The other side of the story

18 05 2011

What happens in those off-shore compounds is rarely told from the perspective of those living in them.  More often than not, it’s the large commercial media organisations and various politicians attempting to appeal to base national sentiments.  The ABC have recently published a statement on what occurred recent on Christmas Island written by a refugee.  It is a must read for anyone look for the other side of the story.

Around four or five months ago there was a protest on Christmas Island, which around 250 detainees took part in, in the form of a hunger strike. They were protesting against the unfair system of claim processing by the immigration department.

The protest went on for a week, and after a week some people from the Ombudsman came to listen to detainees’ complaints. They came and sat down with clients’ representatives, and promised that they would pass on detainees’ concerns to the Department of Immigration. However, after a couple of months no one noticed even a slight change in Immigration’s way of processing the cases. Instead of implementing a change, they started to promise detainees that everything would be better in March, and that there would be a lot of noticeable changes, such as a speed up in the processing time for cases, and many other promises.

When March came, however, not only had nothing special happened, but also many people started to get rejected for a second time. For the first 10 days of March many rejections were handed out. This caused even more anger and frustration for detainees, because of the false promises from Immigration, and vows that were never fully met.

Finally, the tension and dissatisfaction boiled over, and around one month ago some detainees broke out of the centre. Around six or seven hundred asylum seekers, in a sign of protest, headed towards the Christmas Island airport in a desperate hope that someone might hear their voices. For two days, from March 11, after bringing down fences, hundreds of asylum seekers freely came and went from the detention centre. Immigration Department spokespeople repeatedly described the events as peaceful. However on Sunday afternoon, Serco decided there had to be a “show of force”. A “snatch and grab” operation was approved by the Department of Immigration, and eventually they captured twenty people, whom they named as ringleaders of a peaceful protest.

This not only did not help to calm the situation down, but created more anger and frustration among other detainees, as when they asked their friends from Serco staff, the staff flagrantly lied to them and told them that all 20 people had been transferred off the island.

However they had in reality gone nowhere but inside a high security compound called Red Compound. Not surprisingly, other detainees responded to the arbitrary arrests, and broke into the high security Red Compound in an attempt to free the 20 people who had been taken away in handcuffs. It was then that the police used tear gas and fired beanbag rounds. Such was the brutality of the police action that some three asylum seekers were trapped inside the Red Compound as they were shooting tear gas, and because their window was half broken the smoke got in and they were about to suffocate inside before one of the Serco staff managed to let them out just in time. Another asylum seeker’s leg was broken by the police beanbag rounds. When we talked to him and asked him what had happened, he said it was a real bullet that caused it, since he could see a hole the size of a 10-cent coin in his foot. Beanbag round bullets are not capable of causing such severe injuries.

The very next day, government decided to send an independent group to listen to detainees’ concerns. The group consisted of three people. During a meeting they had with around 200 detainees, they promised to pass on asylum seekers’ concerns to the minister of immigration via phone while they were on the island. They asked detainees to be calm while they were negotiating with the minister. All detainees agreed, but they stated that they would continue their peaceful protest whilst the negotiations were happening.

The next night, asylum seekers assembled in peaceful protest. They carried white sheets and strips of toilet paper as white flags. They even had flowers to give to the police, but the protest was again met with tear gas. Events escalated from there. This behaviour from the police enraged the crowd, and some lost their control and started to cause property damage by setting some tents and canteens on fire and smashing CCTV cameras.

Fires destroyed the tents and some canteens in the Aqua and Lilac compounds, while police flooded the detention centre with more tear gas and fired more beanbag rounds. All this vandalism was strongly condemned by most of the protesters, and some fights even broke out between peaceful protesters and those who were damaging the place. The protest was condemned and violent, however no one from Serco, the police or the detainees were injured. It is the asylum seekers who were victims of police violence. One asylum seeker had his chin torn up after being shot in the chin by a beanbag round. There were many more who got shot in their face and arms.

