Category Archives: Refugees

Lotteries and Rights in the Sporting Life

The pigeon flapped in desperation, moving across Melbourne’s lavish Capitol Theatre in fits and starts.  It was more alarmed than anything else at the address being given by former Australian football (soccer to some) player Craig Foster.  Foster has been beating the drum on one particular message for some time now: that sports can change the dimension of human rights, becoming, as it were, a fertilising agent.

At the Capitol, he made the point with various reiterations, reminding his audience about the fortunate Hakeem al-Araibi, who became his inspired subject of humanity.  Al-Araibi was not merely a Bahraini refugee who had been detained for supporting fellow footballers who had protested during the Arab Spring, but a member of Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club.  On a trip to Thailand as an accepted refugee, he found himself in Thai captivity facing the prospect of extradition to his homeland.

Foster’s very public campaign seeking his release from Thai prison demonstrated an unequal law of favouritism in this field: had the Bahraini national not been a footballer, a sports figure of some merit, there is little to suggest that he would have received such furious and tenacious attention.  As Foster said at the time of al-Araibi’s release in February, “This is a man, probably the most famous young man in Australia right now, a courageous young man, a human rights defender… we’re so proud of all of Australia to have fought so hard to bring [him] back home”.

Currently, refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, detained at the behest of Australian foreign and domestic policy, are distant, faceless subjects of legal purgatory.  Attention and sympathy is heavily rationed; not even the occasional gruesome death can spur the Australian citizen to storm the immigration offices.  Such a point is acknowledged by Foster.  When it came to garnering international support for al-Araibi’s case, critics pointed their fingers at Australia’s own venal refugee policy, one strong on outsourced mandatory detention.  “Nor was it lost on any of us fighting so hard against two governments and monarchies and in urging FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation and the International Olympic Committee to uphold their human rights obligations that we are failing to uphold our own.”

Foster also notes that such matters should not be lotteries of fate.  To his Capitol audience, he observed a certain luck of the draw in al-Araibi’s case: that being a registered footballer gave him more rights than standard citizens designated as refugees.  FIFA, a governing organisation famed for habitual corruption, does at least boast of a commitment to respect “all internationally recognised human rights” while striving “to promote the protection of these rights.”  The grim logic of this is clear: if you are going to have your rights infringed and impeded, best suffer as the practitioner of a certain sport.

Another take is also offered in this regard, one that shows Foster to be, like his colleagues in the field of human rights, a figure conscious of brand and reputation.  Never ignore the power of cash and sponsorship.  Never discount vulgar pragmatism when protecting human rights.  Linking their observance with image can be the stuff of financial prudence.  “If countries are acquiring Formula One, football tournaments and the like in order to ‘sportwash’ their image,” observed Foster on a panel event at the UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation this year, “then surely there is a responsibility from sport inherently to make sure that human rights abuses aren’t occurring on that very basis.”  Well, yes, but not always.

The focus on sports and rights is a field that is becoming verdant with well-wishers and talking heads.  The big sporting event comes with broader social implications.   With such endeavours come buildings, equipment and due exploitation.  As Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation notes: “The industry not only depends on star athletes – who also have rights – but on the work of millions who build the sport parks, construct the stadia, manufacture the panoply of sporting goods and provide the services and catering that make mega-sporting events possible.”

Unfortunately, such realisations have not seen states such as Qatar deprived of their hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup. That particular country boasts a particularly crude system of binding migrant employees to a single employer with considerable control, known as kafala.  Invariably, it is one rife with exploitation.  This, despite claiming its abolition in 2016.

The Centre for Sports and Human Rights in Geneva was recently opened to study the relationship between rights and sports, though it remains to be seen whether it becomes an institution of weight rather than a laundering body for states with less than scrupulous human rights records.  The optimists are currently out in force, given the record of the Centre’s inaugural chair, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.  “Our collective vision is a world of sport that fully respects human rights.”

Where to, then, with such disagreements about rights?  The avenues are few and far between in instances where repression abounds.  The modern refugee has few guarantees, facing the eternal drawbridge that might, at any given moment, be lifted.  As far as the sporting character, Foster suggests a regulatory chamber for sports, a global body that will adjudicate and dispense justice.  The underpinning rationale here is the acknowledgement that human rights transcend sporting rights.

This view on talismanic sports figures being human rights standard bearers can come across as a bit green, fanned by an enthusiastic naivety that accompanies certain sports players.  Sports figures are not merely the bearers of rights, but their promoters.  The sporting fraternity must never shy way from the critical issues of the day.  But the other, oft neglected side in such discussions is that sports figures are also there to be manipulated, to be drugged, stressed and watered by unscrupulous state bureaucrats.  Inadvertently, such figures also serve ends they might be oblivious too.  Be that as it may, Foster’s points, maturing within the legal framework he is developing as an incipient lawyer, are valid ones: the sporting character, by virtue of being one, also has fundamental human rights.

Strong Men in Europe: Tony Abbott Visits Hungary

“I extend a special welcome to Australia’s former prime minister.  It is in part due to his tough policy that we regard Australia as a model country.  We especially respect it for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency which it has shown on migration and defence of the Australian nation”.

These words of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Tony Abbott at the Third Budapest Demographic Summit uttered on September 5 would have made the former Australian premier gooey and weak at the knees.  Abbott, it must be remembered, had been the proud architect of the “turn back the boats” refugee policy, insistent that naval matters dealing with such arrivals be given a military flourish of secrecy.  It was not for the Australian public to know how many vessels might actually be making their way to Australia.

Orbán’s welcome pressed all the reactionary points of strongman mythology: inherent toughness, obsessive border security, and the singing praise for appropriate racial stock – the indomitable, pragmatic character that would not bow down to other “ethnic” elements in the populace.  (The irony, of course, is that Australia’s ruthless anti-refugee policy has the support of a good many nationalities keen to ensure that yesterday’s immigrants prevent today’s boat arrivals.)

Abbott, for his part, wrote gushingly of the Hungarian leader a few days after his Budapest meeting, seeing him as the prominent personality behind the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) who had valiantly rallied, along with the Brexiteers, against the European Union and its more intrusive expectations.  Orbán “has not only transformed the economy but was the first European leader to cry ‘stop’ to the peaceful invasion of 2015 and is now trying to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate.”

The account tallies with the wet-dreamers who find the Magyar crypto-despot admirably pugilistic and capable in prosecuting his goals, especially when it comes to Christianity and cultural identity.  Like Abbott, Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, was impressed in a meeting with Orbán, one that had not been anticipated.  He spoke of Hungary, and Central Europe, having been victims of colonisation at the hands of Islam and the Middle East.  Orbán, it was noted, was won over by Christian leaders in the Middle East warning about their treatment at the hands of Islam’s followers.  “What did they say [about Muslim refugees]?  Don’t let them in.  Stop them.’”

