The recent and, so it seems, unfinished, debacle over the Indian doctor in Australia who was related to one of the men involved in the burning of a Jeep at Glasgow airport last month, has exposed once again the extreme racial prejudices of a nation already well known for its government-sanctioned racism.
The racism in this case was barely concealed behind the transparent screen of ‘anti-terrorism’ and, as such, fulfilled two of the Australian government’s policies regarding ‘foreigners’ in Australia.
Dr. Mohamed Haneef was arrested at Brisbane Airport on 2 July 2007 just as he was leaving for India to see his six day old baby daughter born to his wife who was living in India. Australian Federal Police (AFP) then held Haneef under the 2005 Australian Anti-Terrorism Act, the first person to be so detained under this act. What happened to Dr. Haneef during the period between his arrest and his release is documented elsewhere; suffice to say it was a farce from beginning to end and one that has ended in showing both the Australian government and many Australian people for the racists and bigots that they really are.
Dr. Haneef’s only ‘crime’ was that he gave a partially used SIM card to a relative in the UK just before coming to Australia to work as a doctor in a Brisbane hospital. It turns out that the relative was also related to one of the men that were involved in the burning of a Jeep at Glasgow Airport. While charges against Dr. Haneef have since been dropped by Australian Federal Police, Dr. Haneef’s work visa, revoked by the Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews while Haneef was under arrest, has not been reinstated. Kevin Andrews is refusing to concede that a mistake has been made and claims that he has other knowledge about Haneef that has caused him to continue his belief that Haneef is not of ‘good character’, which was the reason that Andrews withdrew the visa in the first place. Andrews, at this writing, continues to refuse to reveal what those reasons are for the continued denial of Haneef’s visa.
Running parallel to this continuing farce is the way public opinion has developed around the story. The vast majority of people have openly supported Dr. Haneef, particularly as it became clear that he was being unfairly treated and quite wrongly accused by both the Australian government and the AFP, as the response to this piece in The Australian by Cameron Stewart demonstrates. However, the ongoing debate in the public domain both in the Australian mainstream media and the Australian blogosphere has also yet again exposed the racist and bigoted attitudes of many Australian people and especially the Australian government.
This comment by ‘Bob of QLD’ (comment no. 182) is typical of some of the remarks about the affair from the racist and bigoted right-wing of Australia:
“Thank goodness we have a government prepared to put the interests of Australian citizens ahead of others. It's better to be safe than sorry, and I'm happy with the way this situation was handled. I would rather they got it wrong ten times and got it right once. The terror threat on Australia is so very real, and we need to be extra vigilant.”
And this comment (comment no. 127) from ‘Roger Sykes of Mudjimba Qld’: “One day all you clowns who criticise Howard over the Haneef affair will be screaming about his lack of action over a terrorist attack (god forbid) Get a life & get in the real world.”
Then there is this comment (comment no. 144) from ‘Ian McLuckie of Sydney’ who says: “The government's duty of care is to the Australian public not to Mr Haneef and to err on the side of caution is much better than a catastrophe like 911 or the London bombings”.
It is comments like these that play straight into the government’s hands. Not only do they demonstrate the extent to which some of the Australian people have fallen for the government’s fearmongering tactics but it also demonstrates that there is still a strong undercurrent of racism existing in Australia.
Among the Australian blogs, Webdiary has had much to say on the matter. Opinions have ranged among Webdiarists with those on the left clearly outraged at the treatment that Haneef has had from the AFP and the Australian government while those on the right have demonstrated that, despite the obvious shortcomings of the case against Haneef, they are really still unable to accept that the government has been wrong in its treatment of him and have resorted to the now familiar ‘but what if the police had been right’ argument in their attempts to justify the governments abysmal treatment of Haneef. The bottom line, of course, is that they were not right and, indeed, had got it wrong from the very beginning but yet still refused to let him go after it had become obvious that the man was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
There were some elements within the right-wing at Webdiary that were a little more subtle about their criticisms. Jenny Hume for example argues: “As for Dr Haneef. All I was saying was that he is a victim first and foremost of his own family. And I suspect that once the furore settles down it will be in India that he will suffer the most, particularly once the cousins come to court. They place a lot of weight on family honour in some of these countries, and his family has been badly let down.” Here Jenny Hume, well known among Webdiarists for her ability to manipulate both words and people via those words, attempts to pass on the blame for Haneef’s treatment to his family.
She then goes on to demonise Indian culture by suggesting that Haneef will suffer at the hands of his fellow Indians because he is related to ‘terrorists’ adding that ‘They place a lot of weight on family honour in some of these countries’.
Jenny Hume then allows her arrogance to show through when she says: “I will not rule on Andrews as being trustworthy or not until he is allowed to release all the information on which he may have relied.”
If and when Andrews does ‘release all the information’ one wonders whether or not Jenny Hume’s pronouncements on the matter will have any bearing on the majority of Australians opinion that Andrews is, in the light of the way the matter has thus far been handled, most definitely not someone who one could call ‘trustworthy’ any more than one could of Jenny Hume.
Jenny Hume goes on to say: “A lot is made of the baby issue, all emotionalism. The teacher in the UK who set out to mass murder on a train had a wife and small children. Having a baby, children or wife back home has been seen to mean very little to the Jihadists. It tells us nothing about such people. That Dr Haneef has a wife and baby tells us that, and nothing more.”
This seemingly innocuous statement is extremely racist. She attempts to equate those that undertake Jihad with Haneef the family man. There is a direct inference here that many Jihadists are also family men and, therefore, the fact that Haneef is also a family man should not figure in the formulation of ones opinion about Haneef’s guilt or innocence. The problem here, of course, is that it actually goes right to the heart of Haneef’s guilt or innocence since it was his leaving Australia to see his wife and new daughter that caused all the increased suspicion on top of the SIM card debacle.
Some will accept Jenny Hume’s words as merely being cautiously neutral but, when read in conjunction with so many of Jenny Hume’s other comments which abound at Webdiary, the real picture that is Jenny Hume emerges; one that is manipulative, racist and arrogant; one that displays the ugly side of a bygone Australian attitude of white Australian racist paternalism and the class pretension inherent in many who continue to gloat over the heritage of their hand-me-down Australian farms.
But by far the most important aspect of Dr. Haneef’s case is the role the Australian government has played in it. It has played wonderfully into the hands of the Australian right-wing. The double edged sword of fear and race has been wielded by the government but, fortunately, the government has been caught cheating. The ‘terrorist’ card played this side of an election has just been too obvious to most Australians who have seen it all before and are not biting this time around.
There will always be the loony racist Islamophobic right who will continue to support John Howard and his neo-fascist cohorts regardless and there will always be those that are dumb and gullible enough to continue voting for them. But far more dangerous and frightening are those, politicians in government and commentators alike, which feel the need to lie, cheat, manipulate and obfuscate their words in their war against the left in a battle to protect what they believe is an Australia that is somehow exclusively theirs. They are far more dangerous to society than the simpleton loony right who can be simply ignored. Australians who dream of a far more equitable, egalitarian and just society should take time and effort to confront and expose these people for what they really are – the true racists of Australia.