John HoWARd, Fun-da-mentalist, Playing with Fire

    “I like your Christ, [but] I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”

    Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)

    And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.

It seems that that the sheer hypocrisy of HoWARd and his Government really does know no bounds.

Despite constant whinging and whining about the supposedly unique virtues of ‘Australia’ and the preciousness of ‘Australian values’ — coupled with angwy denunciations of those who would supposedly imperil them — in the same week that David Hicks celebrated his fifth year of imprisonment in the torture camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, HoWARd has found the time to pwe-wecord a vewy special message for the benefit of local Christian fun-da-mentalist sect Catch the Fire, whose prosecution and conviction for religious vilification of Muslims, since overturned on appeal, generated much discussion.

Hello there.

I am delighted to send my good wishes to everyone attending the 2007 United Prayer meeting. Today is, of course, Australia Day.

It’s a time when we celebrate the freedom and privileges we enjoy as citizens of a great, prosperous and peaceful nation – so blessed with an abundance of natural beauty.

It’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to shared values and our abiding loyalty to our nation, Australia. Christianity has been an enormous force for good and has done more than anything else to shape the lives, not only of millions of Australians, but the character of our nation.

I congratulate Catch the Fire Ministries for bringing Christians from many denominations together for this celebration and I wish you all [a] very happy Australia Day.

Your prayers for our nation are deeply appreciated.

But not as much as their votes, of course, or their many other contributions (alongside other fun-da-mentalist sects such as the Exclusive Brethren) as foot-soldiers in a cultural war against the social forces that oppose HoWARd’s political agenda for this “great, prosperous and peaceful nation” — including that “abundance of natural beauty” which HoWARd seeks to completely denude, not least through massively amplifying its uranium mining and — God-willing — nuclear power industries.

Hallelujah!

Peace & Prosperity

One might be forgiven for thinking that Australia was indeed a ‘peaceful’ nation, were it not for the fact that ‘we’ are currently at war: with the people of Iraq. And in this war, the HoWARd Government has distinguished itself by being the most loyal of President Bush’s foreign allies, bar none. Thus while the Australian military presence in Iraq is relatively tiny, on the world’s political stage, HoWARd’s status as loyal lackey to US state power is notorious. So too, the HoWARd Government’s complete and utter abandonment of one its own citizens to continuing torture by foreign soldiers: another case of Australian ‘exceptionalism’ joining with American.

Most recently, Adelaide private schoolboy and Australian League of Rights (ALOR) alumnus Alexander Downer has again been caught with his pants down, in this case for claiming that lies issuing from a US Embassy official in Canberra (Nance Haxtonis, US Embassy official identified as source of Hicks information, PM, January 19, 2007) constitutes firm evidence regarding Hicks’ perilous mental state. Previous to this latest political debacle, Downer distinguished himself by signing a pact (November 13, 2006) with the Indonesian Government intended to further the efforts of both Governments to destroy independence movements within the (claimed) territories of Australia’s northern neighbour: especially those of the (overwhelmingly Christian and Melanesian) population of West Papua.

Natural Beauty

As Jeff Sparrow has documented elsewhere, Pastor Danny Nalliah, like Downer, is an ALOR alumnus, addressing a meeting of the tired old racists in Albury-Wodonga in 2005. His comrades on the podium on that occasion included a vewy special foreign guest: Canadian professional Holocaust denier Paul Fromm. (Whom, incidentally, addressed gatherings of the Australia First Party on the same tour.)

Among its other activities, Nalliah and Catch the Fire specialise in denouncing Islam, their activities in this regard supported by the (no-doubt deeply appreciated) racist and sexist utterances of a number of local Islamic clerics. One, Sheikh Feiz Mohammed, the head of some mob called the ‘Global Islamic Youth Centre’ in Sydney, has recently come under the (national and international) public spotlight for releasing a DVD in which he describes Jews as pigs, and encourages Muslims to wage jihad (Radical Islamic cleric sparks outrage in Australia, AP, International Herald Tribune, January 17, 2007). And, in what is becoming his personal trademark, “Keysar Trad, head of the Islamic Friendship Association, said the jihad remarks might have been misinterpreted, but he conceded that they were not helpful to Australian Muslims”. Duh. (Australia Cleric: Remarks Misinterpreted, Meraiah Foley [AP], The Guardian, January 19, 2007.)

