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“They arrive suddenly and inexplicably. …the media go into meltdown, …scientists study their behaviour, trying to make sense of it. The question on everybody’s mind is: do they come in peace, or is their plan to crush the world like a paper cup? But enough about Donald Trump supporters…” (Luke Buckmaster, film critic for the Australian Daily Review).
Luke Buckmaster then goes on to review the new film Arrival, currently having its worldwide premier. The movie is about the arrival on earth of a strange species of being and their appearance in twelve different locations across the globe. The film has been described as “a stunning science fiction movie with deep implications for today”. It is considered by a number of critics to be one of the year’s best movies about linguistics, metaphors and aliens, and, yes, it was produced before Trump became the President-elect of the USA! Having myself seen the movie, I can concur with the view of the film critics.
The film’s premise hinges on the idea, shared by many linguists and philosophers of language, that we do not all experience the same reality. As observed by that great philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, members of any community develop ways of speaking that serve their needs – their reality – and these constitute the language-games, the cultural roadmaps, they employ. “Arrival is about more than talking to one another. It’s about the roadmaps we use to navigate the world and that these mental roadmaps need constant adjustment”. So, similarities with the past week in the USA are not entirely unavoidable!
On 8th November, 2016, the citizens of the United States of America voted to elect Donald Trump as the 45th President of their country. To many, in both the USA and across the world, this was a most surprising election outcome as Mr Trump was something of an unknown political species. So too, his speeches on the stumps were anything but peaceful! Mr Trump has had no significant experience in politics or public service, certainly nowhere near as much as the person he defeated in the election, Hillary Rodham Clinton – the Democratic Senator from New York, former USA Secretary of State and wife of the former President Bill Clinton.
Donald Trump may be described as a billionaire property tycoon who has built a string of impressive buildings across the USA and, in the process, bankrupting himself on several occasions and managing to pay minimal tax – personal or business! His lifestyle emphasises his wealth – with expensive homes in a number of major North American cities, golf courses in Scotland, a private Boeing aircraft, the Trump Tower in New York, and more, including a celebrity-style extended family.
Yet, it was this Presidential candidate that managed to attract huge numbers of voters from the so-called “rust belt” areas of mid-west United States, unemployed and low-paid blue-collar workers across the north American states, white voters disillusioned with the so-called “establishment” politicians, and even large numbers of women – a gender that had been insulted on a number of occasions by Mr Trump’s misogynistic comments during his campaign for the presidency. Donald Trump was able to tap-into the reality of this highly dissatisfied section of the North American population and indulge it in the language-games with which it were happy and of which it were accepting .
Language has great power, as alluded to in the Peter Weir film of 1989, Dead Poets Society. One commentator on this film postulated: “Words, so innocent and seemingly inert on the page of a dictionary, take on a profoundly different character when they are purposefully and articulately employed in the public arena, a place where they have the capacity to both unite and divide us, to cement accord or inflame dissent.”
Donald Trump claimed that he was telling the citizens of the USA “how it really was”. His style was deliberately confrontational with respect to a variety of USA political “sacred cows”, including those of his own Republican Party, and yet, despite this approach, perhaps in spite of it, he succeeded in capturing the election for the Republican Party, himself and his divisive personal perspectives and political policies. During the campaign he expressed the view that the election processes and outcomes were rigged. After the election, of course, this viewpoint changed – all was now sweetness and light, as well as fair-minded and correct!
Within hours of Donald Trump’s election victory, demonstrations erupted in several cities across the USA, notably in the nation’s capital of Washington (outside of the White House), New York on the east coast, Chicago in the mid-west and San Francisco on the west coast (note: nothing of the kind happened in the more conservative and Christian evangelical, hence Republican, southern states). Demonstrators took to the streets to emphasise that Mr Trump was not their President, his values were not theirs – they did not share his cultural roadmaps – and to express the fears they hold for the future of the country if President-elect Trump follows through on the type of policies he enunciated, albeit with little detail, during the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump came under considerable criticism from his own Republican Party during the election campaign. However, it was noticeable that, following his election win, the Republican Party more or less closed ranks around him. Isn’t it wonderful what power, or the promise of power, does to politicians! The United States of America now has four years, or more, in which to digest, even glory in, the fact that the Republican Party has control of the Presidency, both houses of the US Congress, very likely the Supreme Court judiciary and, for added measure, a friend at the FBI!
