2020 – “Scribblings from a Trip”. These are rather sombre reflections on the increasing disintegration of the natural environment that we see all around us, plus a few random thoughts on other issues. They were written in the space of a couple of months between January and March 2020
Each “scribble” has a note attached about the context or background.
JUDGEMENT DAY WILL COME
I see the fires’s dull dangerous glow
It flickers like the anger in my soul
A burning rage at the failed leaders
The tentacles of grief grasp our hearts
For the destruction of our olive land
Like the wreathes of smoke curling up
Each fire the death of a thousand animals
Murdered on the killing fields of climate
A bloody plain of lies, greed and deceit
Thirty years of our hopes denied
By the grasping men in grey suits
Their souls stained with blood coal
Their pockets lined by fossil bribes.
The rising water and drowning islands
Just small talk for men with no morals
Each meaningless marketing mantra
Every empty slogan, a death warrant
How good does it get for the dead?
Victims of Morrison’s moral vacuum
Everywhere the skeletons of houses
Like some warning of apocalypse
Scar the blackened smoking hills
Each one a mark on someone’s soul
Seared by an uncaring Government
In the graveyards the families gather
To farewell the needlessly dead
Murdered by the Captains of industry
Condemned by Murdoch’s mendacity
Abandoned by a cabinet of criminals
In the minds of the bitter people
A vision of the judgement day
When the guilt of the climate criminals
Burdened by the souls of a million dead
Drags them down to a hell of torment
As the flames of a thousand fires
Sears their empty blackened souls
And the screams of burning victims
Asking, for them, the never ending eternity
Promised by their vacuous religions
WRITTEN DURING THE BUSHFIRES OF SUMMER 2019/20 IT REFLECTS MY VIEWS ON THE CRIMINAL CULPABILITY OF OUR POLITICAL LEADERS
You have poisoned our land with lies Taking their money and selling our soil Our beaches swept before your rising seas The forests laid waste by your mines
The farmlands poisoned by gas wells Our rivers become ditches of brown Lifeless channels devoid of great fish The water sold to friends for a fee
You talk of freedom and of values But you give us a brave new world Places of razor wire, damaged souls Whose hearts blow away on the wind
Hope crushed like refugees on our shore Smashed in the face of lust for power Far from the guns from which they fled Dreams lie broken, scattered on the wire
Your corruption seeps like acid on skin Burning up the people we wished to be Eating the very soul of this sacred place So that the red heart has but a faint beat
Art is pillaged and culture condemned We are blackened by your casual evil The fair go lies broken on the ground Your fires char our people’s birthright
The ghost of the 1940s walks this land First peoples abandoned, ignored, cheated Everything you touch sickens like the plague Greed like gangrene eats our country’s flesh
You speak of the bush but steal its life A billion dead creatures your legacy Their dying screams scar our souls Innocence destroyed by your half truths
You talk of God but worship Mammon Know the cost of all but value of nothing You talk of family with serpent tongues Hypocrisy so thick God would choke
We await the day of final retribution Where the powerful will meet judgement Where the deniers and climate criminals Will burn for their sins in the fires of hell
A REFLECTION ON THE CULPABILITY OF POLITICAL LEADERS AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR ACTIONS AND/OR INACTION
THE OCEAN’S DEATH
The azure line marks our path Human lines on the lifeless ocean Empty horizons in the lifeless sky Liquid deserts to the eye’s limit
Above in the blue bowl clouds scurry Witness to the innocents slaughtered In my minds eye the teeming ocean A vision of our planet’s recent past
The last albatross has flown to its grave Just a memory of the ancient mariner The frenzy of tuna only now a picture The frigate bird sails the sky no longer
Now we count just the floating plastic Below the limitless marching waves The bleached skeleton of a dying reef The whale turns its accusing eye to us
The agony of the acid polluted seas Eats the very foundation of all life When the great seas are lifeless now And all its living creatures dead
We will look upon the great blue grave And we will know the cost of our greed As we walk our lifeless empty planet And our souls weep for all we have lost
THIS WAS WRITTEN DURING A TRIP BY CARGO TRIP FROM ANTWERP TO CAPE TOWN IN FEBRUARY 2020. I WROTE IT AFTER DISCUSSIONS WITH SOME OF THE CREW WHO REFLECTED ON THE COMPLETE ABSENCE OF ALBATROSS AND FRIGATE BIRDS BOTH OF WHICH WERE ONCE COMMON ON THAT TRIP – AS WELL AS THE REDUCTION IN OTHER SPECIES.
The stone drops
The circle spreads
The heart is broken
I WATCHED MULTIPLES RIPPLES ON WATER SPREADING FROM A STONE FALLING INTO IT – MULTIPLE CONSEQUENCES OF A SMALL EVENT – MUCH LIKE A HEART CAN BE BROKEN BY ONE SMALL ACTION.
