20 May 2011

Any hope for Palestinians in Obama’s speech?

In this must-read post on the blog Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah puts a compelling case for why President Obama’s speech on US Middle East policy, delivered overnight, changes little. The introductory paragraphs sum it up:

Obama Endorses 1967 Borders for Israel” as part of a “Broad Speech Rejecting Status Quo in the Middle East” – that was the instant spin on the front of The New York Times website within minutes of the president speaking.

But while President Barack Obama laid out in a little bit more detail a US “vision” of what “peace” would look like in his much anticipated speech on US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, there was precious little new.

Moreover, the speech affirmed that the United States will not take any effective action to advance its vision of a two-state solution.

Read the entire post here.

19 May 2011

Who’s afraid of WikiLeaks?

Tomorrow (Friday 20 May)  in Sydney I will be chairing a session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival entitled Who’s afraid of WikLeaks.

The members of the panel will be

-  Suelette Dreyfus, author (with Julian Assange) of Underground, William Heinemann, Sydney 2011 – the story of the 1980s-1990s hacker underground, an important segment of which was operating out of Melbourne.

-   Andrew Fowler, author of The Most Dangerous Man in the World, Melbourne University Press, 2011

-  Barbara Gunnell, author of Rebel, public nuisance and dreamer: Julian Assange standing alone, GriffithREVIEW 32, March 2011.

-  Robert Manne, author of The Cypherpunk Revolutionary, The Monthly, March 2011.

-  Guy Rundle, author of Open-eyed conspiracy his time doth take, Overland, Issue No. 202, Autumn 2011.

The session will take place at Sydney Town Hall, 6.00-7.30 pm. The SWF webpage for the session may be accessed here.

I have signed a release for the ABC to make audio or video recordings of the session, and will post links for anything that goes to air after the Festival.

Gideon Levy on the requirements for Middle East Peace

Columnist Gideon Levy has an opinion piece in today’s edition of Ha’aretz on the essential requirements for reconciliation and peace with the Palestinians, an essential precondition for which is understanding the perspective of the Palestinians.

He begins:

Look what a few hundred demonstrators can do in a day: 1948 is on the agenda. The breach of the fence in the Golan Heights was enough to breach a far older and more complex fence, bringing 1948 to center stage in the political discussion.  

We're still screwing things up and babbling ourselves to death about 1967 - will or won't Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu utter the words "1967 borders," as if it makes a difference what he says.

Later in the piece:

Anyone who didn't want 1967 is now getting 1947. Anyone who didn't want to evacuate the settlement of Ariel will now be forced to discuss Carmiel. Anyone who didn't want a historic compromise is now getting the 1948 portfolio on his doorstep. The right is rejoicing, it's not clear about what, the left has long been dead and the caravan is galloping forward, leaving Israel in a situation that is deteriorating by the day.

1948 received a donkey's burial in Israel; there has never been a genuine public discussion of it here, but its spirit never died for a moment in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora. Its survivors, the refugees and their grandchildren carry its memory and their pain to this day, just as the Jews carry their own memories and pain. That should have been acknowledged long ago. In that sense we can actually appreciate the behavior of the demonstrators from Syria: They reminded Israelis of forgotten events.

Levy concludes:

The time has come to remove the abscess and air out the wound. We're not talking about an impossible turning back of the wheel of history, about the return of millions and the end of the State of Israel, as the right is trying to scare us into believing. We're talking about understanding the other side and granting some of its desires - accepting moral responsibility for 1948, a solution to the refugee problem, and of course, that very minimum, the 1967 borders. Anyone who still doesn't understand that is invited to waste more time and see how this benefits us and them.

It is hard to imagine a hard-hitting piece like this receiving an airing in any mainstream newspaper in Australia. It is worth reading in full; access it here.

Yitzhak Laor: Which chapter of Joshua?

Today’s edition of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz contains an opinion piece by Yitzhak Laor entitled Which chapter from the book of Joshua? He denies that the prevention of Palestinian return has much to do with security, and says that in any event what Israel is dealing with

… is not the Palestinians' return to Israel at all. The issue at stake is the refugees' return to the Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israel has no other way to take part in solving what it created in atrocious innocence in 1948.