The admiration for Orbán is the praise afforded an ambitious and successful authoritarian running under the banner of threatened civilisations, keen to do battle with demons.  Along with his ruling party Fidesz, the Hungarian leader has, as Timothy Garton Ash accurately conveys, “so completely penetrated the state administration that Hungary is again a one-party state.”  An independent judiciary has been eliminated.  Cronyism is encouraged; family members are favoured with government contracts; dissenters and opponents are the target of harassing tax investigations.

Since losing his federal seat in the May elections, Abbott has had little time for the antics of a fractious, scrutinising Parliament, and believes that Britain’s premier political institution is simply disrupting those who wished for Brexit.  It was only before a gathering at the UK Policy Exchange where he finally felt he could give a “full throttle, double-barrel roar”, one “turbo-charged by the Parliament’s consistent attempt to sabotage the people’s vote.” (The inner despot in Abbott fails to appreciate that Parliament is the voice of the British people, however muddled it might be.  Arguments on civilisation can cut both ways.)

Abbott was also keen to move away from anything approaching environmental calamity and cultural accommodation.  Being in Europe, and more specifically in such amenable company, had intoxicated him.  This was the frontline against unwanted Muslim immigration and environmental doomsday preaching.  “I mean,” he told summit delegates, “you get a million angry military-age males swarming into a single country in a year.  There are not there to be grateful, but they are there with a grievance.”  Nor was there a population bomb with a fuse waiting to go off, or carbon footprints worthy of concern, or an emissions problem in an increasingly heating world.  Instead, his idea of the “extinction rebellion” was demographic rather than climate related; people, certainly the right people, were not breeding enough.

The demographic problems of various countries, with declining birth rates, had necessitated dramatic action.  “Hungary, whose population is predicted to shrink by a quarter over the next half century, is waiving household debt for larger families and not taxing four-time mothers, among other measures worth careful study.”

Orbán, as with some of his European colleagues, is terrified by a demographic vanishing.  “It’s not hard to imagine that there would be one single last man who has to turn the lights out.”  At the third demographic summit, he noted “the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy.”  Demography, in being destiny, was unavoidable: “human life is finite; and that just as we enter life, so we must leave it.”  With certain resignation, he noted the need to have more demographic conferences, in part to return his country to a state of model, diligent procreation.  Woodpeckers, he surmised, had to be taught how to peck wood again.  Christianity had to “regain its strength in Europe.”  Abbott, himself a religious zealot, could only agree: Christian Europe had get back to some fecund, dedicated shagging.

Strong Men in Europe: Tony Abbott Visits Hungary

“I extend a special welcome to Australia’s former prime minister.  It is in part due to his tough policy that we regard Australia as a model country.  We especially respect it for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency which it has shown on migration and defence of the Australian nation”.

These words of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Tony Abbott at the Third Budapest Demographic Summit uttered on September 5 would have made the former Australian premier gooey and weak at the knees.  Abbott, it must be remembered, had been the proud architect of the “turn back the boats” refugee policy, insistent that naval matters dealing with such arrivals be given a military flourish of secrecy.  It was not for the Australian public to know how many vessels might actually be making their way to Australia.

Orbán’s welcome pressed all the reactionary points of strongman mythology: inherent toughness, obsessive border security, and the singing praise for appropriate racial stock – the indomitable, pragmatic character that would not bow down to other “ethnic” elements in the populace.  (The irony, of course, is that Australia’s ruthless anti-refugee policy has the support of a good many nationalities keen to ensure that yesterday’s immigrants prevent today’s boat arrivals.)

Abbott, for his part, wrote gushingly of the Hungarian leader a few days after his Budapest meeting, seeing him as the prominent personality behind the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) who had valiantly rallied, along with the Brexiteers, against the European Union and its more intrusive expectations.  Orbán “has not only transformed the economy but was the first European leader to cry ‘stop’ to the peaceful invasion of 2015 and is now trying to boost Hungary’s flagging birth rate.”

The account tallies with the wet-dreamers who find the Magyar crypto-despot admirably pugilistic and capable in prosecuting his goals, especially when it comes to Christianity and cultural identity.  Like Abbott, Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, was impressed in a meeting with Orbán, one that had not been anticipated.  He spoke of Hungary, and Central Europe, having been victims of colonisation at the hands of Islam and the Middle East.  Orbán, it was noted, was won over by Christian leaders in the Middle East warning about their treatment at the hands of Islam’s followers.  “What did they say [about Muslim refugees]?  Don’t let them in.  Stop them.’”

The admiration for Orbán is the praise afforded an ambitious and successful authoritarian running under the banner of threatened civilisations, keen to do battle with demons.  Along with his ruling party Fidesz, the Hungarian leader has, as Timothy Garton Ash accurately conveys, “so completely penetrated the state administration that Hungary is again a one-party state.”  An independent judiciary has been eliminated.  Cronyism is encouraged; family members are favoured with government contracts; dissenters and opponents are the target of harassing tax investigations.

Since losing his federal seat in the May elections, Abbott has had little time for the antics of a fractious, scrutinising Parliament, and believes that Britain’s premier political institution is simply disrupting those who wished for Brexit.  It was only before a gathering at the UK Policy Exchange where he finally felt he could give a “full throttle, double-barrel roar”, one “turbo-charged by the Parliament’s consistent attempt to sabotage the people’s vote.” (The inner despot in Abbott fails to appreciate that Parliament is the voice of the British people, however muddled it might be.  Arguments on civilisation can cut both ways.)

Abbott was also keen to move away from anything approaching environmental calamity and cultural accommodation.  Being in Europe, and more specifically in such amenable company, had intoxicated him.  This was the frontline against unwanted Muslim immigration and environmental doomsday preaching.  “I mean,” he told summit delegates, “you get a million angry military-age males swarming into a single country in a year.  There are not there to be grateful, but they are there with a grievance.”  Nor was there a population bomb with a fuse waiting to go off, or carbon footprints worthy of concern, or an emissions problem in an increasingly heating world.  Instead, his idea of the “extinction rebellion” was demographic rather than climate related; people, certainly the right people, were not breeding enough.

The demographic problems of various countries, with declining birth rates, had necessitated dramatic action.  “Hungary, whose population is predicted to shrink by a quarter over the next half century, is waiving household debt for larger families and not taxing four-time mothers, among other measures worth careful study.”

