) I wrote:

# Been reading a really good book: The Kite Runner by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini is beautifully written and should have been compulsory reading during the “children overboard”/Tampa affair – except it couldn’t have been, having been published in 2003. But a wonderful corrective to demonisation it remains, as well as an indictment of both the Taliban and the preceding communists. One is also left in no doubt about the difficulties of the Hazara people of Afghanistan, though I suppose it is kind of comforting to know racism is not just a European phenomenon…

I wonder if Ahmad has read it. He probably has. If so, I wonder what he thinks of it.

If I could know this without supernatural intervention, how come Angry couldn’t? As I said on Facebook:

Amazed by the fact Angry Anderson has waited until 2012 to discover Hazaras — and more so that Peter Reith seems to have been on a learning curve about them as well. OK, I am glad they now know, but couldn’t they have just been — Angry especially — a bit more curious about the country we are sending our ADF people, some of whom have paid the ultimate price? I know I was. Withuout access to anything special I have known about the Hazara issue for at least a decade, Anyone can even if all they look up is Wikipedia! Worth seeing or reading The Kite Runner too. Adding a few old posts in the comments if Facebook cooperates — this is my second attempt!

One such old post is  Incandescent with rage: 1 from July 2011.

It was good to be reminded by last night’s documentary Leaky Boat and the subsequent Q&A about what happened from 2001 onwards to our refugee policy and what an outrage it really was.

At the time I was incandescent with rage against what the Howard government was doing (though full of admiration for people like Bruce Baird in that government).  I still am. Blind Freddy knew we and the asylum seekers were being manipulated in the most blatant way. There is a page on my blogs that preserves a version of my rage, although modified in the since disappointed hope that the current government would be a hell of a lot better. It looked for a while as if they might, but cowardice or calculation seem to have triumphed in the end.

Here, just for the record, are some extracts from posts of the time….

Visit that July 2011 post to see what they are, but they lead me to #2: Peter Reith’s reluctance to come really clean about “children overboard”.  Now at the time it really felt more like this, Peter – a 2004 post:

"Anyone but Howard" as many a footpath in Surry Hills now proclaims, that being taken in turn from one of Howard’s many disaffected co-conservatives. Consider the 7.30 Report two nights ago:

KERRY O’BRIEN: There is argument about whether it was originally meant in the best sense or said sarcastically, but you were once, a long time ago, called Honest John. You say that this election is about trust, which implies honesty. In terms of your own personal integrity, are you still entitled to be called Honest John?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, it is not a description that I have used myself, Kerry, others did. Like everybody else, I value my reputation. I tell the truth. I try to be honest with people. I’ve been accused of other things by my political opponents, I accept that. In the end, the Australian people will make a judgment about that.When I say this election is about trust, I mean that in the broad sense of the word.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Not in the personal sense as well?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, of course. The broad includes the specific, doesn’t it? And includes it in every sense of the word. It goes beyond personal integrity. (Observe the following logical slide – a veritable glissando!) It also includes capacity, focus and experience and the ability to deal with difficult issues in a fast changing environment and we live in a world where that capacity is required of a national leader.
KERRY O’BRIEN: You say that Australians are sick of kids overboard and dismiss it as an issue that was there for three days of the last campaign. It was there for more than three days, but I suspect there are a number of indefinable Australians who do want to know whether you lied about kids overboard during the last election to boost your prospects.
JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, I didn’t lie about it. The original statement was based on firm information. That wasn’t the debate. Nobody is suggesting that we weren’t originally told. The debate was about the extent of the communication of the reverse side of the story.
Look, what I’m saying is that people remember of that period that I stopped the boats. They will always remember that and they will always remember the Government was strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.
I don’t believe the last election was determined on kids overboard, but what I’m saying is that this election is about the next 10 years, not about the last three days of the last election campaign and I believe very strongly that the overwhelming majority of the Australian people see it that way. But in the end, like everything else, this will be determined by the Australian people. It will be resolved by the Australian people when the election takes place.
KERRY O’BRIEN: In the interim, these issues will continue to be debated. In Mike Scrafton, you have a former senior Defence official who says he made clear to you at at the time that no children were thrown overboard. He is backed up by two senior Defence officers, a serving major-general and Navy commander and also another senior Defence official.
They say he told them all at the time that you knew that you had been told that no children had been thrown overboard and yet you continued to tell Australian voters the opposite. What do their accounts and recollections say about your honesty?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, they’re not direct evidence. There are only two people had that conversation and I dispute his recollection. This is all known. People know that I dispute that recollection and I continue to dispute it, but there is really nothing I can add to that and my recollection is consistent with the recollections of my staff, but in the end, people will make a judgment about that.
I don’t seek to denigrate Mr Scrafton. I’m sure he believes what he is saying.
I am simply saying my recall is different and I’m also saying that what people remember about that issue is that we stopped the boats. We were very strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The issue that I’m raising, Mr Howard, is not border protection because the kids overboard case didn’t alter your border protection policies one way or the other. The issue I’m raising is about integrity, morality, ethical behaviour.
I know that you reject that this proposition applies to you, but I’m curious to know whether you feel that a man who deliberately and irresponsibly whips up public emotions and prejudice against a boatload of asylum seekers for political gain deserves to be prime minister.
JOHN HOWARD: Well, I believe I deserve to be prime minister for a whole range of reasons. I reject the claim that I deliberately whipped it up.
It was based on proper advice, I repeat that and I remind your viewers about that. The point I’m making about the boats is that the dominant concern of people in relation to border protection was the stopping of the boats, not the issue of whether children had been throw overboard.
Look, we can go on all night and perhaps you might want to.