The article begins:

Between 1949 and 1956, in what Israel calls "retribution operations," thousands of Palestinians, who did not come to attack, were killed on the borders. Hundreds of others, probably fewer, who came to kill or steal or take what was theirs, were also killed. Those thousands were all killed, and others were imprisoned, because the new state's laws categorized them as "infiltrators."

The argument about whether the Palestinians were driven out or fled is sanctimonious. From the moment hundreds of thousands of them were forbidden to return, their flight became a deportation. Civilian populations flee at a time of war and return, all over the world (Israel's defenders always point out the exceptions). But preventing their return, the killing and the internal debates show how the "refugee problem" was gradually but speedily labelled a security problem.

The military rule in the villages hunted down those who succeeded in returning. Until it was dismantled in 1967, this rule ensured the massive land confiscation and effectively prevented the return. In fact, not all of the state's leadership during the war realized that the army and David Ben-Gurion intended to "cleanse" the land. So some leaders had no idea from where to deport people and from where not to deport them, and whether to allow them to return or not.

Later in the piece:

… to understand how extreme Benjamin Netanyahu is, and how much he is part of the radical nucleus of the rejectionist front, you must listen to his cliches about "we're willing to cede parts of homeland." What exactly is he ceding in the West Bank? What chapter from the Book of Joshua is he living in?

He concludes that the matter will not end until the Israeli public understands that it's in its own interest, and essential for its survival, to reconcile and withdraw from all the territories.

Read the full piece here.

18 May 2011

No racism in Israel

It is highly politically incorrect to suggest that there is, or ever has been, a hint of a suggestion of a bat’s squeak of racism in Israel, so I won’t do that.

I will however refer you to this very interesting article from the 6 August 1979 Time magazine, a link to which was posted on by Ben White on the Mondoweiss blog. It concerns the treatment of Bedouins whose traditional lands seemed to be just exactly where the Israeli Air Force needed to build an air strip.

The part I like best is the response of a senior Israeli official to a request by the Bedouin that they be permitted to set up a model agricultural cooperative:

I’m not giving up good Jewish land and water to Arabs.

Read Ben White’s post here, and the original Time article here.  When you read the Time piece, see whether you can detect anything that smacks of forced labour, or indeed, of “how the West was won”.

Israel's skunk truck

Demonstrating against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a hazardous occupation at the best of times. The Israelis enforce their occupation very forcefully, some would day heavy handedly, and Palestinians are regularly killed by IDF troops – including in the course of the IDF’s use of supposedly non-lethal crowd control options like tear gas. Several Palestinians have been killed by being struck by a tear gas canister fired at close range – always a regrettable accident of course.

According to a 3 May 2011 article in The Seattle Times (see here), the emerging weapon of choice for crowd control is the so-called Skunk truck, a vehicle fitted to spray a nauseatingly offensive liquid all over the protesters, and, Palestinians allege, into homes, making them uninhabitable.

All part of the Israeli quest for peace, I guess.

15 May 2011

The “dodgy dossier”: truth will out

At last someone in a position to know has told the Chilcot Inquiry in the United Kingdom something we all already knew: that the Blair Government’s so-called “dodgy dossier” on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction was cooked up to make the case for war – a flagrant misuse of intelligence processes.

An article published in The Guardian on Thursday 12 May (Iraq document drawn up to make the case for war – intelligence officer by Richard Norton-Taylor) begins:

A top military intelligence official has said the discredited dossier on Iraq's weapons programme was drawn up "to make the case for war", flatly contradicting persistent claims to the contrary by the Blair government, and in particular by Alastair Campbell, the former prime minister's chief spin doctor.

In hitherto secret evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, Major General Michael Laurie said: "We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care."