Orbán, as with some of his European colleagues, is terrified by a demographic vanishing.  “It’s not hard to imagine that there would be one single last man who has to turn the lights out.”  At the third demographic summit, he noted “the spiritual foundations of Hungary’s family policy.”  Demography, in being destiny, was unavoidable: “human life is finite; and that just as we enter life, so we must leave it.”  With certain resignation, he noted the need to have more demographic conferences, in part to return his country to a state of model, diligent procreation.  Woodpeckers, he surmised, had to be taught how to peck wood again.  Christianity had to “regain its strength in Europe.”  Abbott, himself a religious zealot, could only agree: Christian Europe had get back to some fecund, dedicated shagging.

Racist Ideology and Practice Rooted in Speciesism

When perceived authorities like President Trump designate immigrants “animals,” they authorize abuse of those officially disparaged people.  Conscience-challenged people predictably seek to enhance their status by carrying out apparent or explicit wishes of adored “leaders.”  Trump probably has not personally killed or rounded up anyone.  Neither have many other authoritarian despots whose policies and rhetoric destroy others’ lives.

It is undeniably urgent and important to repair harm done to people of color under the white boot through the centuries and to ensure equal treatment now and in the future.  But collectively we have known that for a very long time.  Every time victories over racism are achieved, they are declared to be greater than they are, and their intended fruits are not permitted to ripen.  White-supremacist factions of the counterrevolution mobilize to undermine whatever progress has been made, and today the Internet intensifies and accelerates their power and influence.

From thirty years as a full-time animal advocate and long study of connections between abuse of nonhuman animals and human misery, I think there is a root cause of racism that must be addressed, and it isn’t just inveterate racists perpetuating hatred and invidious distinctions.  Rather, the Animal-Abuse Revolution1, animal-abuse culture, and speciesist ideologies generated to rationalize them preceded and laid the mental groundwork for racism.

All human eliminationist campaigns I have explored – Armenia, Cambodia, Germany, Rwanda, and others – use words like “animals,” “cockroaches,” “swine,” “vermin,” “rats,” “snakes,” and “insects” to rally the populace against targeted human beings.  It’s easier to get people to attack fellow humans if you can get them to perceive them as less than human, inherently despised, better dead than alive.  In 1963, Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Paul Johnson (he won) repeatedly joked that NAACP stood for “Niggers, Alligators, Apes, Coons, and Possums.”2  Are we supposed to think he was not complicit in attacks on civil-rights activists or murdered, raped, and lynched black people in all walks of life?

Since Trump’s defamatory rhetoric appeals to people who hear Trump as broadly agreeing with their white-supremacist views, we should hear Trump as triggering attacks on Jews and others perceived as “mud people” by some of his most ardent followers.  It is not surprising that hate crimes are way up under Trump3 despite Trump’s not telling anyone to attack – though he did promise to cover legal fees of anyone who might beat up hecklers at his campaign rallies.

In addition to citizen attacks, we should expect Trump’s invoking nonhuman animals to lower human groups’ status in popular perception to result in extremes of inhumane abuse by government employees with custody of demonized people, and complacency about abuses in the general public.  Intensive confinement in harsh conditions, minimizing health care, and separating children from parents, for example, are routine in industries that practice eugenics and enslavement of nonhuman animals – cattle, chickens, dogs, pigs, turkeys, and others.  I’m not the only one who considers government treatment of many immigrants today crimes against humanity.  And although some protest is taking place, the news industry by and large is not saturating its pages, airwaves, and screens so that we respond collectively to the kind of thing that undermines the American Revolution, our democratic principles, and our innate human morality.

The solution is not merely to target racism, racist rhetoric, right-wing hate groups, or guns.  Those must be done, of course.  But it won’t be enough, as it has not been enough in the past – because it addresses symptoms, ignoring their root causes.

Words matter, as the expression goes.  And no defamation is more dangerous to humans than equating them with nonhuman animals, the targets of by far the longest and largest holocaust.  Speciesism doesn’t just perpetuate abuse of nonhuman animals; it is the foundation of racism and all ideologies that hold some humans less than others.

The Animal-Abuse Revolution dates back many tens of thousands of years to when humans started organizing to kill their natural predators with manufactured weapons.  Since that time, ever more kinds of animal have been victimized for instigators’ and perpetrators’ status, power, and wealth.  Animal abuse continues increasing under persistent speciesist ideology.  It has never diminished.  Consumer-capitalism’s most familiar adage advises that if you invent a better mouse trap, the [human] world will beat a path to your door.

What few people grasp, since civilization and its institutions indoctrinate all of us into speciesism and human supremacy from birth, is that no being is inherently unworthy of life.  Nature doesn’t generate inferior and superior beings, just an infinitely vast and complex web of life.  All beings are genetically interrelated, so when we defame, disparage, target, kill, and persecute other animals, we do those things to our relatives, however distant.  The most distantly related humans share 99.5 percent of each other’s genes, but mosquitos share 50 percent of our genes, bonobos and chimpanzees more than 98 percent, and all of the amazing fish, birds, mammals, and cephalopods a portion in between.

Treating nonhuman animals as evil, dispensable, not entitled to their natural homes, ecosystems, or fulfillment, subject to eugenics, enslavement, confinement, slaughter, mass killing, and cruelty hasn’t benefited human beings, as widely believed: It’s given us nearly all of our infectious and noncommunicable disease epidemics, pollution, climate breakdown, intensifying droughts, floods, and hurricanes, devastated landscapes, ocean dead zones, and other disasters.  A paradoxical consequence is ever more rationalization of animal abuse.  We must make it all appear good so the harm to ourselves, each other, and quadrillions of nonhuman victims is obscured.  How could we live with ourselves otherwise?

So all of us who would like to hold President Trump accountable for his violence-promoting rhetoric and eliminate racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and other invidious distinctions among humans must undermine speciesism.  FDR said that after World War II, “Third Reich” would have to be eradicated from the German mind.  To fulfill the promise of the American Revolution and our Constitution, restore the living world, and establish peace and justice, we must eradicate animal-abuse policy and culture and the rhetoric and ideology that sustain them.

  1. I coined the term “Animal-Abuse Revolution” in my December 2014 Dissident Voice article “Let’s Use the Brains Our Species Was Born With
  2. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy.  New York: Viking, 2010.
  3. Yanqi Xu, “Explaining the Numbers Behind the Rise in Reported Hate Crimes,” Politifact, April 3, 2019.

Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common

Writing under the title of “If the El Paso shooter had been Muslim”, Moustafa Bayoumi stated the obvious.

“If the El Paso shooter had been a Muslim,” Bayoumi wrote in the British Guardian newspaper on August 6, US President Donald Trump “would be lobbing accusations such as ‘Islam hates us’ in the direction of Muslims and not lecturing the public about video games.”

Bayoumi was referring to the double standards that define much of western official and media discourses regarding violence. When the alleged perpetrator of violence is a Muslim, then the case becomes a matter of national security and is categorically dealt with as an act of terrorism. When the perpetrator is a white male, however, it is a whole different story.

