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Guarding against the Monster

By Anthony Element OAM

In 1965, James Baldwin wrote a short story called ‘Going to Meet the Man’. It’s about Jesse, a small town sheriff who recalls when, as a boy, he watched as townspeople tortured and then murdered an African American they believed to be a runaway. They were led by Jesse’s father, the then sheriff.

As well as the obvious theme of racism, it’s a powerful insight into how, we humans, when gathered in numbers, can lose our humanity. I mean that literally – in a very real sense, we cease to be the civilized species we claim to be.

Which brings me to my topic, one that it has taken me a some weeks to be able to think about objectively. I had to work through a kind of rage.

A young Pakistani student, Hassan Asif, in Melbourne, was dying of cancer – had just a few weeks to live. He was too sick to go home. He was among strangers in a strange culture, alone in the midst of many, suffering terribly.

Bureaucrats, acting in your name and in my name, refused a visa for his mother and brother to visit him.

Their reason?

Because, as far as the Australian High Commissioner and his staff in Pakistan were concerned, the family might – not a shred of evidence to suggest it – but might not return to Pakistan after their visit. Never mind that the boy’s father and the rest of his family are remaining in Pakistan.

After an outcry from a great many Australians, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, was dragged, kicking and screaming, to overturn the bureaucrats’ decision.

First, what colossal arrogance and hubris! To believe that the lure of Australia is so great that this grieving mother and brother would choose to stay here, where their son and brother had died, rather than return to their own home and family.

I’ve lived in several countries and visited many more. Trust me, Australia is good, but not that good.

Second, these people, acting for you and for me, believed it was preferable to allow young Hassan to die alone, rather than run even the tiniest risk of an overstay.

Third, the High Commissioner and his team believed either that Australians wouldn’t find out, (manifest deceit coupled with astonishing naivete), of they believed that we would all be sanguine about their monstrous decision.

I don’t know about you, but that’s probably the worst insult I’ve ever received, and I’ve had a few.

Is it so that the High Commissioner and his staff are uncaring sociopaths?

I doubt it, if only on the grounds of statistical improbability.

Far more likely it is, that they are, individually, just like you and me.

But put together, as a tiny part of a vast bureaucracy, they ceased to be humans.

They became like Baldwin’s lynch mob. They lost their compassion. They lost sight of their humanity.

I can’t help but ask myself, if, at some deep level, again like Baldwin’s lynch mob, did they believe that Hassan and his family were just that tiny bit less human than we Aussies.

And they did it in your name and in my name.

Because they have a set of organisational values; values that come from their leaders, whom we elected. We chose a government that believes Peter Dutton is a fit and proper person to hold the position he does.

And even before that, his electorate chose him to best reflect their community’s values.

As James Baldwin teaches us, we’re all capable of such actions when we become a mob. And a bureaucracy is nothing more than a mob with rules.

So, we, you and I, must never forget that the only thing guarding against the monsters is our vigilance.

We must be vigilant, because, as ‘Going to Meet the Man’ also shows, when such acts are done in our name, even if we do not commit them personally, we all suffer.

We all become victims of the Monster.

This article was originally published on ‘Observation Point’.


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  1. billshaw2013

    Spot on Anthony. I also have spent many years overseas in several countries. I observed that the love of country and homeland in those countries is just as strong, perhaps even stronger, as it is in Australia.
    We are full of it if we think we love our country more than others love theirs.
    Refugees do not flee their homeland because they don’t love it. Nor do I expect them, if they are able to settle in Australia, to love their new homeland unreservedly and abandon their homeland of birth.

  2. Peter F

    This all started with the Tampa. It is a purely political decision, and we are all dragged down by these miserable ‘representatives’.

  3. mark delmege

    collective punishment is used by that Jewish settler colony and here against otherwise mostly legal refugees (and in many other places on this planet) It is a crime in law and against decency.

  4. philgorman2014

    We have indeed become monstrous in our nationalist persona. Politicians and media moguls of every stripe have been unable to resist the temptation to invoke the old demons of fear and loathing to bolster their popularity and profits. They know full well that in times of crisis when difficult questions about governance arise the easy way out it to deflect attention and negative sentiment to the “other”. The Second Iraq War demonstrated the power that insane nationalism exerts over politicians wanting to rally the people behind them. They took us to war when huge numbers of the people protest against their warmongering; even when the cost in blood and treasure outweighed any conceivable benefit. The bloody débâcle will resonated for generations.

    When mainland detention camps became too much for Australians to stomach the major parties colluded to move them out of sight and mind. Now this sorry policy is again exposed for the monstrous insult to humanity it always was they still won’t act out on any humanitarian principle. They will buck pass, flounder and compromise, relying on the public’s short attention span until they can whip up some new distraction.

