There are two faces to Australia’s asylum seeker policy. There is the outward face, all smiles and hooded eyes, that espouses ‘stop the boats’ mantras to indoctrinate the masses. We are to be persuaded of the necessity for harsh, inhumane treatment of asylum seekers journeying by boat. We are to disregard these peoples’ basic human rights and apportion blame for all their suffering on the shoulders of the smugglers. We are thus exonerated from guilt. We need look no further, for our government is right, opportunism is to be condemned. It is only us who gets a fair go.
The outward face is a veil, a mask. It has been constructed to hide what lies within.
The inward face wears a bland expression. Eyes stare in blank denial, mouth set firm. This is the face of systematic brutality, a daily occurrence in detention centres both on and off shore. Not a day goes by without advocates passing on testimony of the violations of normal respect and decency, and of the systematic cruelty, degradation and psychological torture. Not a day goes by bereft of the despair of those incarcerated and their supporters. It makes for harrowing reading. Through these reports, and through such books as Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom I have come to understand the cool, calculated methods used by corporations (Serco, G4S, Transfield) running these ‘facilities,’ the clinical way they go about their business, all manner of unspeakable decisions justified by the profit bottom line. Bloodsucking corporations filled with a cohort of Adolf Eichmanns.
For there is but a whisker of difference between the orders that are issued, and the manner in which they are carried out, in detention centres and in the Holocaust camps.
“I go down to the jetty, where several dozen DIAC, Serco, police and Customs officials, as well as interpreters and ambulance staff, await the arrival of the refugees. A number of CI residents and tourists are there too, and are mostly middle-aged or older. The ones I talk to all express opposition to refugees. They are “illegals” who might come and “take over”, like “what’s happening in parts of Europe”. One person says, “They should be pushed back to Indonesia, where they will be safe. Why are they coming to Australia? What if terrorists are on the boats? We have poverty here and people living in bad conditions on CI, but they come and are treated better than Australians”. I mention Serco and ask whether anyone cares that a private company is making money from greater numbers of refugee arrivals. One older man says he feels uncomfortable about it, while a tourist isn’t aware of the fact.”- Profits of Doom
“Curtin is surrounded by scrubby desert as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine a more isolated place to be detained. Demountables are scattered beside the road near the car park and high barbed-wire fences surround the detention compound. We can see new houses being constructed nearby, and a freshly laid concrete pathway leads to the main entrance. The last years have seen the construction at the centre of gymnasiums, religious rooms and classrooms…Serco posters and signs advertising the company are ubiquitous in the reception area. They display the smiling faces of happy staff and multicultural imagery that includes a Muslim imam. A colour brochure emblazoned with four grinning faces from various racial backgrounds sits on a small table near some lockers.‘Bringing service to life’ is the company’s motto. The pamphlet says that Serco ‘promotes the inherent dignity of people in detention in line with the Australian government’s new immigration detention values’. A number of other pieces of Serco literature are scattered around reception. ‘Visitor Conditions of Entry’ states that there are three visiting periods every day, including between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but also says that arrival after 5 p.m. will not be permitted. There are dozens of rules and regulations on the sheet, including: ‘Respect the privacy and dignity of all people in the centre’. It’s a noble goal, but one that staff routinely breach, detainees later tell me.” Profits of Doom
“….We unloaded the motor. It was a heavy Russian benzine engine, at least 200 horsepower. we installed the engine on a concrete foundation and set up the connection between the exhaust and the tube. I then tested the motor. It did not work. I was able to repair the ignition and the valves, and the motor finally started running. The chemist, who I knew from Belzec, entered the gas chamber with measuring instruments to test the concentration of the gas. Following this, a gassing experiment was carried out. If my memory serves me right, about thirty to forty women were gassed in one gas chamber. The Jewish women were forced to undress in an open place close to the gas chamber, and were driven into the gas chamber by the above mentioned SS members and the Ukrainian auxiliaries. when the women were shut up in the gas chamber I and Bolender set the motor in motion. The motor functioned first in neutral. Both of us stood by the motor and switched from “Neutral” (Freiauspuff) to “Cell” (Zelle), so that the gas was conveyed to the chamber. At the suggestion of the chemist, I fixed the motor on a definite speed so that it was unnecessary henceforth to press on the gas. About ten minutes later the thirty to forty women were dead.” – Testimony of SS Scharfuhrer Erich Fuchs, in the Sobibor-Bolender trial, Dusseldorf
“Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharfuehrer Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression that he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work, but before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection so as to prevent the spread of diseases… After undressing, the Jews were taken through the so-called Schlauch. They were led to the gas chambers not by the Germans but by the Ukrainians…After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors. The motor which supplied the gas was switched on by a Ukrainian named Emil and by a German driver called Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the door were opened and the corpses removed….” Testimony of SS-Oberscharfuehrer Kurt Bolender, In the Belzec-Oberhauser trial
The inward face is ugly. It portrays the clinical indifference of the psychopath. There is no empathy and no conscience in the eyes. It is as if we are witnessing the emergence of a plethora of death camps, a many headed Hydra, one that has learned from past mistakes and chosen psychological over physical death of inmates as the path of preference. There is profit, as long as they stay alive.