    Pigs are intelligent creatures, by the way. “They are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal, and affectionate. When in their natural surroundings, not on factory farms, they are social, playful, protective animals who bond with each other, make beds, relax in the sun, and cool off in the mud.” Yay for pigs!

    An interesting discussion of the history of Islamic ‘anti-Semitism’ (see below) is provided in a paper [PDF] by Matthias Kuntzel (Technical College, Hamburg, and Research Fellow at the Vidal Sassoon Institute, Hebrew University, Jerusalem): ‘Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Antisemitism in the Middle East’, presented on November 30 last year as part of Yale’s ongoing series of seminars on ‘Anti-Semitism In Comparative Perspective’:

    Anti-Judaism, or the controversial term coined in the 1870s by Wilhelm Marr [1819–1904], Antisemitism, is one of the most complex and, at times, perplexing forms of hatred. It spans history, infecting different societies, religious and philosophical movements, and even civilizations. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, some contend that Antisemitism illustrates the limitations of the Enlightenment and modernity itself. Manifestations of Antisemitism emerge in numerous ideological based narratives and the constructed identities of belonging and otherness such as race and ethnicity, nationalisms, and anti-nationalisms.”

    Note that Andrea Dworkin (1946–2005), in her Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women’s Liberation (Free Press [Simon & Schuster/CBS], New York, 2000) erroneously describes Marr as an “anarchist”. On anarchism in Germany, see in particular the criminally-neglected life and work of Gustav Landauer (1870–1919).

In any case, last December, two Melbourne locals — Christine Hawkins and Chris Gemmell-Smith — ‘inspired’ by another cleric’s comments on women, their (supposed lack of) dress sense and subsequent reduction in status to cat food, decided to organise ‘The Great Australian Bikini March’ on a local Brunswick mosque. Like Tamworth Council’s decision to reject the re-location of a number of Sudanese refugees to their town, the March immediately attracted the interest and approval of local racists and fascists, especially those on Stormfront Down Under. One in particular, Perth-based convicted neo-Nazi criminal Ben Weerheym, grabbed the ball and ran with it (much to everyone’s considerable amusement), and the March, under pressure from local anti-racists, turned into a complete non-event… while the community BBQ organised by members of the mosque proved to be more enjoyable.

But the story doesn’t end there. Upon cancelling the March in December — a decision accompanied by much pissing and moaning about the nefarious role of local media in distorting their oh-so-innocent message — the organisers re-scheduled it for Australia Day, 2007… only to then declare that this March too, was cancelled, and, furthermore, the organisers would be taking their bat-and-ball back home to Endeavour Hills. At which point, others entered the fray, including one David Ross, a local Christian and ‘concerned citizen’; though Ross’ concerns don’t appear to extend much beyond the supposed dangers associated with the presence of Islam in Australia (rather than, say, the role of neo-liberal economics in destroying the social fabric and, hence, ‘the (bourgeois) family’).

While appearing to be a little isolated (to put it mildly) in his attempts to keep the flame of bigotry — first ignited by the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim pogrom in Cronulla in December 2005 — alight, the theme of Ross’ re-framed (non-)event — ONE NATION, ONE CULTURE, ONE RACE — certainly mirrors HoWARd’s eforts to consolidate unthinking submission to the state under the banner of ‘nationalism’. And as Ghassan Hage wrote in ‘Ayatollah John’s Australian Fundamentalism’ (Arena Magazine, February/March, 2001):

To say that John Howard is on the extreme right of the Liberal Party, or that he represents a conservative cultural backlash against what he and his supporters perceive as the excesses of the pro-multiculturalism and pro-Indigenous rights of his predecessor, would hardly be controversial. But to talk about ‘fundamentalism’ would easily lead one to be accused of getting too rhetorical and too carried away, or simply of just exaggerating for political point-scoring. I don’t mind some political point-scoring. But in this essay I would like to initiate the beginning of an analytical claim that there are important elements of John Howard’s politics that can be classified as fundamentalist. As importantly, I want to argue that his fundamentalism is beginning to mark our political culture in a significantly negative way.

