“we encounter a pitiless machismo…”

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Nine months ago, I met a man in immigration detention in a camp in the middle of prosperous, comfortable Melbourne who’d been held there for over five years. He had committed no crime, been given no comprehensible reason for his detention, had no access to defending himself by law against the unspecified charge. What had brought him to that place was the action of seeking asylum in Australia.

He was one of many I met that night in a similar position and it he who touched me most. He handed me a sheaf of photocopied poems, held together in a plastic sleeve, and told me to keep them. I could read only three or four because their despair and grief and hope was too much to bear.

I just heard that that man has been freed from detention. After six long years, he is finally living in Melbourne as a free man. My friend, C, who gave me the news, had visited he and his colleagues in the detention centre once or twice a month for more than a year; to keep them company, to take food, to assist them, to show them there are Australians who cared about their plight. She is elated at the news. This is what she said of him, and several others in the same situation who’ve been freed in the last few months:

“You brave, courageous men. You are my heroes.”

He was given no reason for his release, just as he was given no reason for his detention.

The white, Western nation of Australia was established as a convict colony, a place where Britain could send the effluvia of its overflowing jails and the prison hulks that floated on its waterways. More than two hundred years later, Australia continues to be a convict colony.

* “… we encounter a pitiless machismo, that does not seek to understand, let alone express sympathy over the plight of weaker peoples. These must now submit, often at pain of death, expulsion, and ostracism, to the core ideals of the tribe dictated by the history of its religion and territory. The revival of such sectarian fanaticisms hints not so much at the vitality of medieval religion as the sad mutations in the heart of secular modernity.” Pankaj Mishra, writing in last week’s Guardian about the effective failure of the Western model as we experience it now.

*

Image: Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambroise-Louis Garneray

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8 thoughts on ““we encounter a pitiless machismo…”

  1. While the historical origins differ between Australia and America, the fact that civil liberties are undermined for the majority are frighteningly similar. The “ruling class” (yes, this “democracy” has one) is so afraid of losing it’s position of power that most people here who believe their civil liberties are protected by the founding documents are really just living a lie. We may have more freedoms than people in many countries (by “we” I mean whites who have some money and education and were born here), but you don’t have to scratch the veneer too deeply to find oppression of varying degrees.

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    • Well said, Lorna. People talk about the rule of law, democracy, civil liberties and such as if they are solid things, things that exist independently of ourselves. It’s a comforting illusion.

      We do the same when talking about human beings; we talk about ourselves as if we are solid things, “he’s that way”, “I’m such-and-such”, as if we have an existence independent of everyone else and everything else. Same comforting illusion.

      The question is, given the reality of the illusion, how can we respond to oppression?

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      • “given the reality of the illusion”…Maybe we should say “given the persistence of the illusion…” I think the best way to deal with oppression is what you did in this post–point it out in the face of the myth of freedom or the rights of liberty. Show the duplicity or the living lie for what it is. You can paint a rotten fence, but it’s still rotten. We need to expose the fence for what it is–not the new thing it looks like on the surface, but the rotten old thing it truly is. If we do this continually, maybe the message will get through to the power brokers who could (if they wanted to) do something about it.

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      • I get your disgust at the duplicity. There’s a lot of it around.

        My stand in this area will be a bridge too far for many and I’m not suggesting anyone has to adopt it (not unless you want to). I live my life from the proposition that I am responsible for the world and what happens in it. So I am responsible for the duplicity, the lies, the oppression and all the rest of it that people experience in the world. If I see oppression “out there”, I look in my life and actions and see how I’m oppressing another. I look “out there” and see rage and hostility, and I look in my life and see, like I did yesterday, that I played hostile games with the driver of another car because he beeped me as soon as the light turned green. I don’t mean this like a token thing. I mean it literally; what is in me is the world. So the place to look for new possibilities to the question how to respond to oppression is not “out there”, with power brokers or others; it’s in me.

        This is a big topic and maybe I’ll say more in a post. Thanks for the stimulation, Lorna xx

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      • I agree with you. Everything begins and ends within us. But I don’t have the direct power to change laws or policies, only one voice that others might hear and add to a chorus of other voices. That chorus may sing loudly enough to reach the people who have direct influence over policy and law. That’s what I was getting at. I, too, believe that I am responsible for reflecting back the kind of world I want to live in–for co-creating it, if you will. I’m not a passive by-stander in this life. I’m an active creator. But my influence reaches only so far…

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