Courage, Community, Compassion

Life - Wow, what a ride!

So far we’ve seen Donald Trump launch hate speech against Muslims, the disabled, women, Mexicans, peacemakers,  workers and anyone standing up to his fascist agenda. But hey! he has to check out the Ku Klux Klan who endorsed him because, ummm, he’s not certain about their credentials. Is this guy thick or what? The KKK are notorious for their bigotry, racism and murderous activities so when Trump doesn’t condemn them out of hand – as President Reagan did when they endorsed him back in 1984 – he’s bottom trawling (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) the murky waters of racism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia. (But let’s not also forget the Reagan got the KKK stamp of approval because of his anti-union attitude, his welfare-bashing and similar dog-whistling on race.)

I’m Australian. I remember when John Howard, when Prime Minister of Australia, started dog-whistling on race and ethnic origin. First it was Aboriginal people who had – rightly and justifiably – talked about The Stolen Generations (black children taken from their families supposedly to better their lives but with the intent of wiping out Aboriginal existence and culture) and which Howard labelled “black armband approach to history”.

And then Howard called asylum seekers and refugees legitimately seeking refuge in Australia “illegals”, accused them falsely of throwing their children in the water from boats trying to reach Australia, and started the process of demonising desperate people who, of course, happened to be a different colour to the majority of Australian people. Could anyone seriously imagine that boats with white refugees from South Africa or Zimbabwe would be treated the same way? Howard’s incitement of racism and prejudice kicked off Federal and State attacks on any progress made by Aboriginal groups on land rights and human rights, and also kickstarted the process of incarcerating those seeking compassion and kindness from Australia in concentration camps  on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru.

That’s why Donald Trump is dangerous, divisive and utterly contemptible. He is the love-child of all those Republic leaders who have denigrated the first black president of the United States since his first election,  who have deliberately and wantonly sabotaged any decision by Obama and the Democrats in the past eight years or so and who have pursued a white supremacist, racist, misognynist, anti-worker, homophobic agenda.

Nor are the Democrats free of criticism given the way so many of them cravenly tried to distance themselves from the president instead of standing up to the racism, bullying and thuggery of Republican leaders at a Federal and State level.

That’s why Pastor Niemoeller’s words are as valid in the US as they were in Nazi Germany. Those of us who live outside the United States need to support the courageous people in the US standing up for decency, tolerance, peace, a just society, and against the Establishment forces trying to perpetuate their enrichment of the minority at the expense of the great majority.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • Pastor Martin Niemoeller, Activist in Nazi German

Hearts Aloud against Injustice

Deborah's Double Delight

R.I.P.

Michael Brown

Eric Garner

Tamir Rice

Akai Gurley

All the black American women killed extra-judicially by police in the US but who remain anonymous and disrespected because of their sex.

All black victims of US police violence

Aboriginal people who have died in custody in Australia or been killed extra-judicially

All victims of racial profiling – US, UK, Australia

(I haven’t mentioned white victims of violence in this post because the issue in question is the fact that black people in the US, the UK and Australia face institutionalised racism in a way not experienced by white people.)

I was castigated recently on Facebook by a Republican supporter living in the south of the United States for daring to comment critically on events in the U.S. But I am old enough to have grown up in the shadow of Nazi Germany when too many countries turned a blind eye to the mass killings in the concentration camps or refused refugees from Nazi Germany. I recall the photos in the newspapers taken in Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and many more death camps of the skeletons of those who died in those hell holes and the living skeletons of those who survived this appalling evil.

We live in an international world these days – wherever injustice now occurs, people around the world are aware of those injustices.  I believe it is my duty as a citizen of the world to stand up, speak out and be counted as much as I am able when social injustice occurs. I hope that if social injustice occurs to me, I will have people standing at my back too. Because we don’t belong to one country. We belong to the world. I may live in North Cyprus but I abide by the following three precepts:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

– John Donne –

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Pastor Niemoeller on Nazi Germany

(Pastor Niemoeller could also have included gypsies, the mentally and physically disabled, communists, persons of religion who opposed Nazism,  Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, who ended up in Nazi concentration camps)

  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

British statesman, Edmund Burke

Where is the Love?

Stories get lost in the mists of time, but today I want to recall the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939. This was a ship which was carrying Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to, they hoped, freedom and safety in Cuba. Sadly, the refugees on the St Louis were turned away when the ship reached Cuba, and the United States and Canada refused to accept the refugees.

Where was the love?