In the Western world, fundamentalism is too easily linked with the ‘irrational’ and despotic movements whose highly dramatic visuals have filled the newspapers and televisions of the late twentieth century. To speak of fundamentalism is to almost inevitably conjure up images of politicised religious groupings with affectively charged members marching down the streets bent on re-introducing pre-modern cultural forms into our post-modernity. While there is no doubt that these forms of politics have been historically associated with fundamentalist politics, this link between form and content is not a necessary one. There is nothing that logically stops us from conceiving a rational/bureaucratic/democratic politics from being animated by a fundamentalist ideology.

John Howard and the essence of being Australian

The most basic feature of all fundamentalist ideologies is the belief in the existence of a social essence (core ‘fundamental’ values and beliefs) of which a national society is but an expression. Though such a belief is not in itself sufficient to turn someone into a fundamentalist, it is a necessary one. In Australia, the usage of a notion of ‘Australian values’ is something quite widespread among both the Left and the Right. However, we should begin by noting that no politician has used it as much as Howard does. No politician is as systematic as he is in deploying the concept, and no one positions it as the cornerstone of a holistic political vision of Australia as he does.

Whether addressing school-children or elderly Australians, business groups or immigrant associations, whether speaking on reconciliation or on Australia’s relation to Asia, John Howard’s political discourse is always woven around an explicit notion of Australian values. These values are Australian in a strong sense. That is, they differentiate Australians from other people in the world. They trace what Howard considers a unique ‘Australian way’.

What are these Australian values? There are some values that are constant in Howard’s prime-ministerial discourse, and some that come and go. Just looking at the speeches of 1998 offers us an incredible array of ‘values’. In his Australia Day speech for that year, Howard informs us that ‘the ethnic diversity and tolerance of our community gives Australia a unique standing in the world. This status is underpinned by the traditional Australian values of persistence, mateship, voluntary effort and optimism’. In an address to the Jewish community in Sydney we get another set of values:

    A great strength of the Jewish community has been the promotion of genuine Australian values common to all of us:

    * the primacy of family life and its importance in building strong and enduring communities;

    * the value of enterprise, the work ethic and reward for effort, and;

    * the active recognition of the obligation to give back where benefit has been received. (March 10, 1998, Israel’s fiftieth birthday celebration dinner, Sydney)

In his speech at the reconciliation summit a couple more values are added, ‘the values of decency, tolerance, fairness and down-to-earth common sense’ (May 26, 1997, Australian Reconciliation Convention, Melbourne). Talking to high school students Howard adds to the ever present ‘traditions of mateship’ the tradition of ‘treating people fairly on the basis of their contribution to society’ (July 10, 1998, St Paul’s School, Queensland). On the other hand, the speech to the Federation of Indian Associations stresses ‘the importance within the Australian community of … those enduring Australian values of tolerance and harmony’ (August 15, 1998, Federation of Indian Associations Dinner, Melbourne). And, in addressing a group of Australian business people, Howard urges his audience ‘to hang on to those Australian values of fairness and tolerance and equality and mateship’ (October 8, 1998, Australia Business Limited Annual Dinner, Sydney).

As pointed out above, the belief in ‘national values’ does not, in itself, set someone on the road to fundamentalism. However, the belief that these values constitute a causal essence firmly positions one in that direction. Such a belief supposes above all that values are considered an unchanging core and that they are quasi-genetically acquired by good nationals. As importantly, this belief implies that such values are responsible for giving the nation its enduring character amidst all the changes it can experience. There is little doubt that for John Howard ‘Australian values’ are such an essence. This theme is most developed in his address to the students of St Paul’s School:

    I remember when I left school … the Australia that I lived in in 1956 was a wonderful country … it’s important to understand that there are some things about our country that don’t change, and shouldn’t change, and we should fight hard to stop changing.

    … There are certain enduring Australian values that I still identify and are still as strong and as worthy and as valuable to us as Australians as they were when I left Canterbury Boys High School in Sydney in 1956.

    … There is that continuity, that golden thread of Australian values that hasn’t changed.

