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.
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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