On August 3, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius carried out a mass shooting in a Wal-mart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 innocent people.

Neither US authorities nor media used the term “terrorism” in describing the heinous act. Instead, the Justice Department is “seriously considering” bringing federal hate crime charges against the killer, CNN reported.

On the other hand, Trump reasoned that “mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun,” in another attempt at whitewashing violent crimes by white individuals.

The “mental illness” explanation, in particular, has served as the convenient rationale for all similar violence.

For example, when 28-year-old Ilan Long opened fire on college students in Thousand Oaks, California, in November 2018, killing 12 people, Trump offered this logic. “He was a very, very mentally ill person,” he said, referring to Long. “He’s a very sick — well, it’s a mental health problem. He is a very sick puppy. He was a very, very sick guy.”

The mental illness argument was infused repeatedly, including last March, when Brenton Tarrant opened fire on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people.

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” Trump said of Tarrant’s anti-Muslim terrorist attack.

Compare this to Trump’s response to the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, which was blamed on two Muslims. Trump immediately assigned the word “terrorism” to the violent act, while calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.

But we do, in fact, know “what is going on”, a truth that goes beyond the typical western double standards. Crusius, Tarrant and many such white terrorists are connected through a deep bond that exceeds the supposed claim of mental illness into something truly sinister.

These individuals are all part of a larger phenomenon, an amalgamation of various ultra-nationalist governments, political movements and groups all around the world, all united by their hate for immigrants, refugees and Muslims.

Crusius and Tarrant were not “lone wolf” terrorists, as some would want us to believe. Even if they were single-handedly responsible for the mass murder of those innocent people, they are members of a large, ideological, militant network that is dedicated to spreading hate and racism, one which sees immigrants — especially Muslims — as “invaders”.

In his “manifesto”, a 74-page document that he posted online shortly before he carried out his heinous act, Tarrant references the far-right, the racist ideologues who inspired him, along with fellow “ethno-soldiers” — like-minded murderers who committed equally horrific acts against civilians.

It was not by accident that Tarrant named his document the “Great Replacement”, as it was framed after a similarly named conspiracy theory made popular by a strong Israel supporter, Renaud Camus.

Camus is an infamous French writer whose “Le Grand Remplacement”, an even more extreme interpretation of Francis Fukuyama’s Clash of Civilizations, envisages a global conflict that sees Muslims as the new enemy.

The Great Replacement, along with other such literature widely popular among the far right, represents the ideological foundation for the, until recently, disorganized and disconnected efforts by various ultra-nationalist movements around the world, all united in their desire to address the “Muslim invasion”.

The common thread between violent white males who commit mass killings is obvious: a deep indoctrination of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and hate for Muslims. Like Tarrant, Crusius also left his own manifesto, one that is, according to CNN, “filled with white nationalist and racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics, blaming immigrants and first-generation Americans for taking away jobs and the blending of cultures in the US”.

Moreover, both seemed to subscribe to the same intellectual discourse, as they had posted links to a 16,000-word document on Twitter and 8chan that was “filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments”.

“The writer of the document linked to the El Paso suspect expressed support for the shootings of two mosques in Christchurch,” CNN also reported.

White militants are gripped by the groundless fear that they are being “replaced”. “Great Replacement” promoters argue that Islam and the Islamic civilization are “ethnically replacing” other races, and that such a supposed phenomenon must be stopped, using violent means if necessary. Unsurprisingly, they see Israel as a model country that is succeeding in fighting against the “Muslim menace”.

What makes violent white supremacists even more dangerous is the fact that they now have friends in high places. Trump’s refusal to address the issue of white nationalist militancy in a serious way is no accident. But the American president is not alone. The rising star of Italian politics, Matteo Salvini, for example, has a great deal of sympathy for such movements. Following the Christchurch massacre, the Italian defense minister refused to condemn white extremists. Instead, he said: “The only extremism which should be carefully addressed is the Islamic one.”

The list of far-right ideologues and their benefactors is long and constantly expanding. But their hate-filled speech and disturbing “theories”, along with their fascination with Israeli violence and racism, would have been assigned to the bins of history if it were not for the high price of violence that is now associated with this movement.

Our understanding of white nationalist violence should move beyond the double-standard argument into a more wholesome analysis of the ideological links that tie these individuals and groups together. In the final analysis, no form of violence targeting innocent people should be justified or tolerated, regardless of the skin color, religion or identity of the perpetrators.

The Retainer Solution: The European Union, Libya and Irregular Migration

There is a venom in international refugee policy that refuses to go away: officials charged with their tasks, passing on their labours to those who might see the UN Refugee Convention as empty wording, rather than strict injunction carved upon stone.  They have all become manifest in the policy of deferral: humanitarian problems are for others to solve.  We will simply supply monetary assistance, the machinery, the means; the recipients, like time honoured servants, will do the rest.

The European Union, and some of its members, have their own idea of a glorified servant minding their business in North Africa.  The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is the pot of gold; the recipient is Libya, an important “transit country for migrants heading to Europe.”  Such a status makes Libya the main point of outsourced obligations associated with human traffic.  Using Libya supposedly achieves the objectives of the Joint Communication ‘Managing flows, saving lives’ (never pass up the chance to use weasel words) and the Malta Declaration.

In responding to the regional refugee crisis, the EU mires itself in the wording of bureaucracy, machine language meant to be inoffensive.  The first phase of the “Support to Integrated border and migration management in Libya” sounds like an allocation of mild tasks, a simple case of proper filing.  In summary, it “aims to strengthen the capacity of relevant Libyan authorities in the areas of border and migration management, including border control and surveillance, addressing smuggling and trafficking of human beings, search and rescue at sea and in the desert.”  A casual takeaway from this is that the EU is not merely being responsible but caring, assisting a country to, in turn assist migrants and refugees from making rash decisions, saving them when needed, and protecting them when required.

According to its unconvincing brief, “the EUTF for Africa pays particular attention to protection and assistance to migrants and their host communities in the country in order to increase their resilience.”  In arid language, there is lip-service paid to “support a migrant management and asylum in Libya that is consistent with the main international standards and human rights.”

Such documents conceal the appallingly dire situation of Libya as the sponsored defender of Europe against irregular arrivals.  Money sent is not necessarily money well spent.  Detention centres have become concentrations of corrupted desperation, its residents exploited, tormented and kidnapped.

Accounts of torture in such camps have made their way to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  In July 2018, Human Rights Watch paid a visit to four detention centres in Tripoli, Misrata and Zuwara.  The organisation found “inhumane conditions that included severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, poor quality food and water that has led to malnutrition, lack of adequate healthcare, and disturbing accounts of violence by guards, including beatings, whippings, and the use of electric shocks.”

