Twenty-five minutes into last Monday night’s QandA, a question was asked about the refugees and specifically the children, stuck in the Guantanamos that Australia had created on Nauru and Manus. Mr Phillip Ruddock was asked to respond.
Ruddock leaned forward defiantly, some would say threateningly and asked the audience, “How many of you have been to Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh?”
Ruddock is the special envoy to the Prime Minister for Human Rights, the NSW Liberal Party President and a member of Amnesty International.
His demeanor could bring to mind an old uncle who had lost his mind a very long time ago and his temper at that very moment.
His view, as he enunciated it, is that unless we can do something about all those other – millions of them! – children living in far more appalling conditions in Cox Bazaar and all around the world, we need do nothing about those children that we ourselves have locked up and put into our own version of “appalling conditions.” It is an act of charity, after all. To save other children from drowning.
Therefore, he concluded, the NZ deal cannot go ahead and the notion that all those refugees – all those children in those “appalling conditions” – be brought to Australia was a nauseating anathema! We have no humanitarian questions to answer! The NZ deal could not happen because sometime in the future, these children would be able to come into Australia and … and what?
This view, that unless we do something else, something which is impossible to achieve, we don’t need to do anything, is emphasised a little later in the evening when Ruddock is asked this time to comment on climate change.
“… if you’ve not got China if you’ve not got Europe, if you’ve not got India if you’ve not got the United States if you’ve not got South America all involved …”
So we do nothing about those we’ve locked up in our abominable dungeons and we do nothing about climate change!
How on earth can we face all those other countries which Mr Ruddock has mentioned and ask them to do something about these issues if we, not only have done nothing about them but, in fact did things to make them worse?
Ruddock’s rhetoric is casuistry at its most blatant. A work of sophistry. A set of specious dot points that rely not on Aristotle’s “sylogism” (a set of conclusions based on previously proven conclusions) but, the reverse, conclusions made on things that cannot be proven or accomplished, the end result of which would be that the status quo remains. The children stay in those “appalling conditions” and the planet stays on its trajectory to becoming uninhabitable, all thanks to this form of thinking.
From the other politician, Mr Albanese I could – try as I might- heard nothing that delivers anything more than what Mr Ruddock had delivered. It took the brand-new politician, Dr Kerryn Phelps to put a bit of a flutter of optimism in my heart.
Thank you, Dr Phelps. Long may you reign and strong may be your right hand as you try and bend these unbendable minds now clogging the corridors of this country’s power.
Would we be hearing anything different from a certain female Senator from Queensland?
The question on children indicates the state of our moral health and that on climate change, the state of our intellectual health and the health of our planet. So far we have failed miserably on both of these states.
So, now we have the children and the planet caught firmly in the cross fire of egos, far too big, too prodigiously billowing to be allowed to continue as they are and at their whim and at their political contingencies.
And they are caught not only in the cross fire but in the cross hairs of our politician’s political long guns. Both, children and the planet are being shot at, both being treated with ever-increasing contempt and an ever-increasing resolve to have them – children and climate – disappear one way or another from their list of duties and responsibilities.
Some two and half thousand years ago, in the nascent Democracy of Athens, Pericles, one of its most prominent leaders, enacted a law which said that only children whose parents were both citizens of Athens would be allowed citizenship, otherwise they would remain in the status of barbarians, foreigners in our parlance. In other words, both mother and father must be Athenian citizens for their children to be treated as citizens, with all the rights of all Athenian citizen.
The tragedian Euripides was disgusted by that law and wrote his “Medea” to show what the outcome of such a discriminatory, eugenic, racist law would be.
Jason was from Iolcos and the rightful king but his father Aeson who wanted to keep the throne for himself, sent him off to Colchis, virtually the other end of the known world back then, to bring back the Golden fleece. That he thought would have him killed or disposed off for a very long time. (Kicking the can down the road a bit, as it were.) Jason gets a crew together, called the Argonauts after the name of the ship and its builder, Argos, goes to Colchis where Medea, the Princess helps him to take the golden fleece and escapes with him back to Jason’s home.