Around two or three days after the riot, police decided to retaliate by intimidating and humiliating Iranian detainees by locking up about 200 of them in the centre gym on their new year’s eve. They even threw firecrackers inside the gym, and after doing so police and Serco staff started laughing at detainees’ fright caused by the blast. After locking the detainees in the gym for the night, the next day some of the Serco officers, with a group of around 60 police guards, came to the gym and picked different people according to a book that Serco had provided. The book was designed by Serco which in it they had detainees’ photos who they believed were the rebels and rioters. The way they took people, handcuffed, with another police guard filming the whole scene, was so downgrading and humiliating that the pain felt was much more painful than even the pain caused by bean bag rounds. Any physical scar will eventually go away, but a scar on a person’s mind and spirit will stay for a long time, and the effect of it will likely cause all sorts of psychological disorders and traumas.

The same story of humiliating detainees was happening in other compounds also. Police guards, with the help of Serco, went to the rooms of people whose names were in their book. Police raided the rooms very early in the morning with guns in their hands, pointing at people and asking them to go with them. They even smashed the table that Iranian detainees had decorated for their new year’s day, and threw away the things on the table.

By selecting about 100 detainees and taking them to a compound called White 1, they (Serco and Police) wanted to demonstrate to other detainees that they were the troublemakers who caused all the damage. Around six to 700 detainees were involved in the protest, however because of lack of management by Serco and police, and also lacking a system to track people who had caused the damage (despite all the sophisticated security systems and CCTV cameras), they took the dignity of some innocents away without any solid evidence, and proof based solely on Serco’s fantasy and assumptions. They locked them up inside White 1, and did not give them their personal possessions. They didn’t provide people with any blankets or sleeping sheets. They used every way they could to provoke the people inside White 1 Compound to take some desperate action. In this case, they could easily stick the label of troublemakers and rebels much more easily to them, and prove to other detainees and to the government that they had caught the right people.

After keeping the people inside that compound for 15 days, without proving their crimes, and without any individual approaching them and telling them why they were being locked up, the tension rose to the point that one Kuwaiti detainee tried to hang himself inside the toilet but was very lucky to be noticed by his mates and they saved him.

Another some 50 decided to do a mass self harm.  Having heard the news, a representative from Serco and DIAC came to talk to detainees in White 1 Compound, bringing with them a list with the names of 10 people who were to be transferred to the mainland. Some of those were the representatives of the people in White 1. Again, the way they transferred them out of the island was another example of character assassination and humiliation for a crime and offence that was not proven. They were escorted by about 30 Serco officers ad some 20 AFP undercover police. When they were boarding the plane, some people were filming the whole scene in order to show to the Australian public that the main instigators of the riot were transferred away from the island. When they arrived in the Sydney detention centre, they were forced to sign a paper by Serco staff stating that “We are alleged to be the main instigators of the disturbances on the island”. When some people said that they needed to talk to their agents about it, Serco staff didn’t allow them, explaining that if they did not sign the paper they would be taken to a worse place.

Is this called justice here in Australia? Is this the way people get treated in a country that boasts about its humanitarian efforts? Accusing people of an offence that they haven’t committed, without any solid proof or evidence, is something that happens in dictatorship governments. Does this country follow the same dictatorship system as our own countries?

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Howard never “stopped the boats”

10 05 2011

If I had a dollar for how many times any given Liberal politician says the phrase “Stop the Boats”.

Refugees and Asylum seekers are back in the spotlight after Julia Gillard has come up with her “Malaysia Solution” — which isn’t going to help anything.

Of all the myth, the legend, the sheer fabrication that gets thrown around in the discourse over refugee and assylum seeker, the most damaging, the most disturbing of the lot remains the belief that John Howard “stopped the boats”.

Bullshit.

During the period towards the end of John Howard’s esteemed leadership of this fine country, that is, between 2002 and 2005 there was a global reduction in the number of refugees.

According to the UNHCR, the total number of people of concern fell from 20.8 million people in 2002 to 19.4 million in 2004.  The total number of refugees fell from 10.6 million to 9.2 million people.  During the period between 2002 and 2004, the global population of refugees dropped by 24%.

During that same period Germany (35 610) recorded its lowest number of arrivals in a decade, United States (52 360) and Switzerland (14 250) recorded the lowest arrival of assylum seekers since 1987 and The Netherlands (9 780) recorded its lowest arrival of applicants since 1988.

Why was this?

Because during this period the situation in Iraq, Serbia and Montenegro and Afghanistan, was largely improving.  These are places where large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers originated.  It was only in the following years that things started to get messy again, in a wide variety of places.