The EUTF for Africa lacks human context; dull, bloodless policy accounts make little mention of cutthroat militias jousting for authority and the absence of coherent, stable governance.  In May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Charlie Yaxley claimed that the UNHCR was “in a race against time to urgently move refugees and migrants out of detention centres to safety, and we urge the international community to come forward with offers of evacuation.”

Such races have tended to be lost, and rather badly at that.  The militias are on the move, and one war lord eager to make an impression is Khalifa Haftar.  On July 3, some fifty people perished in an airstrike when two missiles hit a detention centre in Tripoli hosting 610 individuals.  The finger pointing, even as the centre continued to burn, was quick, with blame duly allocated: Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, and Libya’s UN-recognised and misnamed Government of National Accord (GNA) saw the hand of Haftar’s Libyan National Army.  The intended target, according to LNP general Khaled el-Mahjoub, had been the militia camp located in the Tajoura neighbourhood.

Salvini, for good measure, also saw another culprit in the undergrowth of responsibility. While the rest of the EU could not shy away from this “criminal attack”, France would prove an exception, given their “economic and commercial reasons” for supporting “an attack on civilian targets.”  Salvini is right, up to a point: France has an interest in supporting Haftar, given its interest in the eastern Libyan oilfields which he controls.  The EU continues to speak in harshly different voices, none of them particularly humanitarian.

The UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé suggested that the strike “clearly could constitute a war crime” having killed people “whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter.”  The envoy’s formulation was striking: it was not the fault of GNA authorities who had detained migrants near a military depot; nor did the EU harbour any responsibility for having ensured the conditions of “managed” traffic flow that had led to the creation of detention centres.

The debate that followed was all a matter of logistical semantics; the camps proved to be, yet again, areas of mortal danger and hardly up to the modest standards of the EU’s refugee policy. To add to the prospects of future butchery, 95 more people have been added to the Tajoura centre.  The cruel business has resumed.

Never Again: What about the Palestinians?

concentration camp: a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc., especially any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.1

The people seeking a new life in the United States are mainly an ethnic group commonly referred to as Latinos. Many of these migrants/asylum seekers are being fenced in detention centers with decidedly spartan conditions. Ergo, the affixation of the term concentration camp to the ICE detention centers seems unassailable according to dictionary definition. As to why Dictionary.com would inexplicably state “especially” Nazi camps is puzzling given that the Brits set up concentration camps during the Boer War at the end of the 19th century and the United States broke treaties and interred Indigenous peoples. In fact, many countries, Canada included, operated concentration camps contemporaneously with or prior to Nazi Germany.

To argue about which camps are/were concentration camps and which camps are/were most horrible is nugatory. To be explicit, all concentration camps are an abomination, including the ICE detention centers filled with outside-the-US arrivals.

On 18 July, the Real News’s Mark Steiner interviewed Molly Amster of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) about “Jews across the country” organizing and protesting the detention of the people entering the US.

That is commendable. Equally commendable are the other people who identify just as people and not a particular religious, gender, ethnic affiliation and who demonstrate and speak out against injustices.

A fundamental principle of respect for human rights must be freedom of movement. National borders impinge on such a right. Everyone is a human being. For a nation to deny other human beings2 onto what it claims is its territory is fundamentally a rejection of the humanity of the Other; but more fundamentally, at its core, it is an overt denial of the rejecting nation’s own adherence to humanitarian principles.

This video, though, hints at a possible wider ethnocentrism. One might wonder why identify as “Jews United for Justice” and not “People United for Justice” or on a national level as “Americans United for Justice”?

At first blink, people concerned about the hideous treatment of those held in ICE detention centers will praise these Jews for their courage to protest. Because as one JUFJ protestor exhorts his cohort in the TRNN video, “We are calling on our people to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE.” (emphasis added)

Our people? Does that mean other people, non-Jews, are not invited to join and “put their bodies on the line”? JUFJ informed me by email that non-Jews are welcome to join their organization.

Never Again

Absolutely, never again should one group of humans treat another group of humans inhumanely. Hence, anyone who identifies as a human and who believes in human rights should stand up for human rights applied to all humans.

On the homepage of Jews United for Justice is a slogan: “THINK JEWISHLY. ACT LOCALLY.” What does “Think Jewishly” mean? Do Zionist Jews think Jewishly? Do the rabbis think Jewishly? Does Benjamin Netanyahu think Jewishly? Does Noam Chomsky think Jewishly? Why not “Think humanely?” It is quite clear in its meaning: think like a human by showing compassion for other humans.

Rebecca Ennen of JUFJ replied:

For us, ‘Think Jewishly’ means that we’re driven, individually and organizationally, by a variety of Jewish traditions, identities, values, and commitments, as diverse as the range of people in our community. We draw on those traditions and values to motivate our local action and we show up proudly as Jews and a Jewish community. Obviously, ‘thinking Jewishly’ means different things to different people and we welcome the creativity and vitality this brings. For some (non-exhaustive!) examples of the Jewish that motivate our community, see pages 5-6 of our 2018 strategic plan (https://jufj.org/strategic-plan/), co-created by our leaders.

There is nothing inherently wrong with identifying with a group as long as the group one affiliates with does not discriminate against or denigrate out-group people, and as long as the in-group acts according to moral principles. The principles laid out in the strategic plan of JUFJ come across as well-intentioned.

So JUFJ acts on principle by demonstrating against the ICE detentions of non-Americans.

What about the Palestinians?

I asked, “I know your slogan is ‘Think Jewishly. Act Locally,’ but has Jews United for Justice a stated position regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine, especially in light of the ‘Never again’ (which I agree with) spoken at the demos against ICE detentions? If not, shouldn’t Jews United for Justice press the US government on this issue because it is deeply an American issue as well?”

Ennen replied:

JUFJ works at the local and state level in DC and Maryland on issues of racial, economic, and social justice. People in our community have a very wide range of views on the issues of Palestine and Israel, and many of our community members also take part in a wide range of other organizations that work on those issues.

For me, Ennen completely skirted the occupation of Palestine issue. Among the Jewish Values listed on page 5 of the strategic plan is “Emancipation from Oppression.” The occupation of historical Palestine is rooted in racism towards the indigenous people of Palestine. Professor Noam Chomsky wrote, “Contempt for the Arab population is deeply rooted in Zionist thought.”3 Chomsky is also clear that one should above all agitate against the violence of one’s own state.4 However, JUFJ identify overtly as Jews and not as Americans. Acting locally seems to provide an out for JUFJ. But at the local level, the JUFJ could, for example, pledge support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or oppose the US government’s embassy move to Jerusalem in violation of UNGA 181, or oppose the US billions of dollars going to support an apartheid state.

