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Antony Loewenstein

How Australia is inspiring Europe’s immigration policies

 

Posted: 18 Jan 2016 06:27 AM PST

My column in the Guardian:

Australia first introduced onshore detention facilities in 1991 at Villawood in Sydney and Port Hedland in Western Australia. Mandatory detention came in 1992. Bob Hawke’s government announced it was because “Australia could be on the threshold of a major wave of unauthorised boat arrivals from south-east Asia, which will severely test both our resolve and our capacity to ensure that immigration in this country is conducted within a planned and controlled framework”.

More than 20 years later, the rhetoric has only worsened against the most vulnerable arriving from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Policies that years ago seemed unimaginable, such as imprisoning refugees on remote Pacific islands, are the norm and blessed with bipartisan support.

The sad reality is Australia’s refugee policies are envied and copied around the world, especially in Europe, now struggling to cope with a huge influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Walls and fences are being built across the continent in futile attempts to keep out the unwanted. A privatised security apparatus is working to complement the real agenda. Australia is an island but it has long implemented remote detention camps with high fences and isolation for its inhabitants.

As a journalist and activist who has publicly campaigned against Canberra’s asylum policies for over a decade, this brutal reality is a bitter pill. In early 2014 I called for UN sanctions against Australia for ignoring humanitarian law and willfully abusing refugees in its case both on the mainland and Nauru and Manus Island. I still hold this view but must recognise facts; the international mood in 2016 for asylum seekers is hostile. As much as I’d like to say that my homeland is a pariah on the international stage, it’s simply not the case.

When Denmark recently introduced a bill to take refugees’ valuable belongings in order to pay for their time in detention camps, this was remarkably similar to Australia charging asylum seekers for their stay behind bars. Either directly or indirectly, Europe is following Australia’s draconian lead.

Consider the facts in Europe: after Sweden and Denmark reintroduced border controls, a borderless continent is now in serious jeopardy. The Schengen agreement – introduced in 1985 to support free movement between EEC countries – is on the verge of collapse. In early January, the European Union admitted it had relocated just 0.17% of the refugees it pledged to help four months earlier. In 2015 more than 1 million people arrived by boat in Europe.

This mirrors Australia’s lacklustre efforts to resettle refugees in its onshore detention camps. Figures released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in December found that asylum seekers had spent an average of 445 days behind barbed wire. In both Australia and Europe there’s general acceptance of these situations because those seeking asylum have been so successfully demonised as potential terrorists, suspiciously Muslim and threatening a comfortably western way of life.

Germany, a nation that took in more than 1 million refugees in 2015 despite being unprepared for the large numbers, is now facing a public backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance, leading to fear and rising far-right support. Australia has taken far fewer people with little social unrest and yet still unleashed over two decades a highly successful, though dishonest, campaign to stigmatise boat arrivals. The result is the ability of successive Australian governments to create an environment where sexual abuse against refugees is tolerated and covered up. A politician is unlikely to lose his job over it.

Europe and Australia promote themselves as regions of openness. It’s an illusion when it comes to refugee policy. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, despite his bombastic and discriminatory attitude towards refugees and Jews, is increasingly viewed across Europe as providing necessary warnings of the continent’s struggles. EU officials in Brussels told the New York Times that Orban was often right but wished he hadn’t couched his comments in conspiracy theories. Too few in Hungary are publicly resisting this wave of racism.

“Whenever Hungary made an argument the response was always: ‘They are stupid Hungarians. They are xenophobes and Nazis,’” Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, told the Times. “Suddenly, it turns out that what we said was true. The naivete of Europe is really quite stunning.”

Brussels has proposed an Australian-style border force to monitor the EU’s borders and deport asylum seekers. Germany and France support the move. This proves that the most powerful nations have little interest in resolving the reasons so many people are streaming into Europe (such as war and climate change) and prefer to pull up the drawbridge. Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott encouraged Europe to turn back the refugee boats and it seems Brussels is listening. Europe is also copying Australia’s stance of privatising the detention centres for refugees.

None of this worries Rupert Murdoch’s Australian. In light of the New Year’s Eve sex attacks in Cologne, the paper editorialised in early 2016 that Europe must avoid “reckless idealism” and embrace an “enlightened world” where gender equality is accepted by all. The outlet has not expressed similar outrage with the immigration department’s blatant disregard for refugee lives. It’s also unclear how pushing for military action in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other Muslim nations, pushed by the paper for years, contributes to an “enlightened world”.