Upon their return however, Aeson refuses them both, the throne and citizenship and sends them away. The young couple now become refugees.
They end up in Corinth but there too, they are treated very badly. After all, they are not Corinthians. They are foreigners. They now have children.
After a while, Jason wants to marry the local princess, Glauke, so as to – so he says- get some respect for and acceptance of his children and of Medea. Medea doesn’t buy that and, in a mood of vengeance kills the Princess and, at the same time, her father the King.
Then she kills their two children and flees off to Athens.
Euripides tells this story as a criticism of Pericles’ new law and, more importantly as a moral question to the Athenians: “now that Medea is here,” he asks them, “how will you, Athenians, you who listen to your Pericles and boast that you are civilised and democratic and fair-minded and hospitable, people whose god is Zeus Xenios (ie the protector of the stranger) how will you treat her?”
Euripides had changed the myth slightly so as to emphasise his disgust. In the original story, Medea left alone and it was the Corinthians, the locals who had killed the kids. By changing this bit of the story Euripides, shows, among other things the desperation a mother feels in a hostile, racist world. She kills them rather than leave them for the locals to either torment them or – worse, kill them – and takes away their bodies to bury them with dignity elsewhere rather than to have them defiled by the racist locals.
That was Medea’s children, children that were caught in the crossfire of adult egos, children who have done nothing but were punished fatally. Cross fire and cross hairs.
Then, some 26 years later, in around 405BC, Euripides wrote his last extant play, Iphigeneia in Aulis.
This time he uses a young girl to teach the same lesson.
The young girl, Iphigeneia, a princess and the daughter of the leader of the army, (one thousand ships of it) Agamemnon, had committed no sin and performed no ill deed to anyone. But her father did. He had committed a grievous sin against the goddess Artemis by killing her favourite animal, a deer. Now, Agamemnon and all the armies of Greece were stuck around the harbour of Aulis for three years, waiting for favourable winds to fill their sails and head for Troy to bring back the queen of Sparta, Helen who was abducted by Paris, the Trojan Prince.
The priest Calchas was asked to ask the gods what was wrong, and he had returned bearing bad news. Artemis is seeking compensation of equal value: he had killed her favourite animal, so he must kill his own, that being Iphigeneia. Also, to deter others from committing similar acts of hubris.
Iphigeneia’s speech, her plea to her father is one the most emotional speeches that Euripides had ever written, though, as emotional speeches go, he has always been far superior to his colleagues, Aeschylus (the father of tragedy) and Sophocles, who, most probably, was still around. Those two weren’t as keen to use emotions to deliver their moral instructions. Their method was simple. The gods are annoyed with you, Agamemnon or Klytaemestra, or Oedipus so you must die. Euripides went not only for the jugular but also for the heart.
So, the child, Iphigeneia too was caught in the cross fire of adult egos. “If I had the words of Orpheus, father …”
Verbal emotions were exhibited aplenty by the two leaders of the two leading parties in Australia last week, saying sorry to the children who were caught in the cross fire of political egos and the cross hairs of paedophiles.
Not too far away by terrestrial as well as by moral metres are some other children, also caught in the same cross fire of the same political egos, egos that care only for their own hollow bloatings than for finding a way of releasing those children from the jaws of torture and death into which these very same politicians dropped them and bringing them here, into our welcoming arms, arms that welcome all life.
Rhetoric gushes out easily. Cascades of it, tsunamis of it and all replete with emotional appeals and sympathy. Saying sorry is easy. Far too easy it seems. Doing things that show that we are indeed sorry, that we repent and are prepared to repair is quite another thing.
The children – and adults – in Manus and Nauru will stay there and under the same “appalling” conditions so long as politicians use casuistry like that used by Mr Ruddock and the mealy mouthed mumblings of Mr Albanese during last Monday’s QandA. Let us hope that Dr Phelps’ words become the flesh and blood of real action.