And a sort of psychological death is the reality especially for children and long-term detainees who must suffer the ordinary mundane tortures of life on Nauru, Manus or Christmas Island, or Curtin, Villawood or any other gulag. Such tortures do not extract blood, do not cause extreme physical pain. Instead, the methods are not dissimilar to those enacted by a perpetrator of domestic violence. They are designed to drive a person mad.
I will never forget the day a big burly man confided in me that his x wife was abusive. He was totally serious. Apparently she used to control him by leaving him notes. Apparently she would ‘flip her lid at the drop of a hat.’ Apparently he was ‘walking on egg shells.’ And worst of all, she was trying to limit access to his kids. She was a nasty, devious, manipulative bitch. I felt sorry for him. For surely he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Then I met her. She was a tiny, slender woman with a look of shock in her eyes. She was nervous, stressed, haunted. She fretted about window locks and police response times.
Abusive men are the most twisted, underhanded, conning, devious, malicious, controlling arseholes I have ever met and they can be found in every quarter of society. They are so adept at lying and so righteous about it that they will convince even themselves of their absolute virtue.
Couldn’t, possibly, be you.
If you are a man who is using female abuse against male partners to demolish the argument that over 90% of domestic violence is perpetrated by men, then you are revealing only that you fear the loss of your domination and are trying to hold on to it by using female foul play to undermine the domestic violence argument. Ironically, this use of counter-evidence is part of the abuser’s toolkit. It blocks discussion on the original ground, subverts the argument and makes it about female abusers and male victims.
I don’t doubt that there are a lot of men (and women) using this strategy who haven’t thought through the consequences, who are adopting a stance that has become fashionable. There are other ways to engage in a discussion. For example, it is possible to think through the reasons, examples, justifications, assumptions, implications and consequences of a claim on its own ground. None of this is possible if counter-evidence is used for the sole purpose of blocking inquiry.
Acceptance of violence and abuse always happens after the fact. I may not forgive the perpetrator but I can find acceptance in my heart, for I cannot undo time, regret is futile and I would not wish to give the perpetrator the additional satisfaction of ruining my whole life. While the violence and abuse continue however, there is no acceptance. There is only an agony of heart. There is only the awareness that we exist inside a living hell, a hell equal to all the other living hells, from the Inquisition to the Nazi death camps.
There will always be those who condone or even approve of the internment camps, just as there were those who approved of the Inquisitors.
I’m always amazed by how many who choose to stand on the side of the abusers, the perpetrators, those prepared to deny the horrors, the truths. Mothers who blame their daughters for the bruises on their faces, bruises from marital punches. Citizens who vilify victims of terror for fleeing the bombs, the bullets and the blades.
As I hang from the nails embedded in my flesh, my wounds weep all the more knowing this.
It has come as no surprise that women’s refuges are under corporate attack. It was only a matter of time before the ideological warriors of the new corporate regime would put in their sights frontline services catering for women fleeing domestic violence. Currently in the UK we witness the broadscale closure of women’s refuges that have been providing women and their children an essential service for decades. It also came as no surprise to read in her piece, There Is No Such Thing as a ”More Efficient Alternative” to Refuges Polly Neate’s insightful critique of that great universal leveller ”efficiency” as the declared motive for the closure of women’s refuges. In my view, this is not only another devastating cut to an essential social service, it is the undermining of a significant power base of the feminist movement.
In his book Profits of Doom, Antony Loewenstein uses the phrase ”vulture capitalism” to describe the carrion qualities of the private military and reconstruction industries involved in both war and disaster, and to refer to corporations such as Serco, G4S and Transfield who circle around governments waiting to snap up then pick to the bone outsourced services from roads and railways to courts, prisons and detention centres. A visit to their own website will quickly show the reach of such carrion corporations (sSee http://www.serco-ap.com.au/).