His evidence is devastating, as it is the first time such a senior intelligence officer has directly contradicted the then government's claims about the dossier – and, perhaps more significantly, what Tony Blair and Campbell said when it was released seven months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Laurie, who was director general in the Defence Intelligence Staff, responsible for commanding and delivering raw and analysed intelligence, said: "I am writing to comment on the position taken by Alastair Campbell during his evidence to you … when he stated that the purpose of the dossier was not to make a case for war; I and those involved in its production saw it exactly as that, and that was the direction we were given."

He continued: "Alastair Campbell said to the inquiry that the purpose of the dossier was not 'to make a case for war'. I had no doubt at that time this was exactly its purpose and these very words were used."

The article concludes that:

Laurie's memo raises questions about the role of Sir John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who later became head of MI6.

Indeed it does.  When I first heard that Sir John Scarlett was in the habit of meeting Campbell regularly over lunch I wondered to myself under what circumstances the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee could possibly have a valid reason for ever meeting the Prime Minister’s spin doctor, even on a single occasion.

I still wonder about that.

Access the Guardian piece here.

Turning away refugees

Australia is now in the business of turning away refugees.

Consider the opening paragraphs of Melissa Fyfe’s news item, Times up: latest boat arrivals to be diverted, in today’s (15 May 2011) edition of The Age – see here:

The Gillard government’s tougher refugee policy came into full force yesterday, with the Immigration Minister saying the latest boatload of asylum seekers will be refused processing and sent away to a yet-to-be determined country.

The government has flatly rejected the asylum seekers before finalising two of its major new options for refugee processing: the so-called Malaysian ‘‘swap’’ and a new assessment centre on Papua New Guinea.

The 33 asylum seekers, picked up early yesterday morning in the Timor Sea, will undergo basic checks and be temporarily held in detention on Christmas Island before removal to a ‘‘third country’’.

…yesterday he said Australia would not  accept  any asylum seekers who arrive by boat. ‘‘The people aboard the boat will be processed not for refugee assessment but for removal from Australia.’’

Be in no doubt that this means we are turning away refugees. The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the accompanying 1967 Protocol (see here) defines a refugee as a person who:

owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Note that under this definition the state of being a refugee is intrinsic to the person concerned: they are a refugee the moment they take flight “owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted ...”, not because some government official in a far-off land taps them on the shoulder with his sword and says, “I dub thee a refugee. Arise, Sir Refugee”.

This means that the process of “processing” refugees is conceptually, and in any decent practice, not a matter of establishing which people are refugees, it is a matter of identifying any who are making a false claim and hence are not entitled to the benefits that refugee status confers as of right.

To illustrate by an analogy that is not too strained, you are not ill because a doctor says you are, you present yourself for medical assistance because you have a well-founded fear that you are ill.

This raises an issue akin to the presumption of innocence. Since the state of being a refugee is intrinsic to the individual(s) concerned, it is important to assume that everyone who makes a claim for asylum be treated as such unless and until the contrary is established.

The difference is important. It means that we should not withhold the benefits of refugee status from every asylum seeker until the merits of their claims are established. It means that, in a preliminary and precautionary way at least, we extend them to everyone and subsequently withdraw them from those found not to qualify. This approach does not preclude a preliminary period of detention to enable identity and health checks to be carried out, not does it preclude requiring asylum claimants remaining in touch with the authorities until all procedures have been completed and a right of permanent residency is granted.

I would go on to argue that our obligations under the Convention and Protocol, and on the basis of human decency (the old-fashioned notion of doing what is right, which rarely enters into our political discourse these days) are engaged the moment an asylum seeker comes face to face with an Australian naval or customs craft and says “I am a refugee”.

Forget all the fancy legal cleverness about excising bits of Australian sovereign territory (parts of our far-flung oceanic and island territory which we regard as fine for claiming fishing and mineral rights but are less enthusiastic about acknowledging as the basis for the various responsibilities that go with sovereignty), and about offshore processing as a way of deeming people not to have arrived in Australia. An Australian warship is a floating piece of Australian sovereignty, and a person who communicates with it is communicating with the Australian state.  John Howard seems to understood that – that is presumably why in a notorious incident he would not let an Australian frigate take refugees on board until their boat had actually sunk and the people on board had to be rescued from the water.