Similar things happening

Molly Amster of JUFJ seems unaware of the atrocities being committed against Palestinians by Jews. Amster said of the ICE raids, “But to see these things happening that we actually really never thought would happen again to another group of people, and seeing it be so similar — the messages of other, the messages of, you know, these are not only other, but not human.” (emphasis added)

How can an otherwise informed Jew be unaware of state-sanctioned Jewish settler encroachment upon more and more Palestinian territory, destroying Palestinian agriculture, poisoning the water, etc.? About the illegal separation wall, much of it built on the Palestinian land? About the tens of thousands of Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel since 1967?5 About the intentional, indiscriminate killing of Palestinians?

Conclusion

These similar things have been happening ever since the drive to form a Jewish state in historical Palestine. By all means stand up and speak up for the humans arriving at the US border. But when Jews are mute about war crimes committed by a group that also identify as Jews, by a people living in the Jewish state, then it appears as if the good deeds performed under the same group affiliation serves as propagandistic and as a distraction from the occupation and horrific oppression heaped on the Other.

If you are opposed to oppression, then the principled stand is to oppose all oppression; especially, one has a duty to oppose oppression carried out in the name of a group one chooses to affiliate with.

  1. Dictionary.com
  2. There are certainly grounds for keeping certain individuals outside a society such as a record of having committed dangerous crimes.
  3. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Pluto Press, 1999): 481.
  4. “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” In Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).
  5. “Israel is the only government in the entire world that detains children through military courts with a near 100 percent conviction rate.” See Whitney Webb, “50,000 Palestinian Children Imprisoned by Israeli Kangaroo Courts Since 1967,” Mint Press News, 29 April 2019.

Truth, Lies, and Will Van Spronsen

I have lost track of the number of times in the past few days that I have been told by openly fascist YouTube viewers that I deserve a bullet in my head for writing my most recent song.

It’s been a pretty busy week. It’s always a busy week when you have a small child, much more so if you have two of them. And then along with my wife and teenage daughter I’ve been attempting to keep a small cafe going, with all the multitude of little tasks this entails for all of us, it becomes much busier. So this four-day visit to Sweden on my own that I’m currently in the midst of, although it involves two five-hour drives and two concerts, actually feels like a vacation.

My two days in between gigs here at an all-ages communist summer camp north of Gothenburg have allowed me a little time not only to spend an evening puttering around the fjord in a boat with my friend Bo, a retired dockworker and dedicated red from Gothenburg, and to hang out with a great bunch of Swedish bluegrass musicians, one of whom writes for the communist newspaper, Proletarian (interview with me coming up in the next edition), but to catch up on the death threats on YouTube.

Nobody here talks about it, at least no one has brought it up with me, but the massacre in Norway occurred at a left wing summer camp very much like this one, only a few hundred kilometers away, only eight years ago. I was in Oslo only a couple weeks after that, and I wrote a song about it. Probably because I named the song after the killer, the video got seen by a lot of the killer’s fans who had been searching online for other like-minded people, and they were horrified by the content of the song, once they discovered it was not in support of mass murder, and there were many comments from people who made it clear they thought I and all others like me should meet the same fate as all those people on the island of Utoya.

So something about being at another left wing summer camp in Scandinavia and receiving multiple death threats on YouTube is unnerving. But, of course, they’re not really death threats. Or are they? That I deserve a bullet in my head is the popular refrain among a certain crowd. This is the preferred imagery of the week, as opposed to a gas chamber or a firing squad, because of what happened last weekend, and the song I wrote about it.

In the scheme of things, the song is pretty irrelevant to the overall debate, having been heard by not more than a few thousand people. But it’s enough of a sample to glean a few things from, anyway.

It began when I saw an Associated Press report about a man being killed outside of an ICE detention center in Tacoma, Washington. Hours after I saw this report, I started getting messages from friends, acquaintances and comrades of the deceased from Washington State, mostly saying they didn’t know exactly what happened, but that the police report was probably inaccurate, as they often are. Several people wrote to tell me I needed to write a song about what happened, and others just tagged me on Twitter, saying that they expected I’d be writing one soon.

I had already been working on the song after reading the AP report, or at least working on the initial stages in the process, which in this case is the same basic process as for journalists, gathering more information. I found and read Will Van Spronsen’s moving statement that he sent to friends before he did what he did, and I listened to much of his music, as he was, I learned, a songwriter. His last album was recorded at the studio of a mutual friend in Olympia.

I’m sure I was in the same place at the same time as Will on multiple occasions over the course of decades, but I don’t recall whether we ever had a conversation. We had many of the same friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. What Will did was what so many anti-fascists over the generations have talked about doing, and that many have also, in fact, done, in so many different scenarios, such as in and around Germany during the Third Reich. He may have had multiple reasons for doing what he did aside from the obvious one, but that doesn’t matter. What he did was he sacrificed his life in order to at least symbolically throw his body into the gears of the machine, to maybe stop it from running for at least a few minutes. His intent seems clearly to have been to destroy as many buses as possible before he would be killed. The buses were those used to deport unwanted refugees. Many of these refugees, as we all should know, will be deported to their deaths, as have so many others, since they were actually fleeing in many cases because they found themselves on a hit list of one sort or another, in their native countries.

These sorts of deportations are happening all the time, of course, but what was a bit different about last weekend was Trump’s announcement of the raids. We all knew they were coming, and Will acted one day before they were to commence (if ICE had followed through with their plans as announced).

I am personally not about to go do something like what Will did last weekend, for a whole lot of different reasons. But it’s obvious that the action he took falls into the category of an attempt to sabotage the machinery of deportation, at least temporarily. The consequences of this kind of sabotage are often death. Such as when Dutch munitions workers left the gunpowder out of the bullets that were going to the front lines of the Nazi war effort in Russia. They were all deported to death camps once their righteous act of sabotage was discovered. I’m sure these Dutch workers were also called terrorists – it was a popular term back then, too, because the western media had coined the phrase “the Nazi Terror” at the time, to describe the atmosphere of fear that Nazi rule had instilled in anyone who wasn’t a rabid supporter of fascism.

Of course, there were many rabid supporters of fascism back then, too. Many people who thought those munition workers were, in fact, terrorists who should be sent to death camps for their crimes. If munitions workers in the US sabotaged things at Honeywell like that and US soldiers ended up dying in Afghanistan as a result, you can be sure there would be many people saying the same sorts of things, and the workers might even meet a similar fate – if not death camps, probably death row. But, of course, the US isn’t Nazi Germany. Or is it?