It’s comforting to think of Australia as a global pariah on the world stage, pursuing racist policies against asylum seekers from war-torn nations. But it’s untrue. Canberra’s militarised “solution” to refugees is admired in many parts of Europe because it represents an ideology far easier to process and sell than identifying and adapting to changing global migration patterns.

None of this should stop activists fighting for a more just outcome, in both Australia and Europe, but today it’s more likely European officials will ask Australian officials for advice on how to “stop the boats” than chastise it for mistreating a raped refugee.

Australia has become an inspiration for all the wrong reasons.

SOURCE

“Disaster Capitalism”

The Lahore Times reviews

The following review of my newly released book is written by Robert J. Burrowes and appears in The Lahore Times:

In his just-released book, ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe‘, Antony Loewenstein offers us a superb description of the diminishing power of national governments and international organisations to exercise power in the modern world as multinational corporations consolidate their control over the political and economic life of the planet.

While ostensibly a book about how national governments increasingly abrogate their duty to provide ‘public’ services to their domestic constituencies by paying corporations to provide a privatized version of the same service – which is invariably inferior and exploitative, and often explicitly violent as well – the book’s subtext is easy to read: in order to maximize corporate profits, major corporations are engaged in a struggle to wrest all power from ordinary people and those institutions that supposedly represent them. And the cost to ordinary people (including their own corporate employees) and the environment is irrelevant, from the corporate perspective.

Loewenstein spent five years researching this book so that he could report ‘the ways in which our world is being sold to the highest bidder without public consent’. In my view, he does this job admirably.

Taking as his starting point the observation of famed future studies and limits to growth expert Professor Jørgen Randers that ‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’, Loewenstein set out to describe precisely how this is happening. He went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to explore the world of ‘private military companies’, Greece to listen to refugees imprisoned in ‘brutal’ privatized detention centres, Haiti to investigate its ‘occupation’ by the United Nations and ‘aid’ organizations following the earthquake in 2010, and Bougainville to understand the dilemma faced by those who want progress without the price of further corporate environmental vandalism (for which they have paid heavily already).

Loewenstein also checked out the ‘outsourced incarceration’ that now ensures that the US rate of imprisonment far exceeds that in all other countries, the privatized asylum seeker detention centres in the UK which are the end product of ‘a system that demonizes the vulnerable’, and the equivalent centres in Australia which ‘warehouse’ many asylum seekers in appalling privatized detention centres, including those located on offshore islands.

It is easy and appropriate to be outraged by some of the details Loewenstein provides, like the ‘three strike’ laws in the United States ‘that put people behind bars for life for stealing a chocolate bar’, but it is obviously important to comprehend the nature of the systemic crisis in which we are being enveloped by ‘disaster capitalism’ if we are to have any chance of resisting it effectively. So what are it’s key features?

In essence, predatory corporations (which usually keep a low profile) are financed by government money (that is, your taxes), supported by tax concessions and insulated from genuine accountability, political criticism and media scrutiny while being given enormous power to provide the infrastructure and labor to conduct a function, domestically or internationally, which has previously been performed by a government or international organization. If this happens at the expense of a nation truly exercising its independence, then too bad.

Moreover, because the corporate function is being performed ‘solely to benefit international shareholders’ which means that maximum profit is the primary aim, both the people who are supposedly being served by the corporation (citizens, refugees, prisoners…) and the corporation’s own employees are invariably subjected to far greater levels of abuse, exploitation, violence and/or corruption than they would have experienced under a public service equivalent.

Loewenstein provides the evidence to demonstrate this fact in one case after another. The ones that I found most interesting are the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan which provided further evidence that US policy, and even its military strategy and tactics ‘on the ground’, is being progressively taken over by corporations, and the ‘occupation’ of Haiti, post-earthquake in 2010, by the UN and NGO ‘aid’ agencies which forced locals into the perpetual victimhood of corporate-skewed ‘development’.

The use of private military companies (jargon for government-contracted companies that hire and deploy mercenary soldiers, ‘intelligence’ personnel, private security staff, construction teams, training personnel and provide base services such as food, laundry and maintenance) in Afghanistan has meant that there are far more US contractors than US soldiers in Afghanistan and ‘troop withdrawal’ means just that: troops not contractors. The occupation is far from over, Loewenstein notes.

