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Asylum Seekers in Australia – “Cultural Amnesia” – Clive James

October 3rd, 2011 · No Comments · Culture, History, Humanism, Immigration, Multi-culturalism, WW2

Apart from gumption, courage and determination, what the illegal immigrants have that the legal applicants haven’t is money. No doubt the illegals have made great efforts to save it. Nevertheless, they’ve got it. If you reinforce the principle that illegal immigrants can pay a people smuggler to put them in a position where the Australian government will have to either admit them or leave them to die—many dreams have been brought to your doorstep—you also reinforce the principle that the queue is merely a mechanism for reducing hope to despair, one more mockery for people who have been mocked already.

When the Australian intelligentsia had this explained to them, they were ready with their answer: there ought not to be a queue. Everybody should be allowed in. Think of the misery of all the world’s injured and deprived. Think of the power of the story. There is something to it, but only just. For those Australian commentators with an historical perspective—it has lately become fashionable to rent one of these by the hour—the Tampa sailed in the troubled wake of the St. Louis, the liner full of Jewish refugees that left Europe in 1939, was never allowed to land anywhere else, and ended up back where it started, delivering many of its desperate passengers to their untimely deaths at the hands of the Nazis.

Most of the Tampa people, however, were simply in search of a better life. It was hard to blame them for that: so were my grandfathers. When you heard the journalists talk about racist Australia, however, it was just as hard to see why anyone should be thought unlucky not to be allowed in. The power of that story—the story about racist Australia—kept on growing until the Bali nightclub bomb took some of the puff out of it. Even then, some commentators managed to convince themselves that the bombers were students of history who were registering their dissatisfaction with the nearness of Australia’s foreign policy to that of the Bush administration.

But what never weakened the story, strangely enough, was that most of the people who were initially turned away eventually got in. They were diverted to Nauru, they spent time in detention camps in Australia, but eventually they got in. Yet the story persisted. If it did so, it was partly because there is nothing pretty about the detention camps. But here again, the intelligentsia shows invidious haste in holding the Australian population responsible. When adult refugees sewed their lips together in silent protest, it was indeed a daunting sight. Why, however, should their children do the same, unless encouraged to by the parents?

The Australian population was asking a question about culture. The intelligentsia, ever on the lookout for signs of intolerance, regards all questions about culture as racist at the root. That the common voters should ask such questions is taken as evidence of Australia’s role as a source of the world’s problems, and not as a refuge from them. Luckily the refugees themselves do not agree. They are in flight from a different story. They might not fully understand it as yet, but they have certainly felt its power.

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