Sadly, in the race to the bottom that characterises the politics of immigration generally these days, we are no longer saying to refugees “You are not welcome here” – we have been saying that ever since Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention, contrary to one of the fundamental provisions of the Convention, under which detention is a last resort. We are now saying, “You may not come here” (unless of course your circumstances are such that you can purchase a ticket on an aeroplane).

We should hang our collective heads in shame that we have allowed matters to come to this.

14 May 2011

George Megalogenis on the state of Australian politics

In his column in today’s edition of The Weekend Australian , entitled Just keep digging, George Megalogenis writes with his characteristic insightfulness about the state of Australian politics and political leadership as demonstrated by the way in which budget week played out.

He begins:

Wayne Swan delivered a predictably safe budget. Tony Abbott delivered a more than predictably contemptuous reply speech.

If there was nothing at stake but the right to captain Australia on autopilot, the policy timidity of Labor and Liberal, perversely, might serve the national interest.

Politicians are at their most dangerous when they insist on fiddling with every little thing a government does to prove they are in charge.

But the world is changing in ways that demand a more active government.

Later in the piece:

The Australian people hung their federal parliament last August as a form of bipartisan punishment. They stripped a first-term Labor government of its majority but didn't want an Abbott-led Coalition in its place.

Any lingering hope that a none-of-the-above election result would force one or both main parties to grow up vanished with this week's budget debate. Labor couldn't afford to pick a fight so it took baby steps back to surplus.

Abbott and his shadow treasurer Joe Hockey betrayed an almost comic lack of seriousness in their budget response this week.

They didn't seem to mind the contradiction of demanding hard-ball cuts while insisting that no family be worse off, including those on the top rung of the income ladder.

He concludes:

The Gillard and Abbott generation will repeat [the mistake of the Fraser years] if they imagine the the quarry will keep bailing us out.

The quarry is, in fact, sending an early warning that government by middle-class welfare cannot protect living standards any more than tariffs and centralised wage-fixing did in the past.

The role of government remains what it always was: to build things that the market won't; to regulate business without pricing it out of business; and to educate a workforce that is nimble enough to catch the next wave of prosperity when the world asks us to do something other than dig.

But that requires sacrifice at the kitchen table to help government prepare us for the future.

This is George Megalogenis at his best. Access the article in full here.

12 May 2011

Soraj Ghulam Habib

Visiting Australia at the moment is an Afghan teenager named Soraj Ghulam Habib.

Ten years ago, while playing with friends in his home city of Herat, he kicked a bright yellow box that was lying on the ground. As a result he lost his cousin and his legs, and four of his friends were injured.

The bright yellow object was an unexploded cluster bomb. There are millions of unexploded cluster munitions in countries like Afghanistan, Laos and Lebanon,a  constant hazard to people going about their daily activities long after the fighting has stopped.

Habib, 19, is visiting Australia as part of the campaign for a worldwide ban on cluster bombs, and to draw attention to the plight of the disabled in Afghanistan.

Read more about him and why his visit is timely in this item from the 9 May edition of The Age, accessible here.

For previous posts on the cluster munitions issue see Malcolm Fraser on our cluster munitions legislation, Laos and the Convention on Cluster Munitions and Strengthen our cluster munitions legislation

Strengthen our cluster munitions legislation

The following opinion piece written by me appeared in the Monday 2 May edition of The Age:

We must do more to help rid the world of these foul weapons
Paul Barratt
May 2, 2011-05-12

Legislation on cluster bombs puts our troops in an ambiguous position.

The Senate is about to consider legislation to ratify Australia's accession to the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions. Regrettably, the legislation is far too weak.

Cluster munitions are weapons that open in midair and disperse smaller bomblets - anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds - into the target area. They are valued militarily because one munition can kill or destroy many targets within its impact area, and fewer weapons systems are needed to deliver fewer munitions to attack multiple targets.

