Hating ourselves

I am fairly certain I have lost my religion, maybe to the despair of my mother.

But one personal belief that’s stayed with me since my years of Catholic education is the Golden Rule: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.

I’ve always been confused why people who hang their ideologies on their Christianity so frequently disregard this basic tenant of their faith.

I mean the Commandments, those are the real deal. Right? Bless his NRA- sanctioned, blackened soul, but Charleton Heston did a lot to get those tablets down intact to the orgy hordes and the golden calf and all his spineless followers.

But I guess not, since the rules are merely afterthoughts to most self-declared Christians, and certainly our governments.

So how is the boundary line of care determined for one person in need and another in the eyes of our nations and our governments? Is it a matter of economy? Politically correct or divisive? Racially driven? Class defined? Innate?

Because if you have to choose between helping the sprawling group comprised of a  nation’s homeless, drug addicts, mentally ill, disenfranchised, victims of domestic violence, and racial minorities, or helping the group that includes those in your on and off-shore detention centers and refugee camps, and opening your arms to many more drifting asylum seekers abroad, then your country is broken.

Looking after your residents in need should not be a choice. It should be a necessity. But it’s not. Not here in Australia, not in my own country of the Unites States.

At the same time, there are these people migrating en masse from their own violent nations, or stateless, unable to find a home. More than in recorded history.

We, as safe residents or citizens allow our governments to demonize a defenceless, voiceless, displaced population that is now a desperate 38 million strong with the excuse we have to look after our own disadvantaged and abused.

I’ve been consumed with indignation since I heard this idiotic rationalization for shutting down compassion at the national border. It started when I saw the much-anticipated return of the series Go Back to Where You Came From, and heard this comment, about the boundary of altruism, being Australia’s coastline.

This three-part SBS series was filmed last October and featured six Australians with varying stands of asylum seeker policy and refugees.

To explain for those in the rest of the world, this excellent program sets Australians of different ideologies and backgrounds together, and into the shoes and lives of people who have sought asylum in Australia.

I’ve seen the past two series and a similar program First Contact, which I wrote about early in this blog. All have been very enlightening and inspired national discussions about race and policies on refugees and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The program splits participants into two groups and each meets people currently in this country who came by different means to escape war, violence or persecution and traces their footsteps back to their country of origin.

GBTW 1
Jodi, Kim, Nicole, Renee, Andrew and Davy on the boat they took from Indonesian shores.

This year, the first group of Nicole, Andrew and Kim stayed three days with Ammar and Sanaa Mershed and their three children who escaped Iraq via Syria. There were 2.2 million Iraqs displaced in 2014, and 7.6 million displaced Syrians.

Nicole worked on the Manus Island detention centre and was a whistleblower about the abuse there. Andrew is a Melbourne teacher, and Kim is an anti-refugee/anti-Islam campaigner.

Kim founded the Facebook page ‘Stop the boat people’ She states:

Ok guys straight up I am not trying to be racist!! I started this page to try show awareness into what’s becoming of our country! People of any race should not be allowed into our country illegally!!

Convenient when the majority of asylum seekers are non-caucasian.

To clarify, by Australian law, no arrival of an asylum seeker, regardless of the means of entry into Australia, is illegal. The current government took a boat turn-back policy almost immediately they came into office in 2013.

One major election promise of Abbott’s Liberal government campaign was they would stop the flow of boats from Indonesia and elsewhere should they come into power.

They based their logic on saving lives at sea, such as the tragedy at Christmas Island, though ironically, the name of the military endeavor to handle the ‘problem’ was called Operation Sovereign Borders. Subsequent decisions made followed the same agenda.

Meantime, the foreign aid budget has been so minimized to reach out to the reasons behind the migration, even the Foreign Affairs Minster Julie Bishop was pissed off.

The second group of Jodi, Renee and Davy stayed with Rohingya man Shomsal who left his seven children and mother back in a UNHCR refugee camp in Myanmar.

Jodi came to the show with beliefs against refugees, her sister Renee works in refugee resettlement and Davy, though he was put on a boat from Vietnam to Australia 20 years ago by his parents, does not want people to come to Australia by boat.

The participants began learning how and why the migrants came to the country.

The battle with ISIS within Iraq and Syria was well-known at the time of filming though Kim showed little understanding and seemed scornful of her Iraqi hosts’ reasons and religion.

However, though Jodi, Renee and Davy learned about the desecration of the Rohingya people through Somsal and Jody and Davy seemed a little skeptical about the story.

rohingya-indonesia
Rohingya refugees made up the majority of the boat that was rejected several times in May.

This was months before global news of the Rohingyas’ persecution hit the world headlines after the mass graves of fleeing Rohingya were uncovered and the boats with hundreds of the stateless Muslim minority from a Buddhist country were dying at sea from thirst and starvation, spurned by country after country, including Australia who refuses to accept them.

The ‘Go Back’ group that eventually travelled to Syria and Iraq had several eye-opening opportunities.

They were fired upon by ISIS and had an emotional meeting with Ammar’s brother who was more or less trapped in Baghdad.

They faced the desperate pleading of broken Syrian refugees in the region’s largest UNHCR camp, where no first-world person would trade  places for a fortune as any kind of life.

The others followed the journey Rohingya make under the brutal transport and extortion of people smugglers out of Myanmar through Thailand and on to Bangladesh. From there, they join the teeming thousands who illegally enter Malaysia and where many get on a boat.

Along the way, they saw a video of women raped by Thai people smugglers within the jungle camps. The women were anguished when confronted by a dazed women with a dying baby approached them for help.

They have no medical assistance in the camp since the Burmese government expelled Médecins Sans Frontières.