A number of commentators have pointed out the supposed similarities – apart from the ubiquitous appearances of Nigel Farage, the default leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – between the events in the USA and the outcome of the British referendum on membership of the European Union. Similarities have included the way in which the polls were confounded; the ethnic breakdown of the vote; the focus on the extent of the disillusion accompanying the white vote; the immigration system; and the manner in which the political establishment were being blamed for the downturn in the nation’s economic fortune. A rallying cry for both Trump’s campaign and the “leave” proponents during the British EU referendum seemed to have been “power to the people”.
In some ways this appears to have been a legitimate position to take – a protest against the political establishment and politicians who had seemingly forgotten that their first task in government was to protect the country’s citizens, rather than their own status and aggrandisement.
Yet, to what extent does a figure like Donald Trump represent the hopes and aspirations of blue-collar, working-class persons from the wreckage of urban conurbations and dilapidated inner cities? Does a billionaire property entrepreneur speak to the hopes and aspirations of an economic underclass – poorer, low-skilled and under-paid or unemployed industrial and service sector workers? What racist or xenophobic emotions are stirred in susceptible people when an aspiring president voices objections to immigrants – illegal or otherwise, and non-Christian religions? What national and individual economic confidence is undermined by a disproportionately wealthy leader who preaches opposition to established trade deals and mutual defence treaties, and who, moreover, practises and openly encourages tax avoidance?
Trump informed the people of the USA that their politicians kept telling them that “America was great”, but it wasn’t. He then articulated what the people wanted to hear that, under his leadership, “the USA could be great again”. In supporting this observation, the Melbourne-based commentator, the actor Neil Pigot, said: “So what we have what is perhaps the greatest irony of the century, a divisive, misogynistic, messianic nihilist who is one of the most visible beneficiaries of neoliberalism leading the most powerful nation on earth away from another betrayal and into a new age. The sentiments that surround Brexit, though subtly different, are fundamentally the same; the language of politicians purporting one thing, while the reality that people saw in their streets was something completely different. Betrayal.”
Of course, the one critical area that was not mentioned by Donald Trump during his election campaign, neither by Nigel Farage during the British EU referendum, was that of the effects of globalization and, more particularly, the greed of the corporate world – be it in the USA, the UK or on the wider global front. This is to be expected for Mr Trump and, lest it be forgotten, Mr Farage are themselves members of that fraternity and participate, or have done, in its greed and exclusivity. In his election campaign, Donald Trump promised, with respect to the Washington elite, a “bonfire of regulations”; in reality, it is likely that his forthcoming presidency will issue in a “bonfire of vanities” – much of which will be of his own making!
It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump, who became the President-elect with a million less votes than Hillary Clinton (even though, obviously, he won the numbers in the electoral college), will follow-through with the policies he spoke of from the podium and, in doing so, raised the hopes of the 25% of the voting public in the United States that will put him into the Oval Office. Have the citizens of the United States been sold a dream, or a pup? Was the voting public of the USA promised a package of policies assembled in order to win votes but, with the election won, will eventually go the way of so many political promises – into the ether? Will Donald Trump prove to be any wiser or possess greater integrity than those who came before him and about whom he was so abjectly critical?
I am reminded here that the British nation narrowly voted to leave the European Union on the strength of the Brexiteers’ (those who favoured leaving the EU) dubious promise to pay into the NHS the £350m per week saved from paying the EU; to drastically reduce immigration (especially the reduction of those “workers” from within the EU); to close UK borders and, ever-mindful of the glory days of the British empire, to re-establish British sovereignty, that is, to end the so-called dominance of the European Parliament and courts of law over the their British counterparts and return power to the latter.
Yet, at the first instance of this returning of “power to the people”, this ideal was shown to be what it always was – false! A presentation of a successful peoples’ petition was made to the British High Court. The intent of the petition was to prevent the executive of the British Conservative Government bypassing Parliament and using the ancient “royal prerogative” (the last hope of the scoundrel) to instigate the requisite Article 50 in order to commence the official process of removing the UK from the EU.
The response of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to this decision of the High Court, was to order a review of the High Court’s decision by the Supreme Court – in the hope of reversing the court’s decision. Naturally, this action was loudly supported by the Brexiteers, including those who had bleated so vociferously about restoring the sovereignty of the British Parliament and courts of law!
There are a number of other similarities between the British EU referendum and the Presidential elections in the USA. However, there is the inescapable realization that on either side of the pond, people have been promised a mess of pottage that, in the future unfolding of the political, economic, social and cultural life of both nations, may well prove to be, at best, a bowl of wishful-thinking and ill-conceived dreams, or, at worst, a can of deception and lies.