    And in turn, the Australia that your children will inherit when they leave school will also be different. But there will be a continuity, there will be a golden thread of basic Australian values that will be there. (July 10, 1998, St Paul’s School, Queensland)

In another of his addresses Howard asserts that Australia has managed to ‘preserve a core set of Australian values … connecting us now, in the last years of the twentieth century, with the early beginnings of the Australian federation almost 100 years ago’ (July 24, 1998, Address to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Perth). In fact some of the values go down even further than that:

    We are, as all of you know, a projection of Western civilisation in this part of the world. We have inherited the great European values of liberal democracy.

‘Values’ for Howard constitute an ‘essence’ not only in the sense of a historically unchanging reality but also, and as in all fundamentalist ideologies, in the sense of a causal force. Fundamentalism always offers a classically idealist conception of national society, in the useful Marxist meaning of the term: forget about economic relations, forget about power relations and forget about history, a nation is but an expression of the set of trans-historical values and beliefs upheld by its individual nationals. Furthermore, these values are never imagined to be contradictory. The nation that expresses its values is always ‘united’ by them. Fundamentalism always offers a normative conception of society as a coherent projection of complementary values. Howard refers to ‘the great Australian values that bind us together’ and about being ‘united’ by ‘a common love of Australian values’.

It is easy to give an intellectualised critique of the internal inconsistencies of such a discourse. This would not be about disputing whether specific values are really Australian values. Rather, it would be a questioning of the whole notion of a national people having and sharing distinguishing trans-historical values. The point is not, of course, that there is no such thing as distinct and recognisable Australian cultural tradition. To say that democracy and tolerance or even decency flourish in Australia more so than elsewhere because of how Australia has evolved historically, because of its resources and the wealth it has first managed to colonise and then to produce is one thing. But to see such historical continuities as the product of distinguishing values, something Australians are committed to more so than, or as opposed to, others is not tenable.

The key point about Howard’s values is precisely their current universality. Everyone in the world today would like to share such values. What does it mean to say that decency, or commitment to democracy, or tolerance, are specifically Australian values? It means making the ludicrous claim that there are whole national groupings in the world today who are less committed to them, or actually committed to opposite values. It means arguing that there are people who actually value intolerance, who are committed to being ‘indecent’ and who when faced with democracy freak out and try very hard to change it because it does not fit with their values! Or better still, that there are prime ministers who go to parliament and say ‘My fellow non-citizens we have had yet another great year of living up to our principles of being totally off the air’ (as opposed to Howard’s Australian value of ‘being down to earth’). We have successfully lived up to our principles of intolerance, disharmony, despotism and indecency that we have valued so much throughout the ages and that we hope to continue to value in the future.’

One has to be a lunatic-fringe racist to believe that national groupings who live in non-democratic, or war-torn, societies do so because this corresponds with their cultural values. I am not saying, of course, that Howard is a member of a lunatic racist fringe. I am simply saying that he seems unaware of the intellectual implications of his discourse. Any member of the intellectual elite could have told Howard this, but we know that he does not like or keep such company.

But Howard is not making these statements to be a consistent intellectual but a politician. I want now to move to what is perhaps the more important critique of the specific political effects and ramifications of Howard’s discourse.

Essence war: the archaeological fundamentalism of John Howard

A fundamentalist belief in a causal set of core values which remain unchanged throughout history needs two crucial supplements to transform it as a political project. First, it needs an accompanying prognosis that society and its people are drifting or have drifted away from the core and that there is a need to bring them ‘back’. Like all nationalists, fundamentalists who believe that their society is unproblematically living according to the fundamentals simply eradicate their very reason to exist as political subjects. There is no fundamentalist politics without fundamentalist whinging about some corruption of the core values.

Second, it requires a conviction that these fundamentals are Good. This might sound like stating the obvious, but it is necessary to state this clearly. For fundamentalist politics is always morally driven. The fundamentals, are not pursued just because they are ‘fundamental’ but also because they are worthy of being pursued. Recovering them is a recovering of a good moral society. And since society is but the expression of the beliefs of its people, fundamentalist politics is always about recovering the Good people who are, or the Goodness within people that is, silenced/oppressed/repressed, etc. by the Bad people.