“Send her back,” chant the crowds. Pretty much exactly the same chant from the fascist throngs across America that Nazis like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford spoke to, saying exactly the same things, at a time when my own European relatives were being prevented from coming to the US by xenophobic laws aimed specifically at eastern and southern Europeans – the undesirable Europeans. Xenophobic laws passed and enforced over decades mainly by Democrats, incidentally.

We are rapidly moving towards an overtly fascist state. If Trump is elected again, perhaps it’s time to get the family out while there’s still the chance. But I think it’s so important to recognize that the reason we are in this situation is because of generations of mis-rule by both parties, generations of corruption, generations of the basic needs of the people being ignored or used for political games, without ever being addressed. And now a whole generation that is poorer and dying younger than their parents, a skyrocketing housing crisis to add to so many other very real crises.

Part of the mis-rule has been in the form of mis-education, or what the Marxists call false consciousness. That the Trump supporters believe Will Van Spronsen was a terrorist and that I should also be killed for being an anti-fascist, along with all other anti-fascists, doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from people who have been told, for generations, by not just the right wing media but by the mainstream media and by their teachers in school and in so many other ways, that America is a welcoming land for immigrants, the land of opportunity, if people play by the rules they can achieve anything, and those who don’t play by the rules deserve to be punished and they’re up to no good. We are never told about refugees or about the consequences of our country’s foreign policy. In fact, we are consistently lied to from most quarters, told our country helps other countries around the world with its foreign aid and its foreign wars, and we’re generally not appreciated for it. Why they chant “death to America” all over the world every day is never explained. The sources of the resentment are never made clear, but a smokescreen of nonsense about people resenting our supposed prosperity, freedom and democracy is on constant display, coming from both parties’ incessantly flag-waving leaderships, and most corners of the media and educational systems, public and private.

A friend once said in his opinion, ten minutes of truth can counteract 24 hours of lies. I believe that that ratio is accurate. But ten minutes of truth cannot counteract 48 hours of lies. The ratio needs to be there, it’s not magic, truth isn’t infinitely more powerful than lies. It’s much, much more powerful, but not infinitely. Reading one book by Howard Zinn can cure an entire year of mis-education in high school, but to cure you of another year of it, you still have to read yet more books, to continually seek out knowledge, or you will fall victim to the constant disinformation campaigns we are all being assaulted by on a daily basis, from so many corners that it can be very overwhelming and confusing for a whole lot of people.

I remain convinced that most of these people who say I should have a bullet in my head are not bad people, but are victims of generations of misinformation, bad education, and propaganda. They seem to think I’m a Democrat, for Pete’s sake. They don’t know the difference between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Fidel Castro, and most of them, in addition to being profoundly ignorant, are also deeply homophobic. I believe if these people listened to my podcast every week, I could change most of them. But they’re not going to be doing that, it doesn’t work that way.

Many of the minority of viewers who posted these sorts of comments had handles that made their adherence to Adolf Hitler clear to anyone who knows what kinds of names fascists like to use online. When it comes to fascists, as you may or may not already know, “88” does not refer to the number of keys on a piano, for example. Of course, I don’t know which of them are real people, the same people, intelligence operatives for one country or another, or most likely all of the above.

However, for those of you YouTube commenters of any political persuasion who are real people and want to have an actual conversation about politics, history or Will Van Spronsen’s motivations, where we listen to each other and refrain from using adjectives or making references to each other’s imminent and violent demise, my phone number is in the book. And I won’t call you a Nazi if you don’t call me a liberal.

My fellow Americans and all you other people, too, this is David Rovics, signing out for this week. In the podcast version of this missive, the song I wrote about Will, the Time to Act, should start playing momentarily.

This machine burns buses.

Manus, Nauru and an Australian Detention Legacy

It could be called a gulag mentality, though it finds form in different ways.  In the defunct Soviet Union, it was definitive of life: millions incarcerated, garrisons of forced labour, instruments of the proletarian paradise fouled.  Gulag literature suggested another society, estranged and removed from civilian life, channelled into an absent universe.  Titles suggested as much: Gustaw Herling’s work was titled A World Apart; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago likewise suggested societies marooned from the broader social project.  But these were intrinsic to the bricks and mortar, in many cases quite literally, of the Soviet state.

In the case of countries supposedly priding themselves in the lotteries of exaggerated freedom, the influence of this carceral mentality is less obvious but still significant.  In Australia, where offshore processing of naval arrivals and its own offerings of gulag culture were made, six years has passed since Nauru and Manus Island became outposts of indefinite detention.

During the years, legislation has been passed encasing these outposts in capsules of secrecy, superficially protected by island sovereignty.  Whistleblowing has been criminalised; concerned doctors have been expelled; suicides, sexual assault and psychological mutilations have been normalised in the patchwork monstrosity that involves compromised local officials, private security firms and funding from the Australian tax payer.

A most obvious consequence of this is the cultivation of a thuggish lack of accountability.  Australian politicians keen to visit the handiwork of their government have been rebuffed.  Greens Senator Nick McKim had been trying to splash out some publicity on the anniversary, paying a visit to Manus Island.  He noted a deterioration in conditions since his 2017 visit.

On Thursday, he was approached by two immigration officials who informed him that he would be deported.  He had been attempting to see East Lorengau camp, was denied entry, and his passport confiscated.  To SBS News, he expressed his disappointment “that they are threatening to deport me because I am here to expose the truth about the treatment of refugees, to lift the veil of secrecy that’s been draped over Australia’s offshore detention regime.”

A mistake is made in assuming clear dates of commencement in terms of a distinct Australian approach.  Australia was, after all, itself a penal colony, an experiment in distant punishment and obsessive control.  It made, in turn, prisoners of the indigenous population.  Brutally, its various authorities relocated individuals to missions, camps and compounds.  A paternal mentality, one that has never left, took hold: we know what is best for you, be it the Bible or the dog tag. Infantilism, exploitation and dispossession thrived as mentalities.

Despite being an active participant in the post-war movement to establish an international refugee regime protecting human rights, Australian approaches have remained, as immigration law specialist Mary Crock puts it, “controlled and highly selective.”  For decades, Australian administrators and decision makers remained unperturbed by jurisprudence relevant to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951.  The country’s isolation, its continental expanse, and not sharing land borders, have offered governments an unparalleled luxury: “the ability to achieve near perfect control of immigration.”

During the 1960s, Manus Island was set up to take refugees from West Papua.  Salasia Camp, located near the current Lombrom detention centre, was established to isolate a certain number of West Papuan notables who had irked the Indonesian state’s efforts in claiming the former Dutch New Guinea colony.  Australia, not wanting to aggravate their Indonesian counterparts in providing safe havens for West Irian rebels, kept matters quiet, sometimes turning back refugees while offering “permissive residence” visas to others.