The United States of America fatefully faces at least four years of having Donald Trump as its President, with the Republican Party dominating its governance and judicial proceedings. During the same period the United Kingdom confronts a crucial engagement with a prolonged period of national instability as it undertakes the process of leaving the European Union.
The winds of change have been sown and are blowing across both nations. It is to be hoped that these winds do not reap the whirlwind!
Regular readers of this blog will probably note that this is article 100 in the series. This is, for me, somewhat of a journalistic milestone. However, I hope that, one day, I will reach the magic number in terms of my age (without any expectation of a congratulatory letter from the reigning monarch of the day – for, if there is such a post, then it will be duly marked RTS).
In the meantime, I can only reflect that, apart from the occasional bank balance, my first examination as a telecommunications technician-in-training, and for three years in a row with the results of my A Level classes in Philosophy and Ethics, the only other time that the number 100 has featured in my life was when I achieved that batting figure in a game of cricket – in fact, on reflection with some satisfaction, I reached that particular milestone on three occasions!
But, cricket is a team game and A Level grades are achievable by classes of students, whereas, writing a blog is a measure of my wider individual interests, literary undertakings and the patience and cognition of my readers. Even so, a blog article is stimulated by both personal and worldwide events, the encouragement of others and the value of a good proof reader – in this instance, my wife Vicky.
Though there is singular value in the writing of a blog, nevertheless, the purpose of such is that it is actually and collectively read. I have sought both variety and depth in what I have written over time – in such fields as philosophy and ethics, religion and theology, politics and contemporary events, sport and music. I have eschewed entries in Facebook and Twitter, relying on my networks in the UK and Australia, as well as an apparently expanding readership in various other parts of the world.
In the final summation, I am dependent on your readership, comments and encouragement and, further, I am appreciative of the initial suggestion of my younger son, Glenn, that, post-retirement, I occupy some of my welcomed recreational space, time and thought in the writing of a blog. That was over four years ago and the rest, as they say about political elections, referenda and the contents of blog articles, is history!
Nigel Farage is the former and currently default leader of the UK Independence Party who, as a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP), had for many years campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (Brexit). His was arguably the loudest voice in a triumphalist chorus on the “leave” side of the EU Referendum on the morning of 24 June, 2016, when the result of the British “YES” vote to leave the EU became known.
It was Farage who was responsible for the billboard poster that showed a massive queue of immigrants – many with the appearance of being African or middle eastern in origin – waiting to obtain entry to the UK. It is the same Nigel Farage who was seen recently on television speaking at a campaign rally for Donald Trump, the outrageous Republican candidate for the next presidency of the United States of America. For many, Trump wears his anti-immigrant racism on his sleeve; Farage is seen as being somewhat more subtle.
A recent edition of the Australian Daily Review carried an article with the heading, “’Please explain’: A tragicomic portrait of a bigot, sympathetically done’. It was written by the controversial Australian journalist, Helen Razer. In part the extract stated: “Europe is now almost full of racist politicians as it is of bad discos, and didn’t Nigel Farage do a marvellous job of taking a white British working class, battered by the austerity rent-seekers demand, and blame it all on the foreigners?”
To many, the above, and especially Razer’s view of Europe, would be deemed a quite extreme view, especially seen from half-way around the globe. However, in the period since the British nation voted to withdraw from the European Union, a disturbing level of apparent xenophobia, even racism, has been detected as being embedded in British culture. This has been primarily seen in comments made at the local level, rather than on a national or institutional scale.
Living in the UK are many persons who have come to this country to study and work in order to pursue their economic, cultural, educational and social interests. Amongst their number there are currently deep misgivings as to what their future will be like in consequence of Brexit. Despite assurances that the interests of these incomers will be protected, there is a mistrust of this situation given that the history of the present government, an administration that has overseen a radical policy of economic austerity, has not been encouraging in such areas as human rights, worker’s rights, trades unions’ legislation and overseeing immigration programmes.
To take a cue from some further comments of Helen Razer on election and referendum voting patterns, it is, of course, a lesson that liberal progressives need to learn that simply to ‘call out’ racism in individuals, rather than outright condemnation of the same, will ensure that people in all western democracies will continue to vote for persons like Trump and Farage. These are political actors who look for scapegoats to blame for the breakdowns in society, but promise the lot to those who will support their misguided views and simple solutions.
There are reasons why poorer, working class people, worn down by life, will vote for political programmes that will encourage xenophobia and racism. That is not, however, to support these programmes nor advocate voting for and rewarding those who promote them.