Moreover, he asserts, the US mission in Afghanistan is ‘intimately tied to these unaccountable forces’. As many of us have been observing for considerable time, with control of US government policy now largely in the hands of the US elite (a select group compared with the military-industrial complex of which departing president Eisenhower warned us in 1961), its controlling tentacles reach ever more deeply into US actions at all levels. This is reflected in the way that military tactics are often designed in response to the development of weapons (such as drones) rather than, as should be the case, policy and strategy determining the nature of the tactics and weapons (if any) designed and used. It’s not so much that the corporate ‘tail’ is now wagging the government ‘dog’: the ‘tail’ is now bigger and more powerful than the ‘dog’ itself. In essence, the ‘US government interest’ means the ‘US corporate interest’.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan is not the only ‘horror story’ in Loewenstein’s book. I was particularly pained by his account of the multi-faceted violence that has been inflicted on Haiti since the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010 that affected three million Haitians, killing more than 300,000. On 1 February 2010, US Ambassador Kenneth Merton headlined his cable ‘The Gold Rush Is On’ and went on to explain his excitement: ‘As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services.’ Merton’s lack of compassion for those killed, injured or left homeless by the earthquake is breathtaking.

Tragically, it isn’t just corporate exploitation of Haitians that exacerbated the adverse impact of the earthquake. The United Nations was horrific too. The evidence clearly pointed to its responsibility for a cholera epidemic shortly after the earthquake, which affected more than 700,000 people, killing 9,000. And given the responsibility of UN troops, allegedly present to enhance safety, for previous violence against Haitians, most Haitians simply regarded the presence of UN troops as ‘another occupation’ following the French colonization, which they overthrew in 1794, and the US occupation which led to the Duvalier dictatorships, that were resisted until their defeat in 1986.

But whatever damage the UN has done, it is the governments of the US, France and Canada, whose aid dollars via many corporations never reach those in need, NGOs like the Clinton Foundation, and the predatory corporations that truly know how to exploit a country. This is why the civil infrastructure in Port-au-Prince remains unrepaired nearly six years after the earthquake and the average city resident still lives in ‘rubbish, filth, and squalor’. Somehow, the corporations that were given the aid money to rebuild Haiti or provide other services were able to absorb billions of dollars without doing much at all. Although, it should be noted, company profits have been healthy. Are they held accountable? Of course not. Disaster capitalism at its best.

So can we predict the outcome for Nepal following its earthquakes earlier this year? We certainly can. The corrupt diversion of aid funds to corporate bank accounts. And ordinary Nepalese will continue to suffer.

I could go on but you will be better off checking out the book yourself. Loewenstein writes well and he has fascinating material with which to hold your interest. By the way, his personal website if you want to keep track of his journalism is here. He has recently been doing research in South Sudan.

So is there anything I didn’t like? Well, given my own passion for analysis and strategy, I would have liked to read more about Loewenstein’s thoughts on why, precisely, this all happens and how we can get out of this mess. He is an astute observer of reality and hopefully, in future, he will be more forthcoming in making suggestions.

In the meantime, if you are interested in understanding why many individuals have a dysfunctional compulsion to make profits at the expense of human and environmental needs, my own analysis is briefly outlined in this article: ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War‘. But there is much more detail explaining the psychological origins of violent and exploitative behaviours in ‘Why Violence?

And if you are someone who does not outsource your own responsibility to play a role in ending the elite-driven violence and exploitation in our world, you might like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘. The Nonviolence Charter references other documents for action if you are so inclined.

Anyway, apart from this observation, the main reason why I think this is such a good book is because it gave me much new and carefully researched information that got me thinking, more deeply, about issues that I often ponder. There is a good chance that it will enlighten you too.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

On anti-Semitism, BDS, Palestine and justice

essay by Antony Loewenstein in New Matilda is here:

As the BDS cam­paign starts to gain trac­tion, ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-semi­tism should be treated gravely – whether from pro-Pales­tine ad­vo­cates or Is­rael’s de­fend­ers, writes Antony Loewen­stein

The charges of racism were se­ri­ous. Uni­ver­sity ori­en­ta­tion weeks, re­ported Ru­pert Mur­doch’s news­pa­per, The Aus­tralian, in early March, “have been marred by a se­ries of al­leged anti-se­mitic in­ci­dents”.