Not that the officials of Papua New Guinea were thrilled: thousands of West Papuans who made their way fleeing conflict between the rebels of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (West Papua Freedom Movement) and the Indonesian military were left without PNG citizenship for five decades.

The arrival of Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing in the aftermath of the country’s re-unification in the 1970s saw Australian officials flirt with variants of offshore processing.  The 1978 system established in response to these arrivals ensured a monopoly on the part of the immigration minister to determine the refugee status of arrivals. Lawyers and advisors were given a distant second billing in the role.  In the words of Professor Crock, “The regional processing regime established right across Southeast Asia was predicated on an offshore processing-type idea; stopping asylum seekers where they are, processing them there, and distributing them in an orderly fashion.”

There was the Tampa-Pacific solution orchestrated by Prime Minister John Howard in 2001; there was the re-commencement in fits and starts under dysfunctional, catty Labor governments: the Gillard administration reinstated offshore processing in 2012, while Kevin Rudd added his icing by insisting that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would ever be settled in Australia.  But the earth had already been disturbed, the mind oriented, towards cruelty in the name of necessity.

While refugees tend to be the fodder of periodic periods of demonization, there are many reminders about a condition that Australia has made its own.  Some of this features in the talismanic, urgently desperate writing of the Iranian-Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani.  In 2018, Hoda Afshar snapped a picture showing Boochani as a Christ-like figure, seemingly awaiting crucifixion.  Her subject chose to see it differently.  “I only see a refugee, someone whose identity has been taken from him.  Just bare life, standing beyond the borders of Australia, waiting and staring.”

The Australian Book Review has offered a Behrouz Boochani Fellowship worth $10,000, funded by lawyer and philanthropist Peter McMullin.  In of itself, it suggests the absurd condition that is offshore processing, a state of mind that now draws funding for analysis, for commitment, for understanding.  Having become as ordinary as the insufferably ugly Australian Hills Hoist, or bountiful cask wine, it will not be leaving any time too soon, itself a disfigurement rendered natural.

Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis

History never truly retires. Every event of the past, however inconsequential, reverberates throughout and, to an extent, shapes our present, and our future as well

The haunting image of the bodies of Salvadoran father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who were washed ashore at a riverbank on the Mexico-US border cannot be understood separately from El Salvador’s painful past.

Valeria’s arms were still wrapped around her father’s neck, even as both lay, face down, dead on the Mexican side of the river, ushering the end of their desperate and, ultimately, failed attempt at reaching the US. The little girl was only 23-months-old.

Following the release of the photo, media and political debates in the US focused partly on Donald Trump’s administration’s inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. For Democrats, it was a chance at scoring points against Trump, prior to the start of presidential election campaigning. Republicans, naturally, went on the defensive.

Aside from a few alternative media sources, little has been said about the US role in Oscar and Valeria’s deaths, starting with its funding of El Salvador’s “dirty war” in the 1980s. The outcome of that war continues to shape the present, thus the future of that poor South American nation.

Oscar and Valeria were merely escaping ‘violence’ and the drug wars in El Salvador, many US media sources reported, but little was said of the US government’s support of El Salvador’s brutal regimes in the past as they battled Marxist guerrillas. Massive amounts of US military aid was poured into a country that was in urgent need for true democracy, basic human rights and sustainable economic infrastructure.

Back then, the US “went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador,” wrote Raymond Bonner in the Nation. “The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.”

These crimes, included the butchering of 700 innocent people, many of them children, by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, in the northeastern part of the country. Leaving El Salvador teetering between organized criminal violence and the status of a failed state, the US continued to use the country as a vassal for its misguided foreign policy to this day. Top US diplomats, like Elliott Abraham, who channeled support to the Salvadoran regime in the 1980s carried on with a successful political career, unhindered.

To understand the tragic death of Oscar and Valeria in any other way would be a dishonest interpretation of a historical tragedy.

The dominant discourse on the growing refugee crisis around the world has been shaped by this deception. Instead of honestly examining the roots of the global refugee crisis, many of us often oscillate between self-gratifying humanitarianism, jingoism or utter indifference. It is as if the story of Oscar and Valeria began the moment they decided to cross a river between Mexico and the US, not decades earlier. Every possible context before that decision is conveniently dropped.

The politics of many countries around the world have been shaped by the debate on refugees, as if basic human rights should be subject to discussion. In Italy, the ever-opportunistic Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has successfully shaped a whole national conversation around refugees.

Like other far-right European politicians, Salvini continues to blatantly manipulate collective Italian fear and discontent regarding the state of their economy by framing all of the country’s troubles around the subject of African migrants and refugees. 52% of Italians believe that migrants and refugees are a burden to their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

Those who subscribe to Salvini’s self-serving logic are blinded by far-right rhetoric and outright ignorance. To demonstrate this assertion, one only needs to examine the reality of Italian intervention in Libya, as part of the NATO war on that country in March 2011.

Without a doubt, the war on Libya, justified on the basis of a flawed interpretation of United Nations Resolution 1973, was the main reason behind the surge of refugees and migrants to Italy, en-route to Europe.

According to the Migration Policy Center, prior to the 2011 war, “outward migration was not an issue for the Libyan population.” This changed, following the lethal NATO war on Libya, which pushed the country squarely into the status of failed states.

Between the start of the war on March 19 and June 8, 2011, 422,912 Libyans and 768,372 foreign nationals fled the country, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Many of those refugees sought asylum in Europe. Salvini’s virulent anti-refugee discourse is bereft of any reference to that shameful, self-indicting reality.

In fact, Salvini’s own Lega party was a member of the Italian coalition which took part in NATO’s war on Libya. Not only is Salvini refusing to acknowledge his country’s role in fostering the current refugee crisis, but he is designating as an ‘enemy‘ humanitarian GOs that are active in rescuing stranded refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHRC), an estimated 2,275 people drowned while attempting to cross to Europe in 2018 alone. Thousands of precious lives, like those of Oscar and Valeria, would have been spared, had NATO not intervened on the pretext of wanting to save lives in Libya in 2011.

According to UNHRC, as of June 19, 2019, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; of them, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, while 25.9 million are refugees who crossed international borders.

Yet, despite the massive influx of refugees, and the obvious logic between political meddling (as in El Salvador) and military intervention (as in Libya), no western government is yet to accept any moral – let alone legal – accountability for the massive human suffering underway.

Italy, France, Britain, and other NATO members who took part in bombing Libya in 2013 are guilty of fueling today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Similarly, the supposedly random ‘violence’ and drug wars in El Salvador must be seen within the political context of misguided American interventionism. Were it not for such violent interventions, Oscar, Valeria and millions of innocent people would have still been alive today.