Casting her net a little wider, Razer makes the following observations: “The underemployed American living in the Appalachian ghetto does not vote for a candidate (like Clinton, for example) who insists that they use respectful liberal language and pretend that the ugly America they live in is a great nation.” Similarly, “…the underemployed Queenslander who can’t afford to run an air conditioner does not vote Green. They vote for the person who promises them dignity and a wage.”
It might also be added that, for example, the unemployed steelworker in Sheffield, the redundant coalminer in the Welsh valleys, or the car assembly worker in the north-east of England is not going to vote for a political party which offers no promise of investment in traditional British manufacturing industries.
It is pertinent perhaps to add to the above the suggestion that ‘sympathetic TV portraits of migrants don’t work to change the minds of racists’, so I don’t know why anybody might think that ‘a sympathetic portrait of a racist might change the mind of a progressive’ (author unknown). That is why, in post-Brexit Britain, there is such a present, public and ongoing outrage over attacks on job-seekers from within the EU. Racist and xenophobic attacks are extremely offensive to British liberalism and humanity.
In all of the post-referendum discussion and confusion, it has seemingly been forgotten that the Prime Minister responsible for authorising the EU Referendum, David Cameron, has resigned from his post. In doing so he announced an elongated list of those who are to receive “honours”. It seems quite ludicrous that a failed Prime Minister should reward others in this way, especially when these honours are conferred by the present monarch.
The reigning monarch is seen as the focal point of national sovereignty – even in a democracy and even though she is unelected! Yet the monarch sits imperiously at the head of an establishment against which, if we are to believe the narrative, so many British people, particularly in England, raised their voting voices against! These same people are probably those that still enthusiastically sing “God Save the Queen” at football matches featuring the national team of England. Fact is, truly, stranger than fiction.
The same monarch is, of course, the Head of the Church of England, the established church in the land – with tentacles to other religious institutions of the so-called British Commonwealth. The present British government, led by an Anglican vicar’s daughter, is seriously discussing reintroducing a “Minister for Faith” into the government ministries. It is interesting to speculate as to who would be a suitable choice for this position and what relation, if any, this secular minister will have with the monarch!
It will be obvious from all of the above that I am a pro-European and that I voted in favour of the UK remaining within the EU. Indeed, being a convinced federalist, I am of the view that the European project has a viable future that will be realised by becoming more, not less, European – even if that ambition now seems a little more remote from a British perspective. For me, the EU Referendum vote is out of step with reality. For this reason I am a friend of The Federal Trust, an organisation for education and research – enlightening the debate on good governance. How badly this is needed in present-day Britain!
In a recent pamphlet, ‘Brexit, what Brexit’, Brendan Donnelly, the Director of The Federal Trust, said: “Within the British government and its administrative structures, it is increasingly coming to be realized that extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union and establishing a new relationship with the Union will be a gigantic logistical undertaking, involving many different and overlapping negotiations”.
There are those who are of the view, wrongly for Brendan Donnelly and many others (including this writer), that extricating the UK from the European Union will be a simple matter of triggering Article 50 (the formal mechanism for leaving the EU) and all else – amicable relations with European countries, trade deals worldwide, British ‘problems’ solved, and so on down the list – will naturally follow. And all within a period of two years! Unfortunately, undoing forty years of involvement with Europe, and re-establishing as yet unquantifiable trade agreements as well as social and cultural relations with the rest of the world, will not be quite so easy or comfortable for the British Brexit mind-set.
As the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said: “Brexit means Brexit”. But what does that really mean: for economic prospects, race relations, human and workers’ rights, job opportunities, international cooperation in security matters, and that old warhorse – national sovereignty? It is also ironic that those who have spoken the loudest and longest about national sovereignty are amongst those who now wish to delay, even avoid, parliamentary scrutiny over the details of the British negotiating directions and outcomes (it seems to be a case of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing). In all of this there is, of course, the philosophical question of “Who benefits?”
Perhaps the penultimate word on this, for the time being, belongs to Brendan Donnelly: “There are many millions of voters unwilling simply to acquiesce in Brexit and whose traditional party loyalties have been shaken by the events of the EU referendum. The course of the Brexit negotiations over the coming years is unlikely to reassure them that the present structure of British politics adequately reflects their concerns”.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to mention that there are those who hold tenaciously to the belief that a more united, flexible and effective Europe is a dream worth pursuing. Such persons consider that Brexit is a step too far and out of step with the realities of the contemporary world.
On the morning of June 24th, 2016, the citizens of the UK awoke to the realization that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. This process was commonly referred to as Brexit.