The fundamental criticisms of cluster munitions are that they disperse large numbers of submunitions imprecisely over an extended area, and that they frequently fail to detonate.

Bomb disposal experts have found that the failure rate can be as high as 30 per cent of the bomblets in the cluster. The unexploded bomblets are difficult to detect, and can remain widely dispersed explosive hazards for decades.

Australia played an active role in the negotiation of the UN Convention, and signed it on December 3, 2008, the day it was opened for signature. The convention became binding international law for states parties on August 1 last year. The legislation now before the Parliament is designed to give effect to our obligations by creating new criminal offences for Australians who behave in ways at odds with the convention.

The United States regards cluster munitions as militarily useful, has no intention of eliminating them from its arsenals, and has no intention of joining the convention. This creates a balancing act for the Australian government. We want to ratify the convention, but we want also to continue to engage in joint military operations with our non-signatory major ally.

The convention tackles this issue with inter-operability provisions that enable states parties to continue to operate with non-signatories to which they are allied.

Those provisions, however, are heavily restricted by the convention's categorical prohibitions not to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, transfer, use or expressly request the use of cluster munitions. They are restricted also by the positive obligations to promote the norms the convention establishes, to notify non-signatories of our obligations under the convention, to encourage them to join the convention, and to make best efforts to discourage them from using cluster munitions.

Regrettably, the bill before the Senate is at odds with these obligations. It permits us to facilitate continued use of cluster bombs by non-signatories. It specifically permits foreign forces to base their cluster bombs here or to transit them through Australian territory.

It also permits members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the use of cluster bombs in joint operations with foreign forces.

Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic told the Senate committee inquiring into the legislation that it could be interpreted to ''allow Australian military personnel to load and aim the gun, so long as they did not pull the trigger''.

Remarkably, the legislation also flies in the face of a recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and permits Australian entities to invest in the companies that produce these munitions.

Legislation in these terms is clearly at odds with a convention whose central purpose is to prevent the use of cluster munitions and ensure the destruction of all national stockpiles, and which imposes on all parties obligations both to encourage non-signatories to join and to discourage them from using cluster munitions.

Eliminating the use of cluster munitions is a vital humanitarian concern. The scourge they represent is illustrated by Laos, the most bombed country in history on a per capita basis. From 1964 to 1973, about 270 million cluster submunitions were dropped on Laos.

Estimates of the numbers of bomblets remaining in Laos vary. The relevant Laotian government agency estimates the country is host to 80 million as yet undetected bomblets. They are in every province, and 25 per cent of Laotian villages are contaminated by unexploded ordnance, 37 years after the end of the fighting. Three hundred Laotians a year are killed or maimed by them. Forty per cent of the victims are children, usually performing livelihood activities such as tending animals.

At the current rate of clean-up of these munitions it will take another 3000 years to render Laos safe. More than half the population of this at-risk country was born after the conflict ended, but they must still endure its consequences.

In signing the convention on cluster munitions, Australia has agreed with a proposition in the preamble that we are ''determined to work strenuously towards the promotion of its universalisation and its full implementation''.

If we are serious about that, we will need to do much better than the bill now before the Senate, and will need to pursue much more active diplomacy to bring about the worldwide elimination of cluster munitions.

Paul Barratt is a former secretary of the Department of Defence and deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

11 May 2011

Israel: covert cancellation of Palestinian residency

In an article published in today’s 11 May 2011 online edition of Ha’aretz (see here) Akiva Eldar, the paper’s chief political columnist and editorial writer, relates how, between 1967 and 1994, many Palestinians traveling abroad were stripped of residency status, allegedly without warning.

He begins:

Israel has used a covert procedure to cancel the residency status of 140,000 West Bank Palestinians between 1967 and 1994, the legal advisor for the Judea and Samaria Justice Ministry's office admits, in a new document obtained by Haaretz. The document was written after the Center for the Defense of the Individual filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law.

The document states that the procedure was used on Palestinian residents of the West Bank who traveled abroad between 1967 and 1994. From the occupation of the West Bank until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians who wished to travel abroad via Jordan were ordered to leave their ID cards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.