In most fundamentalisms, the Good fundamentals are lost in the past, the political aim is to recover them from the past and re-inject them into the present. Such fundamentalism can be described as historical in the sense of looking at the past for inspiration. It might appear a surprising thing to note at first, but Howard’s fundamentalism is not based on nostalgia for the past. This is not because he does not believe that the past embodies what Australian values are all about. He clearly does. But here we come to the originality of Howard’s fundamentalism. He believes that the present continues to embody Australian values as well. But there is nevertheless a problem with the present. It is that the ‘truth/reality’ of this continuity has been covered up. It is no longer as apparent as it used to be because of the politics that has been pursued by an army of negatively inclined intellectuals and Labor Party politicians, and the anti-Australian-values lifestyle they have chosen to emphasise.

This is where Howard’s Bad people — his Great Satan — make an appearance: what he has famously referred to as the ‘black armband’ intellectuals, and the politicians inspired by them. These are the people who concentrate on the bad things that Australians have done and try, according to Howard, to imply that Australians are essentially Bad rather than Good:

    This ‘black armband’ view of our past reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

    I take a different view. I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud than of which we should be ashamed. (November 18, 1996, Sir Robert Menzies Lecture)

For Howard, even during the reign of the Great Satan, there were people out there (the hidden mainstream) living the Australian way — as it has been initially projected by Western civilisation, of course. However, their non-negligible presence has been buried by a false emphasis on multiculturalism, Asia and Aboriginal land rights. Howard wants to bring back to light — not back from the past — these persisting core Australian values and the people living by them. Unlike the historical fundamentalism we have been used to so far, Howard’s is an archaeological fundamentalism. It is a fundamentalism of recovery and restoration. Here it is important to stress that this restoration is not only a social restoration but a psychological one as well. Howard has always seen himself engaging in a kind of political therapy project. For the black-armband politicians have not only threatened the reality of the enduring presence of Australian values. They have also propagated Guilt, thus attempting to make people living according to Good Australian values feel bad about themselves. As he indicated by his emphasis on making Australians feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’, Howard wanted people to feel good about `being themselves’ again and to regain the pride they ought to have when reflecting on Australia’s essential goodness:

    We are right to be proud of having built one of the most prosperous, most egalitarian and fairest societies in the world.

    We are right to be proud of our tradition of mateship in both peace and war.

    We are right to be proud of living in one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies. (Sir Robert Menzies Lecture)

Howard therefore sees himself as engaged in an Essence War with intellectuals (particularly historians) and politicians who are always concentrating on the Bad aspects of Australian history and society. They pick up on Bad deeds to pronounce Australians as essentially Bad. He picks up on the Good deeds to pronounce Australians as essentially Good. But this does not lead Howard into relativism. He believes that his claim that the essence is Good is a superior claim, and that his vision of Australia is a more objective one:

    The attempted re-writing of Australian political history over recent years by our political opponents should not be countered by an equally politicised re-writing to redress the balance. What is needed is a sense of balance, objectivity and honesty in drawing lessons from our past. (Sir Robert Menzies Lecture)

Constructing the ‘essentially good Australian’ from such past lessons contains some of the more comic elements of Howard’s fundamentalism. But it also points to some of its more detrimental effects so far: the rise of a form of political narcissism, unprecedented in our post-war political history; a numb and dumb sense of self-satisfaction (endlessly celebrated during the Olympics!) and a refusal to hear any voice other than one’s own.

Fundamentalism and the rise of political narcissism

In a well-known 1995 speech on ‘Politics and Patriotism: A reflection on the national identity debate’, Howard, while still Opposition leader argued:

    Inclusion rather than exclusion is also an essential part of the Australian identity. It is a value which featured prominently in pioneering days, although tragically it didn’t extend to Aborigin[es]. Nor was it much in evidence during the gold rushes.

Here we have the unbeatable logic of detecting the essential goodness of Australians in its clearest manifestation. It goes something like this. Essentially we are Good (we like inclusion). It is true that when we were Good we weren’t Good towards everyone (we didn’t include Aboriginal people). It is also true that sometimes we were bad rather than Good (we weren’t very inclusive during the gold rush). But this shouldn’t detract from the fact that we are essentially Good (we are essentially inclusive).

This has been the general structure of Howard’s argument throughout: we are realists. We recognise that we Australians have done good things and bad things. But the bad things we have done are conjunctural. We need not forget that we are essentially Good. Detecting the Good essence becomes an exercise in emphasising the good deeds of Australians and in silencing those who want to emphasise the bad deeds. Howard’s fundamentalism encourages a discourse of confirmation rather than a reflexive critical discourse. This tendency has developed into a pathological inability to listen to any voice other than one’s own.