In the three months since then there have been constant media programmes and articles on Brexit, analysing and commenting on what this decision will mean for the UK and the EU. In the process, political party loyalties have been shaken and whole communities, even families, have been divided. Lies, misinformation and obfuscation during the referendum campaign have been exposed and calls have been made for an additional referendum to vote on what Brexit outcomes the British government will finally obtain and legislate for.
On the side of those who voted to leave the EU there have been proclamations that sovereignty will return to the UK, that the nation will revert to retaining control of its national borders, and that British jobs will once again be available for British people. Immigration and economics seem to have been at the heart of the desire to leave the EU.
On the other hand, those who championed the EU cause argued on the basis of such things as an alternative economics, national security and the desirability of maintaining immigration in order to supply the labour that the UK will require in the attempt to diversify and sustain its national production and consumption. So too, and perhaps not as vocally as some would have wished, the fact that the nature and purpose of the EU has been a major influence for an extended period of peace on a continent that had previously known centuries of conflict and warfare.
The Brexit supporters have pointed to the fact that the country seems not to have been economically affected by the decision to leave the EU. Of course, it needs to be kept in mind that the decision to leave the EU is only the first step in a far-reaching process. Seemingly countless further decisions will need to be made as the UK negotiates with the EU and other trading partners before the process is finalized.
Furthermore, as stated by Stephen Haseler, the Professor of Government Studies and Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University: “The economic life of British citizens is primarily determined by changes in the global economy. Economic policy and management is increasingly the product of inter-governmental agreements and accommodations – both formal and informal.” It is at least arguable that this whole process has been made more difficult for the UK by its withdrawal from the EU.
The argument that the UK will regain its sovereignty by its withdrawal from the EU seems spurious in the light of the fact that leaving the EU will make no difference to the British elective system and voting rights, the presence of a non-elected House of Lords, the over-reaching power of a government executive and the absence of a written British constitution.
However, given that ‘sovereignty’ seems to have been a major factor with those wishing to leave the EU, it is noticeable, though perhaps not too surprising, that little was mentioned in the EU referendum campaign about the British monarchy. In fact, there seems to have been what Peter Kim once called a “deafening silence on an intriguing constitutional question”.
The existence of an hereditary monarchy which sits at the apex of an entrenched class system would obviously be affected by the UK’s increasing involvement with the EU – observe the lack of active political involvement of other continuing royal houses within Europe, e.g., the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Spain. It does not require too great an imagination to realize which side of the EU referendum the members of the extended British royal family would have been!
There is also the ambiguity, if not outright contradiction, of the British people taking issue with increasing the power of the EU – which has an elected parliament, democratic accountability and the power that comes with the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ – whilst, at the same time, being apparently impervious to the implications of maintaining a privileged and unelected royal family. The influence and power of what has been called the “royal-state” is an aspect of British life that is little known about or reflected on.
In his book, The End of the House of Windsor – Birth of a British Republic (1993), Stephen Haseler, speaking in favour of closer union between Britain and the EU, stated: “The new union invades the royal-state, robbing its institutions, one by one, of their power and legitimacy. The monarchy is reduced to the extent that British independence is reduced, and can find no role in the European Union because the new Europe rejects hereditary institutions.”
Stephen Haseler’s book should be recommended reading for all genuine and would-be republicans, as well as compulsory reading for those who consider British royalty to be benign. The book is as important today, perhaps more so, than it was when first published. I acknowledge it as a major source of inspiration for and reflection on a significant portion of what this article contains.
Professor Haseler quotes the republican writer Tom Nairn who, in considering the influence of the British Parliament and the Monarchy, has said that, when the British look at themselves in a mirror, “a gilded image is reflected back, made up of sonorous past achievement, enviable stability and the painted folklore of their Parliament and Monarchy. Though aware that this enchanted glass reflects only a decreasingly useful lie, they have naturally found it difficult to give up. After all, the ‘reflection’ is really their structure of national identity – what they seem to be is itself an important dimension of what they are.”
In the light of the above, it would be of genuine interest to discover to what extent the voting patterns in the recent EU referendum reflected views about royalty, i.e. were those who voted to leave the EU more in favour of the continuation of the British monarchy, with those who voted to remain in the EU less favourable. For, it is axiomatic that to abandon British national sovereignty would mean to also abandon the British sovereign. Obviously, as the outcome of the EU referendum showed, for many in contemporary Britain this is currently a step too far.
At around the same time as Tom Nairn (see above) made his comments, Lord Cobbold, writing to The Times in 1992, suggested that in Britain “the political divide of the future is between Europeans and nationalists.” For the time being at least (and with the obvious exception of the Scottish nationalists – the majority of whom voted to remain in the EU), it would seem that the British have made up their collective mind on which side of this divide they wish to be.