He goes on to describe how this came about, and how the situation was discovered by the Center for the Defense of the Individual by pure chance, while it was looking into the case of a West Bank resident imprisoned in Israel.

The Center for the Defense of the Individual says that an unknown number of Gaza residents had lost residency rights in a similar manner, but that the exact number is still a secret  which the Center is working to uncover.

Read Akiva Eldar’s article in full here.

Andrew Catsaras on asylum seekers and political courage

On Monday 28 February 2011 fellow blogger Andrew Catsaras put up a fine post The courage of NO! on the subject of asylum seekers and the need for political leaders to have the courage to speak out against what they know to be wrong.

He says

The continual refusal by the vast majority of our politicians to deal with this issue, because they either don't want to give away an "electoral advantage" (as it is seen by the Coalition) or don't want to confront an "electoral liability" (as it is seen by the ALP) is a dereliction of their public duty and does nothing to rid the nation of this stain on its character.  In fact, their inaction makes the stain much worse and is in danger of making it indelible and permanent.

Worse, this focus solely on the electoral consequences of taking anything other than a "tough" stance on this issue not only reflects poorly on those politicians who can see the hypocrisy of this position yet refuse to do anything about it, but by legimitising the unfounded and irrational fears of the public these politicians are deliberately and wilfully directing the Australian people away from expressing what is a natural tendency for them - that is, to be compassionate and generous towards others in need.

He gives three case studies of real political courage, political leaders taking a stand even though the cause seemed hopeless. To quote from his concluding summary:

The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. understood injustice all too well and when he came to realise that the Vietnam War was another injustice, he rose to the challenge and took a stand.

Ioannis Metaxas, when he was given an ultimatum by a much more powerful nation in Fascist Italy that he surrender or else, gave a clear and unequivocal NO!  And the Greeks' defiance played a crucial role in helping to defeat Nazi Germany.

Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, when he was confronted with what he saw as a draconian attempt to isolate and vilify a particular group (The Communist Party) fought the attempt, first in the High Court and won, and then in the court of public opinion, and won again.

Andrew then disposes of the key dangerous and damaging myths concerning asylum seekers – myths that politicians on both sides of the house should make it their business to demolish – the myths that asylum seekers are acting illegally in coming here; that they are rorting the system; that “we are being over-run with these people”; that they are “queue jumpers”; that they get access to benefits that ordinary Australians cannot get; that they do not fit into our society; and that they are terrorists.

This is a fine piece of research and advocacy.

Read Andrew’s complete post here.

Australians for Palestine: Letter to AFR

There is a letter to the editor in today’s edition of The Australian Financial Review from Moammar Mashni  of the Melbourne based Australians for Palestine advocacy group, in response to a letter by Yosi Tal (“Protection not on list for support”, Letters, 6 May).

Unfortunately in the course of editing the letter for publication on a rather space-limited letters page, a couple of very significant points were omitted, but Moammar has provided me with a copy of his letter as submitted, which appears below:

The tenets of the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) are simple:

1.       Recognise the inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees;
2.       End the illegal military occupation;
3.       End the systematic discrimination of Palestinian citizens within Israel.

Mr Tal (letters, 06/05) deliberately misrepresents the facts and would have us believe that Israel bears no responsibility whatsoever.

Israel’s own intelligence services, Shin Bet, stated that it was better intelligence gathering and cooperation with the PA security forces that stopped suicide bombers, not the apartheid wall.

When Israel strengthened the Islamists that went on to form Hamas in the 1980’s in an attempt to topple then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, I do not recall Tal and his ilk making scurrilous remarks about Gaza.

The Right of Return is enshrined in international law. Those who deny this fundamental human right, deny the very freedoms that embolden civilised society.

Moammar Mashni
Australians for Palestine
Hawthorn Vic.

10 May 2011

People smuggling: let’s be honest about who’s under attack

When he was Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd let it be known that he did not have a high opinion of people smugglers; following an explosion on 16 April 2009 in which several asylum seekers were killed and others badly injured on board an apprehended boat, he said (see here):

People smugglers are engaged in the world's most evil trade and they should all rot in jail because they represent the absolute scum of the earth.