During this period John Howard’s Pacific Solution was in full swing.  It was claimed the hard-line treatment of asylum seekers, termed “boat people”, had “stopped the boats”.  Apparently it still is.  If not an outright lie, I’d say dishonest was a fair assesment.

John Howard never stopped the boats.  He just took credit for a global trend, and that point is emphasised by the very fact the countries which also experienced a reduction in arrivals have implemented systems which were much less restrictive than the “pacific solution” under Howard.

What has caused an substantial increase in the number of people seeking assylum in this court is a change in situation.  The brutal crackdown on protests in Iran, Burma and Thailand.  The crushing of the Tamil Tigers in Shri Lanka, increased the numbers of people who may seek to escape repression.  The conflicts started by Australia and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, as they dragged on over a period of a decade and resistance began to mount, have caused more people to leave.

So, yeah, there is going to be an increase. at. some. point. (i.e. right now)

The discourse is only going to become more polticised over the next few months and all those people with their stories and the real, present danger to their lives, will be forgotten beneath the figures, labels and hard-line rhetoric as political parties try to pander to the right-wing nationalist tendencies that have become, to some extent, normalised.

As much as I’d like to think people might cut the crap, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.





Help save Laughing Horse books

7 05 2011

Without your help, the collective-run Laughing Horse books in Portland, Oregan may soon be forced to close its doors.

Laughing Horse books is a independent bookstore, music venue and meeting space for radicals and activists with a history that goes back a quarter of a century.  To lose Laughing Horse Books would be the equivalent of losing a limb for the activists in the area.

Shawn Wilbur, Anarchist and Mutualist who has worked hard to translate and research early Mutualist thought writes:

The people and projects who stand to lose, in terms of finances, time, morale, etc., are primarily allied, radical projects who can’t afford losses and activists in exactly the same position.

It doesn’t matter where you are in this crazy world, if you count yourself an Anarchist, this is your chance to act in solidarity and live up to all the talk of mutual aid that goes on within these circles.

Whether it’s a 10, 5 or a few dollars, anything will help keep the creditors from the door.

Donate by heading over to Shawn’s blog and using the “ChipIn” widget in the far-right column or head directly to the ChipIn website and
spread the word on Facebook, on Blogs, on Forums, on Twitter.

Check out Laughing Horse books on Facebook and Myspace.





“Filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties”

1 05 2011

There are a lot of responses to Anarcho-Capitalism around the place, but very few hit all the right notes.

While the ideology itself is generally considered a footnote in wider Anarchist theory, it is not going to go away just because it has been ignored or marginalised.  Even where critical analysis exists, it is often sensationalist and doesn’t strike a death blow.  But with increasing numbers of former Anarcho-Capitalists reflecting on the theory and drifting Leftward over time, the critical response has become far more precise and far more threatening.

Though this is not intended to stand as a comprehensive, or even substantial, critical analysis of the ideology, it is hoped that providing more information will lead to better attempts.  For the record, Brainpolice, who blogs at Polycentric Order, has offered a scathing critical analysis of the behaviour and culture among Anarcho-Capitalists.  It is an experience that I share.

I don’t see a problem with going on a polemical, personally motivated critique and psychologizing[sic] of the culture that surrounds ancap. When obvious aristocrats are at the helm of its major institutions and when its major intellectuals all have ties to wishy washy neo-liberal public policy organizations, I think this is worth pointing out. Sure, one can bringing up the youth who subscribe to it that represent its more populist face, but it really seems like the most charitable thing to say is that such people are being manipulated by aristocrats – when they aren’t the children of aristocrats or virtual aristocrats themselves. I also have too much personal experience to avoid noting the degree to which ancap is a magnet for near-sociopathic personalities, but [I] don’t want to go on that tangent.

I’ve recently gotten familiar with the Australian libertarian and ancap scene, and it provides lots of fodder for the thesis about the younger generation of ancaps really are dominantly spoiled, rich college students who can’t see past their own privilege and pretty much are pawns for generally neo-liberal organizations. That pretty much defines the Melbourne libertarian scene, and the ancaps are virtually indistinguishable from the minarchists in practise. It’s alarmingly filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties[sic] giving lectures at university and going to expensive cocktail parties to gossip, with numerous inheritors of legacy wealth with connections to actual governmental organizations being popular figures. Some of these people are virtually conservative career politicians in training (see David Nolan and Tim Andrews).