The TV camera followed the descent of the gold-nosed Boeing 747 as it came in for a touchdown at Heathrow Airport. On board the plane were 326 members of the British Olympics team, returning in triumph from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The TV commentator tempted fate by saying that she hoped that the pilot brought the aircraft down safely with a smooth landing – devoid, perhaps, of the “bumps” that the British athletes had dealt out to those of the other competing nations at the 31st. Olympiad.
No sooner had the aircraft disgorged its passengers than the latter were lining-up for the inevitable photo-calls – replete with the medals of gold, silver and bronze – and repetitious interviews focusing on future success, role-models and “dreams coming true”. Commiserations were voiced and the odd interview given with those Olympic participants who had, narrowly or otherwise, missed-out on a medal. Despite the impressive record amount of medals won by a British team, the latter were in the majority.
That evening, one press review commented on speculation that on board the plane from Rio the first class area was reserved for gold medal winners, business class for the silver and bronze medals winners, with the rest of the aircraft seats for those without a medal (no mention was made of the officials). If this was indeed the case, then this meritocratic system of seating would surely not be consistent with the oft-repeated profession of the British team that “we are all in this together”!
Even before the plane left Rio, the Olympic officials, sports commentators, newspaper headlines and even the newly-opinionated man and woman in the street, were heralding the fact that “Great Britain” was now a world super power in sports. One could forgive, amongst others, the cricket enthusiast, the football fanatic, the super rugby league follower and the followers of and players in those sports which were never given funding for Olympic Games participation for feeling a little envious or left out.
The general British response offers a stark contrast to at least one account of the performance of the Australian team at Rio 2016 (for which this writer has some interest). In an article in Australia’s The Daily Review, with the heading of “When artists win, it is worth more than just a gold medal”, the following was said:
“Who’d be an Olympic athlete, eh? After years of thankless slog, committing hour upon gruelling hour of punishing training regimes and joyless calorie-controlled diets, striving for the merest chance to fly the native flag on sport’s most venerated international stage, the braying masses back home, lolling on the sofa, sneer at anything but gold. If the public’s outrage at the Australian Olympic team’s medal haul is anything to go by (a measly 8 golds “pfft”), the land Down Under is a country of unapologetic elitists. So much for the red-hot-go, little Ausssie battler spirit; it’s not the taking part, but the winning that counts.”
The article went on to discuss and compare elitism in art with sport, saying that, “Just like sport, elitism is at the very core of what it means to be an artist and (even if we are not prepared to admit it) what we expect of artists. You need only to look at the vocabulary used to discuss the arts to see this in action. Pick up a flyer or read a season brochure and barely a sentence will pass without at least one superlative: the most acclaimed; esteemed; illustrious; renowned; celebrated; revered; extolled, and so on ad nauseam.”
The UK has an admirable history of cultural achievement, but is the nation also as diligent in its search for those artists, in all fields, “who pose the difficult questions, expose the uncomfortable truths and shake us on a deep, paradigm-altering level.” Is there now a danger that the performance of successful British participants in Rio 2016 will consign them to the elitist, celebrity level of public recognition at the expense of the battlers (the “little Brit battlers”) in local athletics clubs, school sports and minority sports that hardly, if ever, merit even a mention in sports magazine or the back pages of the daily newspapers, or to the detriment of those whose funding has been inexorably decreased?
Looking back over the happening that was the 31st. Olympiad, it is still somewhat mystifying to this writer as to why the UK team for Rio 2016 was referred to as “Great Britain”, seeing that there is no actual country of that name! Is it not true that British passports were issued to the athletes by the government of “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”? So, the nation is rightly known as the “United Kingdom”, not “Great Britain”. To officially designate the British Olympic Games team as “Great Britain” seems to ignore the reality that Northern Ireland is a constituent part of the UK. It also raises an issue about the British passport!
One reason suggested as to why Northern Ireland was excluded from formal recognition in the name of the British team was that the competitors from Northern Ireland had the choice of competing for either “Great Britain” or for the Irish Republic. This raises a further number of issues. Are British citizens in Northern Ireland to be given more choices of this nature where the Irish Republic is concerned? Will this dual choice exist and persist for all sports? Are British citizens in Northern Ireland to be given the opportunity of being dual passport holders – British and Irish (an interesting prospective dilemma given the outcome of the vote in the recent UK/EU referendum)?