So­cial­ist Al­ter­na­tive stood ac­cused, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Union of Jew­ish Stu­dents, of ex­press­ing hate­ful com­ments to­wards Jew­ish stu­dents, prais­ing Hamas and call­ing for “death to the Zion­ist en­tity” at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales.

The re­li­a­bil­ity of the al­le­ga­tions of anti-semi­tism has not yet been as­sessed but, if they are found to be true, those re­spon­si­ble must be op­posed. A spokesper­son from So­cial­ist Al­ter­na­tive tells me that his or­gan­i­sa­tion cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nies all of the al­le­ga­tions.

Fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Christo­pher Pyne, a man who never misses an op­por­tu­nity to fight a cul­ture war he can’t win, ac­cused back­ers of the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment against Is­rael of mak­ing anti-semi­tism “a fash­ion­abil­ity among highly ig­no­rant sec­tions of the far Left”. He wanted uni­ver­si­ties to “step in and take a very firm line” against racism on cam­pus. “Free speech does not ex­tend to ugly threats and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment,” he ar­gued.

It’s time to call this co-or­di­nated cam­paign of the local Zion­ist lobby and the Mur­doch press for what it is; a cheap­en­ing of real anti-semi­tism and a clear at­tempt to brand all crit­ics of Is­rael as Jew haters. It’s a tac­tic im­ported from Amer­ica and Eu­rope, ar­tic­u­lated from Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu down, that aims to neuter op­po­nents of the Jew­ish state’s bru­tal, mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion as de­luded and anti-se­mitic.

The rhetoric is in­creas­ing as BDS scores im­pres­sive wins glob­ally — count­less Eu­ro­pean firms are chang­ing their busi­ness prac­tices to­wards Is­rael in re­ject­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion — and has en­tered the main­stream as a le­git­i­mate tool to op­pose Is­raeli poli­cies.

Is­rael sup­port­ers have long be­lieved that bet­ter PR will solve its prob­lems, as if, for ex­am­ple, there’s any way to pos­i­tively spin dozens of Is­raeli teens an­nounc­ing their re­fusal to serve in the IDF due to its dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on Is­raeli so­ci­ety and Pales­tin­ian lives.

It’s a small but deeply coura­geous step in a so­ci­ety that still idolises a human rights abus­ing army (Amnesty’s new re­port de­tails count­less ex­am­ples of the IDF killing Pales­tin­ian civil­ians in cold blood).

None of these pro­found shifts should es­cape the de­bate in Aus­tralian, where the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment re­fuses to con­demn il­le­gal Is­raeli colonies in the West Bank.

The es­tab­lish­ment Zion­ist lobby has tried for decades, with a de­gree of suc­cess, to in­su­late the Jew­ish com­mu­nity from the re­al­i­ties of oc­cu­py­ing Pales­tine.

The ad­vent of the in­ter­net and so­cial media, along with a more crit­i­cal young pop­u­la­tion who won’t be eas­ily bul­lied into sup­port for Is­rael be­cause of the Holo­caust, are chang­ing the land­scape. Hence the need to use old, tired tac­tics. Par­rot­ing Ne­tanyahu’s fear-mon­ger­ing over Iran and Arabs is in­creas­ingly treated world­wide with the con­tempt it de­serves.

The old men who run the Jew­ish com­mu­nity may catch on one day that it isn’t enough to run an hack­neyed style en­e­mies list against op­po­nents; count­less jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors will tell you of the bul­ly­ing calls, let­ters and emails em­ployed by the Zion­ist com­mu­nity against crit­i­cal cov­er­age. It only some­times now works.

It’s a fail­ing style even called out by The Aus­tralian’s Mid­dle East cor­re­spon­dent John Lyons in a re­cent, ro­bust de­fence of his stun­ning ABC TV 4 Cor­ners story on Pales­tine, ac­cus­ing dis­tant, self-ap­pointed Zion­ist lead­ers of being lit­tle more than blind de­fend­ers of Is­raeli gov­ern­ment pol­icy. Pun­dits take note: when­ever quot­ing such peo­ple re­mem­ber to whom they pledge par­tial al­le­giance and ask about their fund­ing sources.