Would you buy a used car from this person?…

Virginia Trioli gets stuck into Peter Reith in the Sydney Morning Herald: Reith rewrites history to hide the shame of children overboard lie. And she’s right to say that “it all happened 12 years ago”, “was a bit of a stuff-up”, and “no-one was actually killed” is not good enough – “the past is another country, and besides the wench is dead…”   Peter Reith may be right in asserting, over against say David Marr, that there was no conspiracy back then at “children overboard” – but it is an absolute fact that at the time the Howard team played it for all it was worth and it did become a powerful part of the public view of the evil asylum seeker/probable terrorist/risk to Australia – and consequently votes flowed Howard’s way.

JENNY BROCKIE: I have a quote where you did refered to illegals, on 13th September 2001 during a Sky News interview.

PETER REITH: I don’t find it totally offensive, I must say. In the common parlance of describing how people come to Australia, well obviously I understand how the treaty works. They do have a right to make an application but in terms of describing it to people, the fact is that they are coming to Australia without having first applied to come to Australia.

ALLAN ASHER: There is a stigma though and it frames an argument in the wrong way.

PETER REITH: The people who don’t like it, Allan though, are out there saying, "This is a stigma". Let’s face it, the use of the word…

IMOGEN BAILEY: but the people who like to use it are the politicians that like to use it to enable them to make their point and sell their pitch and that is unfair.

JENNY BROCKIE: What was the point you wanted to make Allan?

ALLAN ASHER: The point I was making is that when you get prominent people who either use or allow to be used language which is technically wrong and inhuman, that gives permission to people who do have extremist views – and actually I don’t think Peter does – but you see how it allows oxygen to people who just shouldn’t be allowed to get away with misinformation.

PETER REITH: I don’t mind that, Allan, I don’t mind that but I mean, you know, you’re talking to the public at large. They’re not into the technicalities of it and I accept the point that you need to be reasonable in the words you use, but that word I don’t find – I don’t use it myself particularly.

JENNY BROCKIE: Couldn’t you talk to the public the way you talked in that clip and say, "These people are desperate; it is a conundrum; we have a problem; it’s a really difficult situation to resolve and it’s tough, I feel for these people".

PETER REITH: To be honest with you Jenny, I don’t have a problem with that. All I’m saying is it’s not an accusation you can easily make at me quite frankly.

JENNY BROCKIE: It’s not the language of politics is it, and I’m not just talking about your side of politics, I’m talking about politics in general. It’s not the language of politics in this debate.

PETER REITH: I don’t find your proposition unreasonable, but you also have to accept that for the average Joe listening to the debate, you want to express it in a way in which they understand what you’re trying to say. Now, yes, be careful about it, but, you know, I don’t think you should be too precious about it either. It has to be reasonable, whatever that is.

At the same time it has to be said Peter Reith emerged quite well from the series. He is certainly not a monster nor can he be fairly seen as any kind of racist.

Which brings me to # 3 Michael Smith, who is I fear a bear of very little brain.  He’s a bit young for this, of course, but looking at some of what he says I can’t help evoking a classic:


Or this:


Can you see what I am getting at?

But that will have to wait.

Meanwhile read Superb viewing as celebrities face a dose of reality on Go Back.

Update on Ahmad Shuja

I knew that at the time he finished My Scribbles he had enrolled in Berea College in the USA. I had followed the process of his getting that opportunity as it happened.

Now I see he has done rather well.

That is 2010. This year:

See also his new blog: Afghanistan Analysis.

I’m an Afghan political commentator and writer/blogger currently based in Washington, DC.

I have two day jobs — with the Foundation for Afghanistan and with Iran Times. During the remaining time, I write for the UN Foundation’s UN Dispatch,  contribute to the Soufan Gourp’s IntelBriefs series and maintain this blog. Occasionally, I also blog on the Huffington Post.

At the Foundation for Afghanistan, I work to help develop Afghanistan’s human capital so that, when the insurgency is finished overnight, Afghans don’t wake up the next morning wondering how they’ll run their government and provide services to the people, seventy percent of whom are illiterate.

At Iran Times, I write articles and run the editorial/commentary pages, soliciting views and opinions from Iranians and Iran experts about whatever issue happens to be “hot.”…

Wow! Back in October 2006 he wrote:

To all readers of MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan:

Just a notice to tell you that in the last few weeks I have been busy preparing for the SAT–the entrance examination for American universities. It’s now time to take it. The test is very, very important for my future as its result will determine whether or not I will be able to get into a U.S. college, and, subsequently, study journalism.

The test center is in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It is going to take me a gruelling, 26-hour bus ride to get there. Things are not easy, but I will do my best.

Meanwhile, thank you all for putting up with the long gaps between posts. I shall start posting as soon as I return.


Check the comments!

On 20 October 2006 he wrote:

I am back home and back in form. I have fully recuperated and am slowly getting used to a normal life again. I want to thank all of you for the support you have provided through your comments and wishes.

The test went well and I expect a good result. The results are due in two to three weeks. Meanwhile, I plan on starting a new blog which will document my progress toward a college admission in the United States. I will be providing the latest about my admission progress and seeking advice from those of you with the experience of dealing with college admission red tape.

I have been trying to come up with a suitable, all-encompassing name for the new blog, but so far I have been unsuccessful. Do you have any ideas which may convey the sense of an Afghan with almost no financial means trying to pursue his dreams through a college degree in the U.S.? Your suggestions are welcome.

I think we have to say he has succeeded, and he is just one shining example of what can be found among the Aghan Hazaras.  I am proud that in my small way via the Internet I was able to encourage him when he was still a teenager in Pakistan/Afghanistan.  I  wonder how many as gifted as Ahmad have not had his chance, or indeed have been shot or drowned…