In my view the concept of vulture capitalism, while providing much insight into the nature of capitalism in our times, does not reach far enough into the belly of the beast, for a vulture is a bird of instinct, following its natural animal will and while laden with menacing symbology is but an outward aspect of a deeper, more malevolent will. The will of the power Elite (that ultra-exclusive club of the intellectual few – see Sheldon S Wolin, Democracy Inc, Princeton University Press, 2010, pp 159-183) that sends forth the vultures to undermine social democracy at every turn.
There are other ambassadors of change, other sorts of birds sent forth, ravens perhaps operating in tandem with the corporate vultures – Non-government organisations. NGOs seem well-placed to step in and run a raft of social services. Utilising an identical model of asset-stripping, down-sizing and streamlining found in the corporate model, many such organisations operate under the guise of a religious denomination and therefore carry a sanctified patriarchal ideology (for example – Salvation Army, Mission Australia). Such organisations now find themselves, and no doubt with private relish, at the vanguard of the new and covert war on feminism.
Why a war on feminism? Because feminists are a two-fold threat to the new corporate world of inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy. First feminism contests the patriarchal underpinnings of the dominant or hegemonic ideology of capitalism and second, feminists have been at the forefront of countless social reforms based on fairness, justice and equality that have seen the betterment not only of women and children but also men.
I wrote a letter to my local newspaper this week that illustrates the shadowy processes and the ruthless intent embedded in this latest attack on both feminism and social democracy.
Dear Editor, I attended a rally to save the Bega Women’s Refuge on Monday 4th August and was heartened by the large turnout, all concerned about the refuge’s future and hopeful that common sense would prevail over the fiasco that was the tendering process. So of course I was incredulous when I learnt that SEWACS (South East Women’s and Children’s Services) had been ‘’accidentally’’ undercut by Mission Australia’s tender. I understand that Mission Australia, who won the tender to run homelessness services in the Bega Valley under the new ‘Going Home Staying Home’ rollout of the New South Wales State government, have now been given additional funding to take over the women’s refuge, which they apparently had not realised was part of the package until after their tender was approved. This despite the fact that SEWACS have been running the refuge and attendant specialist services for women escaping domestic violence in the Bega Valley for thirty years. In my view, the decision to grant Mission Australia this service is unfair and procedurally dubious; there was a lack of transparency and honesty in the process that effectively sidelined SEWACS due to an administrative oversight. In my view, if the Bega Women’s Refuge must be put up for tender then it should at least be done in a fair and proper manner.
I fear that with corporate religious organisation Mission Australia in charge, the refuge will no longer be a place of sanctuary where women fleeing domestic violence feel safe and supported. I would take the side of any aboriginal woman choosing not to pass through the refuge door, filled with mistrust after the legacy of the Stolen Generation. I too, would be filled with mistrust. I have no idea the narrative or the procedures that Mission Australia would seek to impose on women fleeing violence but I do know that the one provided by SEWACS empowers women.
But we need not fear that women’s empowerment has been disregarded by the corporate Elite, for Gucci has taken up the baton with its Chime for Change campaign, fronted by Beyonce Knowles, Frida Giannini and Salma Hayek Pinault. While I growl like a crossed crone of the old guard at this recent appropriation of feminist discourse, I realise Chime for Change represents another fight altogether, a fight on the ground of popular culture and therefore I call upon my young feminist sisters to contest this latest sham while I mourn the loss of society’s most significant feminist-inspired institution.
Having spent time in three women’s refuges so far, and through the services and resources they provide or are linked to, received ongoing support, I can say that the closure of women’s refuges is a much bigger loss than simply losing safe havens. Along with the bricks and mortar, what is being closed down or re-packaged under the auspices of corporate-style ngos is feminist discourse itself and the insights this discourse provides. We are witnessing the decimation of the very language of domestic violence, language critical of abuse from physical to verbal and emotional, an understanding of the damage that is done to women and children, the bringing to light of the injustices of domestic violence. We are also seeing the demise or sidelining of the support and campaigning of feminists behind the scenes on behalf of victims – from court support, transport, help with re-housing, counselling to financial assistance. The closure of women’s refuges is the gagging of feminism itself.
Why is this happening? I contend because feminism is dangerous. Feminism threatens to undermine corporate-led neoliberal ideology. Feminism must be hollowed out and re-packaged corporate-style, as is happening with the Beyonce-led Gucci funded campaign Chime for Change, launched in 2013 at a TEDx Women luncheon in California.
I visited the Greenham peace camps many times. I joined in the protests. I was young then and had yet to comprehend the devastating personal consequences of domestic violence. Now I do know. Which is why I can’t sit back and say nothing while the heart of the women’s movement is being slaughtered and Gucci places itself at the helm.