I don’t think stuff like this is irrelevant at all. Ideologies do have a connection to the social context surrounding the people who invent and subscribe to them. Libertarian ideology all to often does function as a justification for people’s already existing social positions and personalities. Ancap debate with other groups all too often does devolve into what is blatantly a highly personal defensive lashing out by an individual in which they feel that what they own (or their power in general) is threatened, and in which their idiosyncratic immoralities can be justified ideologically. This is all too telling to ignore. The truth of an ideology really can’t be completely disconnected from its use when we are dealing with rationalizations. We aren’t always dealing with an innocent truth claim, we’re dealing with positions handpicked[sic] to rationalize[sic] deeper, unanalyzed beliefs and behavioral[sic] patterns.

The “arguments” too often are underpinned by implicit premises that can’t be justified and are connected to the person’s desires. This includes the (often unargued for) belief in their own legitimacy and oppression in a certain social context. The ideology can’t be properly addressed without this being looked at. That legitmacy[sic] and claim to oppression can end up falling apart when seriously analyzed[sic]. There are too many false victimhood mentalities and dubious feelings of entitlement going around to ignore. It’s a little too convenient to present your personal prejudices in the form of an argument construeing[sic] it as a law of nature or economics or the one true ethical code or whatever. If one really wants to talk about appeals to emotion, you’ll find one underlying many ancap arguments.

Understanding the ideology is not entirely difficult.  It begins by asserting that the Self is property and then asserts property as an extension of this fact.  As a result, all actions against property are a direct action against the Self.  From this, a series of axiomatic principles are extrapolated, such as the Non-Aggression Principle, Property as a Natural Right, Property as an Absolute.

The next step is to appeal to policy, where that policy is usually a particular strain of economics or, in the case of the so-labelled “social issues”, usually all the standard conservative talking points that reaffirm the prejudice and privilege of the adherent.  Mention that property, as constructed under Anarcho-Capitalism, works to legitimise and protect a racist in their discriminatory action against a particular minority, and the response is usually an accusation of “Marxism”, “political correctness” and a statement that, “who cares!?!” because “the market will sort it out”.  The fact that issues such as racism or, say, discrimination based on sexuality threaten the lives and well-being of millions of people around the planet, daily, is ignored entirely.  But if the government declares a tax hike on the rich, well the shit has really hit the fan.

Analysis of an issue or problem, from an Anarcho-Capitalist perspective, becomes little more than a repetitive, almost robotic, application of the Non-Aggression Principle and Absolute property rights to a set of facts in order to derive a conclusion on what makes for good economic efficiency.  It is a tried and true formula.

But then the biggest challenge to the wider Anarcho-Capitalist framework comes in that it relies, almost entirely, on appeals to the universalism of Natural Law on account of the basis assertion that the Self is something which can be considered property.  Something that can be owned and with ownership comes the right of use and abuse — and anyone that knows anything about property is generally well aware that property can be traded, transferred or given away.  This is called ‘alienation‘ — the right to give something away or sell it.

So if the idea of a person selling themselves into slavery does not appeal to you, then the idea of “Self-Ownership” is nothing more than an abstract metaphor for some basic sense of Individual Autonomy or the Self as independent, free and un-governed.

However.

“Self-Ownership” is phrased in terms of property for a reason.  Entirely decoupled from property, the axiomatic principles extrapolated from this concept fall down.  They simply become assertions and are not connected to some greater, higher, universal Natural Law.  They are constructed by of the various thinkers associated with Anarcho-Capitalism.

While the “Non-Aggression Principle” may be a great principle and can find its theoretical and practical support elsewhere, others which derive their existence directly from Self-Ownership, do not.  Property then, is not a Natural Right, but a social construct and the rights, obligations and basis on which property operates, can be questioned, reformulated and reapplied or rejected where problems arise.  At this point, the point of application, Brainpolice’s critical analysis applies and we are forced to deal with people who’s only response to a serious attack on their system is blind faith.  “The market will take care of it!” and if this doesn’t work, you can always look to the linguistic lingo and peculiar use of language to confuse the situation a little more.

Anarcho-Capitalism is simplistic in theory and application.  With time, there is a notable tendency of Anarcho-Capitalists to drift Left.  If nothing else can be taken from this, the biggest question will still remain:

Why?





Bahraini activists face brutal repression

28 04 2011

This just in from the BBC

Hundreds of people have been detained for taking part in protests, many unable to communicate with family.