People smugglers are the vilest form of human life. They trade on the tragedy of others and that's why they should rot in jail and in my own view, rot in hell.

We see this lowest form of human life at work in what we saw on the high seas yesterday.

That's why this Government maintains its hardline, tough, targeted approach to maintaining border protection for Australia.

Julia Gillard shares Rudd’s view; in her remarkable address to the Lowy Institute on 6 July 2010 (downloadable from here) she said that one of the organising principles for developing asylum seeker policy upon which she felt we could all agree was:

That people smuggling is an evil trade to be punished.

I say this was a remarkable speech because in this, an address to one of the nation’s leading foreign policy institutes, and her first major opportunity after becoming Prime Minister to present her views on foreign policy, she chose to address the matter of asylum seekers and little else.

If Rudd and Gillard were speaking only of the people traffickers who lure young girls into sexual slavery on the fraudulent promise of employment as household help or nannies I would be with them, but as an all-encompassing statement I think the proposition needs to be tested. Like John Passant in his 10 July blog post immediately following Gillard’s address (see here), I think that as well as having a dark side, people smuggling has a long and honourable history, and that Gillard’s attack on people smugglers is a crude dog whistle. Her real target is the asylum seekers themselves.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the people smugglers who organise the boats on which asylum seekers make the perilous voyage to Australia are all admirable people. Clearly some of them are not. But we should not fall for the implied message that the people smugglers are the cause of the asylum seeker “problem”.  People smugglers exist because there are people fleeing persecution in their homelands, and a huge unmet wish on the part of people stranded in countries not party to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees to get themselves and their families out of unsafe, unsavoury and unsanitary conditions in the camps in which they languish forever with the ever-present danger of being bashed, caned, raped or robbed even after being found by UNHCR to qualify for refugee status.

Solve the resettlement problem and there will be no people smugglers.

So let us not fall for the blandishments of the politicians on both sides of the house who rail against people smugglers as a dog-whistle proxy for attacking those seeking asylum.

Grog’s Gamut on the “Malaysian Solution”

In case you are inclined to think that Julia Gillard has found an elegant solution to what she regards as an asylum-seeker problem, read yesterday’s post, The Asylum Debate: No edification, but lots of soul destruction by much-read Canberra-based blogger Grog’s Gamut (Greg Jericho). It’s a cracker, and right on the money as far as I am concerned.

In due course I will add a few thoughts of my own.

More on the US-Pakistan relationship

Elizabeth Rubin, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine who has ben reporting from Pakistan and Afghanistan for the past decade, has a must-read essay on the US-Pakistan relationship, dated 6 May, in the Blog section of the New York Review of Books (see here).

Osama bin Laden’s death in a mansion in exclusive club house territory of retired Pakistani officers has exposed the terrible paradox at the heart of our war in Afghanistan—Pakistan’s hypocrisy and our acquiescence.

We give billions in aid to Pakistan’s military and civilian government. Yet Pakistan is harboring our enemies and even the enemies, one could argue, of its own healthy survival. Portions of our money are being funneled into the variety of insurgent networks whose fighters are killing American soldiers, Afghan soldiers, American civilians, Afghan civilians, European civilians, Pakistani civilians—mothers, fathers, children on multiple continents.

She gives first hand evidence of Taliban who would like to make a deal with the Afghan Government to get back to a life without fighting, and describes the interests that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the Pakistan Army have in perpetuation of the conflict.

Towards the end of the piece:

Or as an advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke told me not long before Holbrooke died: “We see Pakistan as a flawed ally and the Afghan Taliban as our enemy. The truth is the reverse.” It is the Taliban, the advisor suggested, who can be worked with; they who distrust—and in many cases despise—the ISI overlords they depend on for safe havens and support. All along they’ve let it be known through different channels that they want to talk directly to the Americans. The question is how?

Read Rubin’s report in full here.