God hates flags
Okay, so maybe that statement is stretching things a bit far. I had a conversation with someone the other day in reference to that now-well-known phrase in relation to immigration, and their response was fair – “Yeah, but the Aboriginals probably immigrated here at some point as well… how far back should we go?”
Exactly! The point is no one is exempt from immigration – we are all descended from immigrants at some point.
But I’m getting ahead of myself… If you aren’t aware, one of the major political debates in Australia at the moment is that concerning immigration, refugees and boat people. Typically the Liberal Party (our main moderate right-wing party) has been tough on immigration, with our Labor Party (moderate left-wing; currently in government) have been less strict. The current debate has centred around accusations from the Liberal Party that people smuggling into Australia has gotten out of control since Labor took government in late 2007. Tony Abbott, Liberal Party leader, said this in an interview on Radio 3AW on April 2nd;
“Well, you’ve got to be a lot tougher than Mr Rudd has been. I mean he announced that he was going to be much more compassionate back in mid-2008 and since then a trickle of boats has become a flood. Under the Howard Government we got three boats a year; under the Rudd Government we’re getting three boats a week and all records are likely to be broken this year when it comes to unauthorised arrivals. So plainly you do need to be much tougher and I think it’s a pity, it’s more than that, it’s a tragedy, for many people, including the boat people who’ve drowned at sea, that Mr Rudd hasn’t been as tough post-election as he promised to be pre-election.”
But Unfortunately Mr. Abbott is quite ignorant of the facts about asylum seekers entering Australia. Not only is the so-called “flood” of boat people an underwhelming reality (Julian Burnside claimed in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 9th that, “Even at the current arrival rate, it would take 30 years of boat arrivals to fill the MCG.”), but Malcolm Fraser has written a crushing article in today’s Herald (April 15th), claiming;
“(The opposition) has said time and again that the government has lost control of Australia’s border protection knowing that that charge is false.
It is false because the number of asylum seekers – whether it be 4000 or 5000 a year – is not enough to alter the complexion of Australia or to challenge Australia’s values. It is false because the number of asylum seekers who come here by air with falsified papers has always outnumbered the number who come by boat.”
Continuing on, he says;
“Those coming by air claim to be students or on a holiday visa and when they get here they say they want to claim asylum. It means they have come on false papers with a false declaration and yet they are not shut up in detention centres, they are not vilified, they wander around the streets of Australia until their claims are judged. And only about 30 per cent have been found to meet the criteria to be granted refugee status.
Those who arrive by air are unseen, they do not represent a political problem and therefore nobody does anything about it. But the boats are visible.”
And the boats are indeed visible. In fact, so visible are these boats that the Rudd government has pushed aside their more humane policy on asylum seekers, folding under political pressure from the opposition in this election year. Now they are saying they are as tough as the Liberals, freezing any asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
So how do we respond to such a political debate? As Australians? As Christians?
As Australians it is my understanding that we have always prided ourselves on being multicultural. So is this multiculturalism a farce? Are we only happy to indulge such peaceable living so long as it doesn’t affect me personally? (I live near Cronulla, Sydney, so the Cronulla riots come to mind…).
How do we understand our national security? Is there any virtue within me that deserves such security over-against another person simply because I was born in Australia? Why is my safety more important? Julian Burnside, speaking of Abbott’s claims about the Hazaras (a people group from Afghanistan), says this;
“Abbott mentioned the Hazaras from Afghanistan and suggested they would be safe in Pakistan. He is wrong. Hazaras have long been targeted by the Pashtun majority in Afghanistan. The Taliban are mostly Pashtun and have targeted the Hazaras mercilessly. The Taliban now control parts of Pakistan, especially around Quetta, where many Afghan Hazaras have fled for safety. Hazaras in Quetta fear to go into the street. Many of them have been shot on sight by Taliban.
To suggest that Hazaras are safe in Pakistan is either profoundly ignorant or profoundly cynical. It is equivalent to saying that German Jews could have found safety in Austria.”
How have so many Australians become so deaf to the cries of the persecuted people of the world? Is it fear of terrorism? Seeing as most terrorists are well-educated middle-class men, I highly doubt we would see such terrorists among people who are so desperate to escape their country that they climb into a boat and set sail, just hoping that they eventually hit land.
What about a Christian response to asylum seekers? Have we forgotten about Jesus’ appeal on behalf of the “least of these”? What about the fact that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it… Doesn’t that imply that national boundaries are, at best, arbitrary and artificial? Doesn’t it imply that God hates flags?…
It is too easy to become apathetic in our comfort and security, and forget about the poorest and most persecuted people in the world. Burnside writes about Abbott, a self-proclaimed Catholic;
“When he was asked how Jesus Christ would respond to boat arrivals, he sidestepped the sting in the question, saying that Australia cannot be a ”lifeboat to the world”.”
Or worse, look at what Michael Harvey reports Abbott saying in the April 6 edition of the Herald Sun;
“Asked what Jesus would do on the issue of asylum-seekers, he replied: “Don’t forget, Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well.”"
And this is the problem for too many Christians – we simply ignore Jesus in the question of politics, particularly immigration, sometimes even misusing and twisting Jesus to support our views that contradict what he plainly said.
But remember that Jesus was a refugee. Matthew 2:13-15 tells us that. When Jesus warns us later in Matthew’s Gospel that he was a stranger and we did not welcome him … as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me, (25:43, 45), his comment should ring a deafening bell. Could it be that in supporting the sending back of boat people, and treating them inhumanely, we subject Jesus (a refugee) to the same treatment?
Forgive us, Lord, for we know exactly what we do.