Lament for a lost home
I crossed the dry dusty street Following behind my feet. I touched down yesterday I walked the dry roadway
Landing then from overseas Took the bus past old Ramses Now living by a six lane highway Must be his last indignity
It’s been fifteen years this year Since we last lived and played When we all were then just children In this, Pharoah’s city of legend.
Passing the old Baron’s Palace Provides some small passing solace For broken memories of home. Of the broken stones of Fayoum
Only the corner flat still stands Of our precious childish heartlands Where our games we fought and played The street where our family stayed.
I hear the cidadas frenzy The wailing of the muezzins plea The bougainvilleas colour Smell the rich Cairean odour
I walk down the street where we ran Crossing the road past the old tram Standing by the first mango stand With juice running all down my hand
Past my favourite pastry shop In the shade where we’d always stop For a millefeuille each all around With the teeming street’s raucous sound
Every bit has all gone now Sent to oblivion somehow They’ve taken all my memories Buried the place of my stories
The distant pyramids still stand In this ancient mystical land But the place I now can recall Is just a faded print on a wall
THE RAMPANT DEVELOPMENT AROUND THE WORLD INVOLVES NOT JUST THE DESTRUCTION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT BUT ALSO OF MUCH OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT MANY OF US GREW UP WITH. CAIRO AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, HELIOPOLIS, WAS MY CHILDHOOD HOME BETWEEN 1960 AND 1965. I VISITED IT AGAIN IN 1980 AND 2013 AND THIS POEM LAMENTS THE DESTRUCTION OF MUCH OF WHAT I LOVED ABOUT THIS GREAT CITY
Your long auburn hair has turned grey
I see the pain in your soft brown eyes
Your soul burns gently behind them
I’m sorry, my love, for all the pain
I treated you so carelessly each day
Pushing you away each painful hour
I did not understand my cruelty
I did not see your bleeding wounds
Arms at length are not arms at all
All you asked was a gently embrace
Some help to soothe the lifelong pain
Something words cannot contain
You gave me your skin, your soul
In return nothing but my hard heart
Cutting you with only lust and logic
Two years of longing cruelly denied
Two years of loving harshly replied
Nothing but rejection and more pain
No apology can soothe the wounds
No penance can bind the damaged soul
Maybe time will heal burning hurt
I wish I could undo the hurtful words
If only I could unmake the hurtful acts
So many years, so many regrets
THERE ARE TIMES IN LIFE WHERE WE CARELESSLY HURT PEOPLE WITHOUT EVEN MEANING TO DO SO. UNTHINKINGLY, UNCARINGLY AND SOMETIMES CRUELLY. IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO UNDERSTAND THAT KEEPING LOVERS AT ARMS LENGTH OSTENSIBLY TO PROTECT THEM FROM SOME FUTURE HURT WAS DOUBLY HURTFUL. THEY ARE NOT ONLY HURT BY THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP, WHEN IT HAPPENS, BUT ALSO DENIED YEARS OF AFFECTION AND INTIMACY.
The trip through the mainland Balkans starts in Dubrovnik. But to get to Dubrovnik we must first leave Bari, in Italy, by ferry. We arrive at the port to find that the ferry is delayed by several hours, apparently. No one is quite sure how long and, like the quintessential Disappearing Man of Isaac Asimov novels, any staff member of Jadrolinija Ferries who could supply useful information is as disappeared as they can be.
Hence we wait in the not very salubrious terminal served by one slightly seedy takeaway that, in common with most of Corsica, from which we have just travelled takes only cash. Light entertainment is served by watching the ferry to Albania which appears to have no timetable, having been loading for appears to be give hours and is still doing so and by also watching the other passengers for our ferry.
Periodically an additional Albanian will appear and leisurely make his/her way to the ship. There appears to be no rush. I assist one of them, a young woman with child, who is struggling with her luggage. Unsurprisingly since it turns out since her suitcase weighs more than the average fully loaded semi-trailer. She claims to be carrying clothes. In which case they must be gold lined bras and panties. No damage is done other than about five herniated discs in my back.
The ferry dock cannot be seen from where most people are sitting so we are able to observe metaphorical flocks of sheep in action. About every fifteen minutes Â someone will pick up their luggage and head through the doors towards the hypothetical location of the ferry. At this point, and despite there being absolutely no new information or any rationale to their decision to move, at least half of the ferry passengers will pick up their bags and follow. This is the cult/crowd mentality at its best of the sort that leads to mob lynchings, gas chambers and queues for iPhones.
We, meanwhile, are not fooled, as we are with two Kiwis, Helen and Kemp, who of course understand sheep-like behaviour extremely well. They are going to Croatia for a wedding because it always makes sense if you are from NZ to hold your weddings in the farthest corner of Croatia.