    Tides of revulsion against the banal evil done in our name have risen and ebbed before. Could it be that this time it will be different? The increasing numbers of Australians looking up from their pursuit of stuff and status to say, “Enough is enough!” may not want to be fobbed off again with tales of the bogeymen coming to get us.

  5. horatio

    My thinking exactly, am always amazed when people, on finding out that foreigners are going home, commiserate as though no one would choose to voluntarily live somewhere that isn’t Australia.

    Painful though it is that ALP ape the government’s refugee policy, I don’t believe they would act with such deliberate cruelty. Or am I too naive?

  6. diannaart

    In the USA, its citizens hold the same view – that everybody would do anything to live in the US – even little blonde haired blued eyed, well educated Aussie girls like yours truly – I was having a relationship with an American – his father did not exactly approve of me, in not so many words made his feelings clear, that I wasn’t so much interested in his son as I was in gaining the ultimate prize of a Green Card.

    My ex-lover’s father never realised, I wasn’t so interested into marrying into a family of card-carrying Republicans – although there were other reasons.

    Well, this little Australian knew where she was better off and happily returned to this wide brown land, only to watch it become as divisive between rich and poor, white and anyone else, and liveable wages begin the slide to the USA situation of needing two jobs if you aren’t ‘hard’ working enough to get a degree and a well paying job – preferably in finance.

    This monster is not from outside it is from you and me, it is a dark nasty part of the human psyche and is gaining on the best and the worst of us alike.

    Fact is, as others have clearly opined above – we humans tend to love the land of our birth and believe it is the best ever – we do not leave mother/father country all that easily – only the few adventurers and the many abused and dispossessed seek other shores.

    Another thing I have noticed on my travels, no doubt other commentators at AIM have noticed the same – the poorer the country the more generous and welcoming its people.

    Just Sayin’

  7. Backyard Bob

    I guess if we can take any solace from this vulgar affair it’s in the fact that there was a public outcry and it did cause the Minister to act. It’s something at least.

  8. babyjewels10

    Excellent post, that tells it like it is.

  9. Michael

    Reminds me of Lord of the Flies, a 1954 novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding ( – the characters were children not unlike what seems to be the “adult” version detailed in the article.

    Did it not pass anyone’s mind that the boy’s mother and brother would view it repugnant or worth more than whatever hardships endured in Pakistan NOT to stay anywhere near Australia whilst these mandated representatives of your and my humanity are in the driver’s seat – makes me a shamed Straylian.

  10. @mars.08

    Twenty years ago… who would have thought that Australia could come to this…?

  11. @mars.08

    “…Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

    You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined…”

    Today we are all Good Germans.

  12. paul walter

    It is what I fear is happening also.

  13. Deanna Jones

    Thanks, Anthony. If our so called representatives can treat any people this way then they also have the power to treat all of us the same way. We are all potential victims of the monster, but we also become the monster; we are the monster. Those ‘governing’ us rely on our compliance and show arrogance to the few of us who are actively challenging current refugee and asylum seeker policy.

    Yesterday outside the State Labor Conference a law enforcement agent told me I couldn’t stand on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall, a public space that I pay to maintain. When I asked why, she said that the direction to move us off the steps came from a councillor. Unbelievable.

  14. Geoff Andrews

    Thanks for the link, @mars.08

  15. Terry2

    Peter Dutton has been unavailable to comment on the actions of medical staff at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital who are refusing to release a baby, recovering from burns, into the care of the Department of Immigration and Border Force who have decreed that this infant must be returned to Nauru.

    Right wing observers are portraying this as a Left wing conspiracy of tree huggers, Latte sippers and perhaps even bed-wetters as, in their warped view, of course this child (all of twelve months) should be imprisoned indefinitely on our version of Devil’s island – an allusion to the story of Henri Charierre in Papillon : the similarities are chilling.

    But, what these principled medical professionals are saying is what they would say about any one of us who have been nurtured back to health in their care. They are duty bound to insist that this child, or any one of us in a similar situation, cannot be released from care until a “suitable home environment is identified”.

    A simple, principled statement that is entirely apolitical. It’s all about humanity and what makes us human.

  16. mars08

    I have vowed to stop reading Facebook comments about the treatment of asylum seekers. The venom, ignorance and cruelty spewed by knuckle-dragging bigots and right-wing bullies eats at my soul. I can’t endure any more of their filth.

  17. stephen Bowler

    I am moved to comment.