Of course, all fundamentalist forms of politics do not encourage critical reflexivity. The national self needs to assert its essence and practise it rather than investigate it. As Howard has forcefully put it:

    You don’t indulge in some kind of intellectual exercise in trying to enumerate Australian qualities and Australian values, you practise them. (Address to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce)

Indeed, such critical reflexivity is a priori negative since it implies that the self can be questioned and changed. Fundamentalism is clearly more concerned with the never-changing nature of the Good self. We simply need to remember the Good self we are, and act accordingly. Critical reflexivity has been on many occasions explicitly dismissed by Howard as ‘navel-gazing’:

    We spend an enormous amount of time in this country navel-gazing about what kind of society we are. It seems that, on some occasions, we engage in a form of public fretting about what it really means to be an Australian. It always strikes me as rather unnecessary and rather odd and rather unproductive … You don’t write down what it means to be an Australian. You feel what it means to be an Australian. (Address to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce)

Again, this anti-navel-gazing is common to all fundamentalist ideologies, and commonly leads to forms of political narcissism. However, Howard’s variety has been particularly virulent given its combination with the pseudo-realism of the we-have-been-bad-but-we-are-essentially-Good variety analysed above.

In this political vision where the self ‘courageously’ admits the wrongs of the past but only to re-assert its fundamental goodness, the self is constructed as a know-all that has already submitted itself to a self-criticism. Howard’s discourse is peppered with these pseudo-realist acknowledgements of past wrongs. This discourse has led to the creation of political subjects who have successfully immunised themselves against all forms of criticisms and have become unable to hear any critical voice other than their own: ‘I don’t need someone else to tell me about my wrongs. I’ve already admitted them, but you’re making too much of them’. Thus, any voice that attempts at insisting that the misdeeds committed in Australia’s past and present cannot be so easily dismissed is immediately transformed into a ‘black armband’ voice, the voice of the Bad Other, the one hell bent on undermining the essential goodness of Australia and the pride of its people.

If someone emphasises racism, the Howardist response is that we have been essentially non-racist. If someone emphasises poverty, the response is that we have been essentially a ‘class-free’ society. And as happened lately, if someone emphasises the bad treatment of refugee claimants, the response is that we have an established history of being essentially a welcoming country. Anyone who tries to emphasise a different reality is clearly on the side of the Bad Other. This was to be the well-known fate of the United Nations in this pathetic display of belief in the self: don’t tell us we are bad. We don’t need anyone from the outside to tell us what we are. We know what we are. We are essentially Good. Go and find someone really bad and tell them they are bad. Perhaps, one of the clearest exemplifications of this exceptional state of mind has been Phillip Ruddock’s response to the organisations speaking in favour of the refugees. He threatened to withdraw funding while stating ‘We pay them to know better’.

Ruddock himself is a walking embodiment of this political narcissism. Living off the capital of his past Goodness on race issues — ‘he once crossed the floor against Howard on issues of race’ and ‘he was/is a member of Amnesty International’ — he has introduced some of the worst anti-immigrant-rights legislation. He did so while consistently implying ‘Don’t tell me I am bad, I am essentially good, I have crossed the floor and I am wearing an AI badge’.

‘We pay them to know better’ is a continuation of this tradition. One has to notice that if one is paying someone to know better, this assumes one does not know everything. But Ruddock’s statement assumes that ‘we’ Australians already know better since we are capable of judging whether the ‘better’ they produced is really better. If that is the case why pay them at all! But nothing can beat this self-immunised delusional sense of knowing all one needs to know and an expectation that only a discourse of confirmation of one’s point of view will do.

Of course, the issue in relation to the refugee organisations was not one of ‘knowing better’ but of knowing differently. Such organisations are not paid to know better but to put to the state the position from the refugee claimants’ point of view. The state’s capacity to listen to the tribunal is linked to its capacity to hear a view other than that of our own. It is this inability to encompass the point of view of the other, which is characteristic of our current political culture, that was ultimately re-confirmed.

Ghassan Hage is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. He is the author of White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Sydney, Pluto Press, 1998, and New York, Routledge, 2000.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2018 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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