Any form of racism must be com­pletely con­demned, whether it’s di­rected at Jews, Mus­lims, Chris­tians or other mi­nori­ties. But the way in which a state and com­mu­nity deals with racism is a more press­ing the ques­tion. After years of falsely ac­cus­ing crit­ics of Is­rael of anti-semi­tism — Syd­ney Uni­ver­sity’s Jake Lynch is the lat­est per­son to face the pre­dictable and costly wrath of an Is­raeli-gov­ern­ment en­dorsed legal case against his eth­i­cally jus­ti­fied back­ing of BDS — the or­gan­ised Zion­ist es­tab­lish­ment lacks cred­i­bil­ity in cry­ing about op­pos­ing racism, when it so fla­grantly en­cour­ages de­mon­i­sa­tion of Is­rael’s crit­ics along racial lines.

They have a morally com­pro­mised voice by being oc­cu­pa­tion back­ers them­selves. How dare they claim to cry over an al­leged rise in real anti-semi­tism (mostly on­line) while at the same time shed­ding croc­o­dile tears against the grow­ing BDS move­ment? Per­haps they should learn some hu­mil­ity and recog­nise what their beloved state has be­come known for glob­ally: re­press­ing Pales­tini­ans.

Po­lit­i­cally, the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment has pledged to re­move sec­tion 18C of the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act in an at­tempt, in their words, to in­crease free speech (a po­si­tion loudly backed by The Aus­tralian).

Fed­eral At­tor­ney George Bran­dis said on ABC TV’s Q&A this week, de­fend­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed changes that are op­posed by the Jew­ish com­mu­nity and many other eth­nic groups, that the cur­rent draft­ing in sec­tion 18C re­stricts the rights of all peo­ples to speak and be of­fen­sive. Now that there are signs that Bran­dis may be back-track­ing on a com­plete re­peal of the sec­tion, it’s re­ally only the Mur­doch press that bangs on about “free speech” while deny­ing the same rights to many of its crit­ics.

De­spite all this, I’ve ar­gued else­where, in op­po­si­tion to many on the Left who be­lieve the leg­is­la­tion should re­main un­changed, that al­though all speech has lim­its, a ro­bust democ­racy should legally tol­er­ate in­sults over race. But the vast bulk of “dis­cus­sion” over 18C has been at a desul­tory level.

Take the re­cent Aus­tralian Jew­ish News ar­ti­cle by Fer­gal Davis, a se­nior lec­turer in law at the Uni­ver­sity of NSW. He backed main­tain­ing the cur­rent 18C leg­is­la­tion and then wist­fully ar­gued that the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment could be the cham­pi­ons of human rights be­cause “we must con­vince Aus­tralians that human rights are not ‘left wing’; they are at the heart of the fair go.” Nice sen­ti­ments, but ut­terly re­moved from re­al­ity. Davis ig­nores the new gov­ern­ment’s shock­ing treat­ment of asy­lum seek­ers and re­fusal to se­ri­ously con­demn abuses at the UN by al­lies Sri Lanka, Is­rael and Egypt.

The real ques­tions for the Mur­doch press, Zion­ist es­tab­lish­ment, Ab­bott min­is­ters and other sup­posed de­fend­ers of open speech are as fol­lows: will you fol­low the path of many politi­cians in the US, both De­mo­c­rat and Re­pub­li­can, who are in­creas­ingly try­ing to crim­i­nalise civil­ian back­ing for BDS? How se­ri­ous is your com­mit­ment to free speech? How will­ing are you to preach tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance while be­liev­ing that cer­tain is­sues, such as le­git­i­mate crit­i­cisms of Is­rael (de­fined by whom will al­ways be the ques­tion?) are be­yond the pale and anti-se­mitic?

Away from the huff­ing and puff­ing of self-de­scribed friends of Is­rael lies the real lim­its of in­su­lat­ing Is­rael from crit­i­cism. Try­ing to stop BDS, through the courts, laws, par­lia­ment or defam­a­tory at­tacks, will change noth­ing on the ground for Pales­tini­ans, and count­less peo­ple around the world now know it. Is­rael and its dwin­dling band of Zion­ist back­ers in Aus­tralia and world­wide are des­per­ately hang­ing onto 20th cen­tury tac­tics to fight mod­ern op­po­si­tion to a racially based state.

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