Perhaps it gets nearer to the truth of the use of the appellation “Great Britain” for the Olympic Games team, to listen to several off-the-cuff comments made by TV news and event commentators. During his excellent 5000 metres win, Mo Farah was described by the event commentator as running in an “imperial” way (did he mean “imperious”?). Little time had elapsed following the conclusion of a number of gold-winning performances by British competitors before there was talk of a shed-load of royal honours, including knighthoods and dameships, being conferred on successful athletes. Given that these honours still retain recognition of the British Empire, perhaps Mo Farah’s running style was, in fact, “imperial”!
What is wrong with the name “United Kingdom”? In this writer’s view, “Team UK” is at least as imposing as “Team GB” – and more accurate and honest! Is there some truth in the view that the use of “Great” for the British team signifies a yearning by the few, if not the many, for the UK to once again be a super power in more than just sport?
The day after the close of the 31st. Olympiad, the Classic FM radio station presented a day devoted to British classical music. This writer listened to a short segment of the programme, during which time the following music was broadcast: Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Hubert Parry’s ubiquitous Jerusalem, William Walton’s Orb and Sceptre, Mekel Roger’s March to Buckingham Palace), and Frederick Delius’s Walk Through Paradise Gardens. Now, it needs to be said that this segment may not have been typical of the rest of the day’s classical programming, but a “celebration of British music”?
It also seems anachronistic that the British gold medal winners at Rio 2016, after enduring “years of thankless slog, committing hour upon gruelling hour of punishing training regimes and joyless calorie-controlled diets”, are required to dutifully listen to a national anthem that has nothing to say about them as persons representing a nation, but requires them to offer their effort and skills, if not their medals, to the honour of an importunate monarch who would prefer them to be subjects rather than citizens!
Perhaps it is time that we fully realize that sport, like art, upholds and not merely panders. For, when it comes to sport, “winning is defined by more than some autocratic benchmark” (Maxim Boon, Australian composer and arts writer), like an Olympic gold medal, a five-star newspaper review, or a royal honour. Sport, like art, asks us to recognize its worth in asking just as much of us as we do of it.
Nauru is a tiny island nation in the eastern Pacific region of Micronesia, approximately 2000 miles to the northeast of Australia.
The geography of the island features a coral reef and white-sand beaches fringed with palms. Inland, tropical vegetation surrounds the picturesque Buada Lagoon. The underground lake of Moqua Well supplies the island with its major source of freshwater. The rocky outcrop of Command Ridge, the island’s highest point, has a rusty Japanese outpost from WWII. To many, at first glance, Nauru might seem a tropical paradise.
The country of Nauru, the smallest island nation in the world, has an area of 21 square km. and a population of just over 10k persons. The nation’s official languages are English and Nauruan, with the Australian dollar as the local currency. Nauru has been inhabited for at least 3,000 years, originally by Polynesian and Micronesian tribes.
A German colony in the 19th century and an Australian protectorate until the middle of the 20th, Nauru was once one of the richest places on Earth – thanks to extensive deposits of phosphate-rich guano. Present-day, Nauru has been described by one writer, Ben Doherty (to whom I direct credit for some of the finer details in this article), as “a barren moonscape of jagged rock, entirely unsuitable for agriculture, industry or forestry – the consequence of strip-mining of the island for fertilizer during the middle part of the 20th century.”
Nauru gained its independence in 1968 and, for a while, was a wealthy country, second only to Saudi Arabia in per-capita GDP. However, the nation’s wealth was squandered by a succession of incompetent governments which engaged in disastrous projects. Money laundering, particularly involving the Russian mafia, was rampant; the country’s officials engaged in corrupt practices; membership of the UN General Assembly was used for financial gain.
Ben Doherty is again informative when he points out that when, inevitably, the phosphate ran out, unemployment hit 90% and the school system collapsed. The population now suffers from high levels of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
This is the country to which, since 2001, Australia has sent the major proportion of its “boat people”.
A broken and dependent country is used by Australia as a remote site for the “offshore processing of people who seek asylum and protection. What began as a hurried political response to the arrival on Australia’s northern horizon in 2001 of one boat, the MV Tampa – a Norwegian freighter carrying 400 mainly Afghan Hazara refugees rescued in international waters – has metamorphosed into a standing permanent policy, the so-called “Pacific Solution”, with the support of both Australia’s major political parties.”
The story of the events surrounding the foregoing is a drama in itself
The narrative involves defiance of international law by the Australian authorities, political intrigue by the Conservative-National coalition government of John Howard, and the focusing of immigration as an ongoing election issue in Australia federal politics. Notwithstanding, the camps in Nauru were considered to be a solution to the problem, existing since the mid-1970’s, of the unwanted arrival of boat-carrying asylum seekers in Australia. The camps were designed to be punitive and were widely promoted as a deterrent, to discourage anybody from seeking sanctuary in Australia by boat.