The seven defendants were reportedly tried behind closed doors on charges of premeditated murder of government employees – allegedly running two police officers over in a car.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges, reports said.

The trial was the first publicly announced since the Gulf state was put under martial law in mid-March.

Who’s got odds that the charges have been falsified to give a legal veneer to the proceedings and an excuse to execute some “meddlesome kids”?

Al Jazeera has some more details…

The seven defendants were tried behind closed doors on charges of premeditated murder of government employees, which their lawyers have denied.

A Shia opposition official named those sentenced to death as Ali Abdullah Hasan, Qasim Hassan Mattar, Saeed Abdul Jalil Saeed, and Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ibrahim.

He told the AFP news agency that Issa Abdullah Kazem, Sadiq Ali Mahdi, and Hussein Jaafar Abdul Karim were
sentenced to life in prison.

Sheikh Ali Salman,  president of Bahrain’s Al Wefaq, the largest Shia political group in the country, told Al Jazeera that the punishments did not fit the crime.

“I believe that these sentences should be revised and the international community must intervene to stop this,” he said.

He added that the proceedings were “unprecedented” and that question marks remain over the conditions the detainees are living in.





Drifting left with every step

25 04 2011

An essay has appeared by a self-described Libertarian offering some constructive criticism of “Libertarianism” as a movement.  It seems the message that Anarcho-Capitalism/Paleo-Libertarianism/Right-Libertarian and similar offshoots exist largely to defend the interests of the privileged is getting through.  Although the author does not go to such an extreme, the issues highlighted lay out a signficant part of the reason why I repudiate my past association with Anarcho-Capitalism and the broader American “Libertarianism” without excuse.  As far as I am concerned, I was wrong and naive.

I just spent a couple days at a libertarian conference. It is an experience that I find increasingly dismaying and disappointing because there has been a clear rightward shift in the libertarian movement toward some clearly anti-libertarian viewpoints, if not toward some pure nonsense from the fringe right. It is as if no libertarian today can critique the Federal Reserve without appealing to the pseudo-history conspiracy theories of G. Edward Griffin of the John Birch Society.

But what is interesting is listening to libertarians dismiss issues that are important to people who aren’t like them. Let us be truthful: the typical libertarian, and certainly the typical attendee at this conference, is a middle-aged, white, straight male. And they seem utterly incapable of seeing freedom through the lenses of anyone who isn’t the same.

Mention equal marriage rights for gay people and they simply dismiss it as unimportant. If they aren’t actively opposed—and some were—they see it as inconsequential. If you talk about guns they often are interested since so many of them own firearms. If you talk about pornography they are interested. But when it comes to the barriers to immigration they don’t give a damn since they aren’t immigrants. They hate tax laws but then they pay taxes.

Unfortunately for the author, rejecting “Me libertarianism” also leads to questioning other dogmas that get passed around with the Libertarian doctrine, and if a person follows their anti-authoritarian instincts, they are likely to find themselves heading further Left then they ever imagined.





The world remade

21 04 2011

Care of Pambazuka News

To choose democracy is not to choose Europe and it is certainly not to choose the United States of America, which has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world when electorates have had the temerity to elect the ‘wrong’ leaders. In fact, any serious commitment to democracy has to reject the moral and political authority of Europe and the United States of America. Any commitment to democracy has to assert, very clearly, that all people everywhere have the right to govern themselves according to their own will.

We cannot know the trajectories of the uprisings that have swept North Africa and the Middle East. But one thing is for sure. Whatever pompous claims to the contrary come out of Washington and Brussels, these are not revolts for American or European values. On the contrary they are a direct challenge to those values. They are revolts against a global power structure that is formed by an international alliance of elites with one of its key principles being the idea, the racist idea, that Arabs are ‘not yet ready’ for democracy. This, of course, is an echo of one of the common justifications for apartheid. But the plain fact of the matter is that anyone who says that anyone else isn’t yet ready for democracy is no democrat.

Ben Ali and Mubarak were little more than co-opted Bantustan leaders in a system of global apartheid. Gadaffi’s oil funded cruelty, megalomania and opportunism has taken him in many directions in his 42-year reign but have, in recent years, been leading him in the same direction. Democratising a Bantustan is progress. But democratising a Bantustan is not enough. The whole global system needs to be democratised.