A teenaged Rohingya boy explained to them the constant rape and murder that happened in his camp before he escaped. It was tough to watch, but doubtless, even tougher to experience.

roh boy

The program is a social experiment and in the past two series, most people have come away with radically changed opinions and an education, no matter which side of the argument they’re on.

Though Davy was very moved and softened, he was still against people coming to Australia by boat-largely colored by the terror of his own experience. He had an emotional breakdown during the boat trip from Indonesia toward Australia during the program.

Jodi was the most extraordinary change. As a self-professed formerly ignorant Aussie girl against asylum seeker resettlement, she now works with Rohingya refugees in Adelaide. Her family cannot even fathom the depth of her change.

Five of the six agreed Australia should accept more refugees. In 2014, the nation received over 70,000 humanitarian visa applications.

They accepted only 13,750. As of May of this year, 2026 people remain in immigration detention facilities, and there are 1598 people in community detention in Australia. 329 of those people have been in detention for over two years.

And the government spent $1 billion in 2014 to maintain and ‘process’ those asylum seekers who go nowhere with no future.

Most fascinating, Kim did not change, and in the final live debrief, said her views were probably even strengthened by the experience.

Kim
Kim

She looked a man in the face who feared his sons would have been murdered and feared his daughter would be raped by ISIS, expressed sympathy in the most condescending manner, and promptly dismissed his defining culture and religion.

It was an epic show of ignorance. She was defiant and compellingly blind about the reasons that propped up her own dogmas against refugees and Islam.

Kim believes before Australia assists anybody seeking asylum, the government needs to first address need at home. Her “compassion extends to the Australian border”.

Her attitudes about those in detention and the refugee camps were dismissive.

“They’re well looked-after,” she said as though they were dogs. Unbelievable.

Forget that these are humans with dreams, children denied education or a chance to pursue their ambitions. Forget their future. They have food, water, often shelter, though no guarantee of safety or security.

The RSPCA would do better for these people. And in Australia, that’s saying a lot.

It is easy to troll on Facebook pages like Kim’s that bag international humanitarian agendas, and extol a white-Australian, ethno-centric policy.

So much of the rhetoric and comments are based on fear. Fear that this nation will be overrun by Islamic militants.

For heaven’s sake, there were more people killed from falling from chairs (198) within Australia from 2003-2012, than the number of Australians killed through acts of terrorism (116), both domestically and overseas between 1978-2014.

It is food for thought.

terror-copy

I felt incensed by her comment. I don’t dispute there are many Australians who share Kim’s views, and also share her belief about looking after our own before you look after others.

Her opinions are not isolated. Several people have posted similar feelings on her Facebook page:

Stay out, we have enough here starving & homeless of our own, wake up people, real refugee’s walk boarders, not fly to where they can get on a boat. Sick of the goodie, goodies who make a noise but have no answers

What irks me is there continues to be a homeless crisis in Australia and statistics prove it is a crisis on the rise. So where’s the help? What are the reasons and why isn’t any concerted effort being done to stop it?

In my state of New South Wales, numbers of homeless have risen 20.4 per cent since 2006. In my former state of Victoria, they rose even higher; 20.7 percent.

There are currently 105,237 identified homeless persons in this country during this, Homelessness Prevention Week in Australia. Those numbers don’t even tell the real story. And if anybody has tried to capture statistics about the issue, you’ll find it’s been difficult.

homeless-kids

Couch-surfing, staying with relations when you’ve become unemployed or escaping domestic violence, people with chronic substance abuse problems and the mentally ill often do not come forward to claim homelessness support and are not counted.

They are invisible either by circumstance or design.

I had the privilege to hear the personal and striking stories of two young people last week who have both experienced the frightening state of being homeless.

They are a fragment of the big picture and they carry issues like domestic violence, child negligence, drug abuse, lack of homeless and addiction support, foster care and societal judgment.

Two young people. Both took time to highlight the needs of those in other countries who do not have food or clean water. They explained their standard response to a homeless person; you offer to cook them a meal and give them access to your hot shower and start to make phone calls to help.

Why is it these kids had more heart than our own government policy? Why are they, those who lived it, be the first to have to help out?

An advanced, first-world, civilized society should never have headlines about our homeless. Nor should they have headlines, studies and sensational media reports about the lack of refuges and addiction treatment facilities.

A homeless man prostrate on the sidewalk , as in the featured image, is an unattractive sight. We turn away from the physical unattractiveness of a chronic drug user or the beaten face of a young mother caked with foundation to camouflage her bruises.

We feel disdain for a parent struggling with an autistic child in the supermarket.

These are the people we’re meant to care for before Rohingya parents supporting the husk of their dying child. That is wrong. These are the people within our elbow room that should be cared for as a matter of course. It should go without saying.

Perhaps if we followed that Golden Rule, as so many of us surround ourselves in a comfortable life, we would act differently.

We would shed our selfishness and identify those around our lives who live with pain and suffering. If we began that conversation about our deficits of caring, maybe our eyes would open wider to influence our elected leaders to do the right thing about refugees, and offer support and solutions to give them a real future.

Or do we privileged humans so hate ourselves, we can do little more than turn that contempt on to the people around us who might be us someday?

 

 

4 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

val hostreply
August 4, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Well said

Michèlereply
August 4, 2015 at 7:24 pm
– In reply to: val host

Thank you for reading and writing Val.

Jo Newnhamreply
August 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm

We had 10 viet refugee boys and 1 couple live with us, sometimes it was hard as we had no outside help, and my own kids were very generous all up at that time we had 27 living with us, but i would do it again.

Michèlereply
August 4, 2015 at 7:21 pm
– In reply to: Jo Newnham

Wow Jo. That is amazing and inspiring. Thank you for sharing that and for stopping by. My best to you and all who share your home and your life.

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