It is the current policy of the Australian government that no persons who arrive in Australia by boat and seeking asylum are ever settled in Australia. Instead, they are sent to Nauru, or to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, it would seem that no genuine process of resettlement ever takes place. Nauru and Manus Island simply engage in a prolonged period of “offshore processing”. Interestingly, no arrivee in Australia by plane and seeking asylum is ever subject to “mandatory detention”!
It would seem that, of the 442 (as of June, 2016, and including 49 children) asylum seekers and refugees in Nauru’s “regional processing centre” – not to mention those now living in the community of Nauru, no distinction is made between asylum seekers and refugees. Possibly 75% of the latter can be regarded as persons with a well-founded claim to be refugees and in fear of persecution and, therefore, in line with UN directives, are legally owed protection.
The “Nauru Files” of the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection is a cache of over 2000 leaked documents covering incidents of self-harm, assault and sexual assaults in the Nauru detention camps during the period 2013-2015. The files further show that there has been an average of 782 adults in detention in Nauru over that time period. It has been reliably estimated (based on the latest figures for 2014-15) that the annual cost of Australia’s offshore detention programme has risen to $A1.2 billion.
The experiment that has been Nauru seems to have had two stages.
The first began in 2001, after the MV Tampa crisis (see above). By 2007, largely as a consequence of the problems bedevilling the Nauruan camps – for example, overcrowded tents, unsanitary conditions, lack of medical facilities and a shortage of water – as well as the growing realization that those who had arrived on Australia’s shores, the “boat people”, were not “queue jumpers” or criminals, or terrorists, but rather people fleeing genuine persecution, the “Pacific Solution” was seen to be quite unsatisfactory. Most “boat people” were, in consequence, resettled – mostly in Australia.
A repeat of the policy of Nauru being an isle of detention began in 2012. This was instituted by a Labour government and has been carried on by Liberal-National coalition governments. This iteration was seemingly brought about by the increase in the number of boats arriving in Australian waters, with a concomitant rise in the number of deaths at sea amongst the “boat people”.
The “second Nauru detention regime” has been carefully and deliberately kept hidden. Despite this, however, some information, in addition to the “Nauru Files”, has leaked into the public domain.
It seems that conditions in the refugee camps are no better than they were in their previous incarnation, including: self-harm, sexual assaults (particularly on women), the effects of detention on mental health (not only but especially with children), squalid living conditions, lack of medical treatment, and reports of suicide (threatened or actual) by the inmates. A former chief psychiatrist responsible for the care of asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Manus Island, Dr Peter Young, described the camps as “inherently toxic” and said “the immigration department deliberately harmed vulnerable detainees in a process akin to torture”.
The government of Nauru has seemingly made it clear that there will be no permanent settlement of refugees on Nauru. There is a five year limit on “boat people” staying on the island. Australia will need to find other places to help solve its self-induced dilemma.
In an article entitled “This does not deter – it causes damaged souls”, David Marr, a Guardian Australia journalist, author and commentator, has said that “Nauru is Australia’s work. We Australians own this despair. Nauru is on perpetual death watch”. Day after day there are records of the “cries of people that Australia has deliberately brought to the brink”.
Again, Dr Peter Young, in stating his professional view that the Australian department of immigration was deliberately inflicting suffering on camp inmates (whom he considered to be “prisoners”) in order to force them to return home, said: “If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition”.
The politics have not shifted, nor its consequences: camp inmates continue to be degraded; despair deepens; families are split apart; lives are broken; human suffering and sorrow intensifies, all trapped “in a makeshift prison on a sweltering island”.
This is not the Australia in which I grew up. Aussies that I know or know about are not brutal people intent on brutalizing others. What brought about the so-called “Pacific Solution”?
David Marr considers that this situation is the result of two lies: “(1) because both sides of politics tell us that only by detaining refugees out there will the boats stop coming, and (2) we are assured that there is somewhere in the world ready to take them off our hands”. Thoughts of a similar lying nature were evident in the arguments of those in favour of the UK leaving the EU during the recent UK referendum on membership of the EU.
Australian governments are trying to break the “boat people”. They will not succeed. The inevitable will happen. The asylum seekers will land and enjoy asylum. The refugees will stand on Australian soil and savour the refuge they desperately seek. For David Marr, “Despite all that has been done to them and all that their treatment tells us about Australia, they still want to live there. It’s a humbling verdict.”
We might say that, eventually, they want to call Australia home!