    I came here Aug 1978, Yes I was that adventurer seeking new horizens, grass is greener stuff.
    I found an egalitarian society (with one or two racists hiding behind the so called effectionate use of the term – ‘Yuh POME bastard’) but mostely I laughed it off realising that these people are just ignorant, of the heritage that Britain gave to Australia in the form of governance and law.

    Here I am 36 years later, a vastly different country to the in a country that I landed upon in 1978. We have become a nasty elitist people looking on the brown skinned peoples as inferior and all wanting to slit our collective throats, if we let one or two come here to try and find sanctury.

    Would I leave if I could – Yes I would, the pull for my homeĺand is very very strong, and I now find that I am disgusted and ashamed to be called an Australian (since,1980).

    Australians need to get a reality check – this country is Not Anywhere near to being beautiful, not anywhere near egalitarian, not decent law abiding citizens.

    It is very different to the country that I was once happy (proud even) to call home

    Wake up Australians you are not elites, you are not world players, you are not the envy of the world – you have become the butt of the joke.

    One final comment – Australia has been good to me and my family, I worked hard and have retired with a small pension, but I do not owe Australia anything – I paid and paid for my good life, 5 times redundant, lost super and money to shisters, worked every hour I could to pay of my home and recover form the periods of redundancy, so no I do not owe Australia anything.

    But don’t tell me how wonderfull you are when you behave like elitists, racists, homaphobes and mysogynists.

  18. diannaart


    Dutton has responded – but you won’t like it:

    … Mr Dutton said the campaign in Australia against the deportations was already having an impact in the region.

    “I have had direct intelligence overnight (Wednesday) — since Premier Andrew’s comments — that organised crime gangs in Indonesia are telling people that the Government’s policy on stopping the boats is going to change, in order to convince people to travel by boat to Australia,” he said.

    “The intelligence makes direct reference to the various Premiers’ comments.”…

    Its behind the paywall at the HUN

  19. king1394

    There are a lot of cold bureaucrats, not only in the Immigration department but working at Centrelink for example. The ethos of the department / business seeps into the souls of those whose job it is to carry out ‘policy’. Nowadays you can find completely heartless people working for charities such as the Salvation Army and Mission Australia in areas such as administering work for the dole programs. They are themselves at risk of losing their jobs if they modify the ‘rules’ with a bit of humanity, let alone common sense

  20. Terry2


    Dutton frequently tries to muddy the water on this.

    We know that we have a flotilla of high speed naval patrol boats on our Northern borders and they have satellite intelligence helping them intercept any boats leaving countries to our North : the crews are trained and prepared to turn any boats around, bribe the crew and , where necessary, provide a new boat , In other words, they cannot get through.

    What we are talking about, Mr Dutton, is a baby in Brisbane who was scalded by hotwater from a haphazard and dangerous cooking arrangement in a tent on a prison island operated by Australian authorities.

    There is no connection and Dutton needs to come clean on this misleading and deceptive spin.

  21. diannaart


    I have no quibble regarding your comments. However, Dutton is of that breed ‘neocon’ – they do not “come clean”, nor “apologise” or ever admit to making a mistake.

    On that note


  22. Deanna Jones

    stephen, I hear you. My great great grandfather came here in 1857 and settled our family in Newtown. Yet over the last few years I have distanced myself further and further from the identity of “australian” as it is just not who I am.

    Terry2, thanks for the information regarding the nature of baby Asha’s accident. Where is the source?

  23. lawrencewinder

    Good article.
    What a rancid, venal, selfish and corrupted rabble we have become.

    Little Johnny being the start by not taking on Hanson and followed by Kim Beazley in accepting the politics of Tampa. And let’s not forget Keating’s role in the detention centres.
    When things go sour here, as they surely will, our true character will out itself and it wont be nice. I fear that we have allowed the ruling rabble and their IPA apologists etc too much leeway and that our destruction isn’t far off.

  24. mars08

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

    Of course, it’s much easier when so much of the public really, REALLY WANT TO believe the absurdities. .. the political opposition is compliant… and the corporate media has no moral standards.

  25. philgorman2014

    The hope is in those who practice civil disobedience. They know right from wrong and are not afraid to speak truth to power.

    How can any of the self righteous bunch of hypocrites responsible for the concentration camps claim to be Christians?

  26. philgorman2014

    We have seen The Monsters and they are us.

  27. mars08

    Yesterday the TV was on in the lunch room at work…. and there was a story about baby Asha and sending kids to Nauru.

    A couple of my coworkers were commenting about it… and I heard on say… “if we’re soft on them, next thing you know those people will be throwing boiling water on their kids just to get sympathy”

    I just walked out of the room. Whete do you even begin with mindless tools like that?

  28. mark

    Humanity was core to australia,we are nothing without it.mark

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