A fire that devours fire; a fire that burns
in things dry and moist; a fire that
glows amid snow and ice; a fire that is
like a crouching lion; a fire that reveals
itself in many forms; a fire that is; and
never expires; a fire that shines and
roars; a fire that blazes and sparkles; a
fire that flies in a storm wind; a fire
that burns without wood; a fire that
renews itself every day; a fire that is
not fanned by fire; a fire that billows
like palm branches; a fire whose sparks
are flashes of lightning; a fire black as
a raven; a fire curled, like the colours
of the rainbow!
(The Celestial Fire – Eleazer Ben Kallir)
While Kallir’s poem enumerates the particular qualities of the celestial fire revealed to Moses in the unconsumed thorn-bush, it can equally be seen as an allegory for the celestial fire that is humanity’s quest for freedom. The freedom or freedoms that I speak of here are those that are, or should, be innate to us as human beings. Namely freedom from hunger, freedom from tyranny (including freedom from racism, ethnic bias and incitement to racial hatred); freedom to make the most of our lives via equality of opportunity in education, employment, housing and health care; and finally the freedom to walk the streets of our cities with our heads held high in the belief that we are all members of humanity, a humanity in which we all share the same fears, wants and desires. Sadly, for many Australians this is not the case.
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait (ATSI) Australians the celestial fire of a shared humanity is denied to us because of the racism and prejudice of a few. The few I speak of are those who engage by word or deed in activities that deny our humanity based on outdated and erroneous concepts of race and capability.
I have borrowed the title of this post from the great bard’s Merchant of Venice. “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose”. -( Quote Act I, sce. III). This quote provides illumination on at least two levels. The first and most obvious is that words are malleable and can be twisted and contorted to serve any purpose; the second and more subtle layer of illumination is in the nature of scripture itself. Scripture, or at least Christian scripture, has been used as a tool to justify colonization, slavery and finally genocide.
In twisting and contorting the words of Christian scripture to justify the otherwise unjustifiable, Christians have missed the most important message contained in their scriptures, that of the brotherhood of man. This is a message that Shylock seeks to remind his Christian audience of when they seek to condemn him because of his ethnicity:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”. ( Quote Act III, scene I).
Shylock’s speech reminds us that all of us are members of the same species; as such we share the same wants and desires. If a person in authority (in the case of Australia), usually a person of white, European and Christian extraction beats us, as in the recent case of Mr Spratt an ATSI Australian assaulted in custody in the Western Australia, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, as in the case of the so called Apology to the Stolen Generation, do we not laugh? If you poison us, which is what happens to our souls, our very psyche, when you subject us to the poison of racism, do we not die? And when we are wronged, shall we not seek justice? But, what happens, as is so often the case with ATSI Australians, we are denied justice due to the way in which the white devil twists and contorts his own words that make up a corpus erroneously known as the ‘rule of law’. Is it any wonder that we are a fractured people trying to seek justice through the international community?
As a proud ATSI Australian I have experienced and continue to experience on a daily basis the very wrongs that the white man’s scripture preaches against and the white man’s law say are wrong. If I turn to the white man’s law for justice and the very law that I’m forced to rely upon denies me justice and condemns me as the Venetians condemned Shylock because of his ethnicity, what choice do I have left?
The white man colonized my land, murdered and raped my people in the name of the Christian concept of the fellowship of man. Then in the 1960’s by a vote of the people, that twisted and contorted corpus of meaningless flummery known as the ‘rule of law’ decided that we could be one of you minus the rights and dignities that would otherwise attach to us as ‘citizens’ of the Commonwealth of Australia, one of the illegitimate states of the Asia-Pacific region.
Why illegitimate? How can a state, which was founded on theft, rape, murder and finally attempted genocide, which continues to this day with a policy of refusing to afford its original owners, its ATSI population the same rights, privileges and protections that it affords its other citizens be considered otherwise? Is this what the white man’s scriptures and laws call justice? If so, it’s exclusionary and divisive and reinforces my argument that Australia can never be anything other that an illegitimate state until these inequities are dealt with.
One of the hallmarks of a free and just society is that its citizens have free choice to pursue careers, educational opportunities, decide where they want to live and how they want to live their lives. If a segment of the population is denied careers, education and the opportunities that flow from these as with those subjected to the impositions of the Northern Territory Intervention, how can that society claim to be free and fair? If not free and fair, how can it claim to be democratic? How can it ask the international community to reward it with laurels such as a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)?
One of the roles of the UNSC is to help protect the least fortunate and most venerable of the worlds population. If the UN took the time to really analyze how Australia treats its own ATSI population, some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, if it took the time to properly analyze how Australia treats the indigenous populations of its near neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, if it took the time to analyze how the Commonwealth of Australia came to be in possession of the Australian land mass in the first place, the UN would have to deem Australia unfit to hold a seat on the UNSC.
While nobody in the ATSI community is seriously seeking to wind the historical process back 224 years, the ATSI community is seeking, nay demanding, justice and if that justice is not going to come from within the Australian community it is going to have to be imposed from without
If a people can’t turn to their Federal Police Force because it is a rogue, criminal organization; if it can’t rely on the integrity of the court system because the public prosecutors who oversee the integrity of trials spout racist invective about ATSI defenders; if they can’t turn to their own government because senior public servants feel empowered and get away with expressing in writing views such as “… [all] Aborigines are compulsive liars and criminals …”, how can that state argue that it is a free and democratic society worthy of the laurels of a seat on the UNSC?
To quote directly from the Song of Songs, part of the corpus that makes up the white Christian tenets of faith, “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.” According to my Jewish faith of which Christianity is nothing more than a rejected sect, this passage asks us to frankly confess our shortcomings and by fulfilling our Divine Commandments we can redeem ourselves and overcome all obstacles. These Divine Commandments include the The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. This concept must necessarily extend to all citizens of a state, if not to all members of humanity.
If a white, Christian, European dominated Australia can’t love its own neighbors, how can it claim to be part of the community of free, democratic states? If it can’t treat its ATSI population with respect and justice, how can Australia ever be more that a rogue state?
It is worth remembering that democracy is “A fire that devours fire; a fire that burns”, and our ATSI sisters and brothers will continue to fan this fire until it truly burns brightly in the Australian psyche.
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