On the ship’s return to Europe, some refugees were able to find refuge in Holland, France, the UK and Belgium. Of the 937 German Jewish refugees on the St. Louis, 709 survived while 227 were slain during World War 2.  A book was published about the journey called “The Voyage of the Damned” and the whole story can be found here:

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/stlouis.html

In 2011, a memorial monument called the Wheel of Conscience, was produced by the Canadian Jewish Congress. It has four inter-meshing gears each showing a word to represent factors of exclusion: antisemitism; xenophobia; racism, and hatred.

To present times: in Australia refugees and asylum seekers are being held in appalling conditions in concentration camps on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and on Nauru. I use the term “concentration camps” advisedly because people are not referred to by name but by number (I recalled seeing a concentration camp number tattooed on the arm of a survivor when I lived and worked in Israel in 1972) and they exist in squalid, brutal conditions.

They are told they are illegals – they aren’t. They are entitled to claim asylum when they land on Australia’s shores. They can’t claim asylum in Indonesia or Malaysia because those countries aren’t signatories to the International Convention on Refugees, Australia is. They have fled from fighting and persecution in Afghanistan, Iraq (due to wars in which the Australian government participated), Sri Lanka and now Syria. Around ninety-five per cent of asylum seekers and refugees who arrive by boat are found to be genuine in their claims.

And now the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, has announced that new rules will be brought in to ensure that if people have a 50% chance of being tortured on their on their return to their home country, they will be sent back. Who determines the torture odds hasn’t been stated.

Where is the love?

Both major political parties in Australia have waged dreadful campaigns of xenophobia, racism and hatred against asylum seekers and refugees. A recent survey of public opinion found that 71% of respondents approved of the incarceration of these people on Manus Island and Nauru, and indeed wanted harsher measures.  Which brings into question – because this is the majority viewpoint, does it make it right?

So again, I ask: Where is the love?

Doubtless, a great majority of Germans in World War 2, if public opinion polls had existed then, would have overwhelmingly approved of the harsh treatment of Jewish people and their incarceration in concentration camps, complete with ovens for the large-scale slaughter of Jews.

But that did not make it right then, and it does not make the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers right now.

Hatred, prejudice, xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, hardened hearts are crimes against humanity. They have dragged Australia’s reputation as a country with an open heart and support for those willing to have a go into the mud.

So my question is again: Where is the Love?

There are, thankfully, many people and organisations in Australia who are appalled by the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and who are working in difficult circumstances to win justice and fair treatment of those fleeing persecution and conflict.

So for them, I say They Are the Love, and this rose is dedicated to them and to those who seek asylum, safety and freedom from conflict wherever they happen to be around the world.

All You Need is Love

“Help” sung by John  Farnham:

 

 

My Social Justice Mantras

A couple of blogs back I wrote about social justice and human rights, so I thought I’d just pop into this blog the two mantras which motivate me.

The first one, very often quoted, is from Pastor Martin Niemoeller who was a German pastor and theologian. Initially he supported Hiter’s rise to power but he subsequently became disillusioned. He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. In 1937 he was arrested and eventually confined in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. He was released by the Allied Forces in 1945 and, according to Wikipedia: “continued his career in Germany as a clergyman and as a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people after World War 11”.

These words have great meaning for me because I was a kid in the post-war period when many of the atrocities carried out by the SS in particular were talked about in great detail. I remember coming across a book, hidden by my parents but with a child’s curiosity I found it.  In it were photos of concentration camps, bodies of inmates piled one on top of the other, rows upon rows of skeletal figures only just alive, and one photo I remember in particular, that of a Jewish man in whose cheek had been carved out a star, as in the yellow star Jews were forced to wear to demonstrate their Jewish origins.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

  Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

 Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Not mentioned here are the gypsies, homosexuals, intellectually or physically handicapped, students – anyone who opposed the Nazi regime or who didn’t fit the image of the superior white perfect German – who were also interned and butchered or gassed in concentration camps.

The other poem which is my touchstone is by the poet, John Donne:

“Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,

it tolls for thee.”

As I said in my previous blog, the fact I’m a Libran with my Ascendant in Libra inspires my passion for social justice. But this has also been fuelled by my early memories of the atrocities carried out in war-time by the Nazi parties and those in Italy and Japan who espoused the same philosophies of racial superiority. I’m also aware that very many were courageous and resisted fascist philosophies, and I hope their courage and bravery, many times at the expense of their own lives is never forgotten because they remind us that evil flourishes when good people don’t stand up and speak, but many, many had the courage to stand up for what they believed was right and good.

Be Courageous