On the other hand it gives them (and us) an excuse to drink champagne. Even better it is their champagne. Given that rugby season is coming it is unlikely Australians will be buying champagne any time soon. We also consume the bottle of Corsican mead that I brought on one of the walking trails. This is the best form of travel: random meetings, good conversation, champagne, mead. In this context delays are irrelevant.
For those that have not yet visited Dubrovnik which, judging by the crowds on the main street of the old city, can only be about half a dozen people, Dubrovnik is, daily, like a beautiful dessert placed before a crowd of gluttons. It will survive for seconds before being entirely ruined. It’s beauty is best appreciated in the two hours around dawn â€“ that is before it is effectively destroyed by the descending hordes.
Dubrovnik from the North Fort
Looking south from Fort Imperial above Dubrovnik
Dinner above Dubrovnik – Panorama Restaurant
Durbrovnik – a main road
Like many other places where tourism has effectively, if not actually, destroyed the goose that laid the golden egg, it is hard to appreciate the real beauty of this ancient city when fighting ones way through the thousands of visitors, not least the hordes that descent ‘en masse’ from cruise ships like some sort of biblical plague.
In the last 20 years or so the population of the old city has plummeted from 5000 to 1000 as the locals are driven out by rising rents, lack of any shops other than cafes, bars, and shops selling un-needed gifts to unthinking travellers. And that’s leaving aside the conversion of almost every available bit of sleeping space to AirBnB.
We have two stops in Dubrovnik, one on arrival in Croatia and one on departure. For some reason known only to the Idiot Traveller I have managed, on both occasions, to book AirBnBs at the very highest point of the city just inside the city walls. Thus, several times a day we are required to stagger up about 200 + steps to the top of the city. Bad for both my knee and humour.
These ascents involve a sort of game of chicken with those descending where, at the hot times of day, everyone tries to stay in the sixty centimetres of shade next to the buildings. Fortunately it is only mid thirties while we are there as opposed to the 45Âºc which Croatia endures the following week.
Like every couple, Kaylee and I have points of difference in our travelling routines. I like to avoid every market and shop as if they were sources of the Black Death whereas, for Kaylee, shopping and buying is one of the pleasures of travel. It seems that every second shop sells potential gifts for friends and relatives and our trip is punctuated by approximately 652 visits to inspect potential purchases.
This difference has been exacerbated, on this trip, by the “imminent” arrival of the first MacKenzie grandchild. As a result all of Europe has been scoured for baby clothes and gifts even though “imminent” in this case means at least six months away.
We also differ on beaches and driving speeds. Kaylee feels, for whatever bizarre reason, that, since I almost killed her by rolling her Subaru station wagon some years ago, I should restrain myself from acting like Ayrton Senna on Croatia’s windy roads. Perhaps justifiably, since Senna is dead.
Night time Dubrovnik
I also feel that any beach without waves or somewhere to kayak, dive etc is not a real beach, whereas she is quite happy to be on any beach with sun and water. She is also unsupportive of puns, word plays or interesting statistical analyses, all things which any reasonable partner should be prepared to endure until death do us part. I on the other hand, being inestimably tolerant, put up with the 652 gift shop visits with good humour and patience. Such is life.
Beyond these differences we travel reasonably amicably following the itinerary which I, as resident travel agent, have picked out. Croatia is the third country on our five country European tour and, like most places, if you can get away from peak periods and peak locations, it is beautiful and relatively deserted.
Dubrovnik in the morning and at night, after most people have either not yet got up or have already gone to bed, is a magical town of tiny streets, magnificent old buildings and breeze-kissed rock rock platforms perched above the Adriatic.
Stradun Street at dawn
Looking north from the Dubrovnik city wall
On the city wall, Dubrovnik
Night over Dubrovnik
Travelling through the Balkans and Turkey is like a primer in life. Sometimes it seems a hard and brutal road if you look at the history, but, at the same time one is surrounded by ineffable beauty and acts of compassion. To know and understand the history of this region is to understand the total and utter failure of the concept leadership as defined by western democracy and, more generally, humans.
Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Turkey, Armenia, Kosovo, Montenegro. These are lands swept by repeated genocides. An eye for an eye makes us all blind. So far as I can tell only the Bosnian Muslims are largely innocent, in recent times. Even so there was at least one massacre of Serbians by Bosnian troops during the siege of Sarajevo.
The Greeks murdered the Turks, the Turks the Greeks, The Armenians murdered the Kurds and Turks and vice versa. The Croats murdered the Serbians and the Bosnians. The Serbians murdered the Croats and Bosnians. And on and on.
Unlike the Jewish holocaust, but like the Rwandan, Nigerian, Syrian and other genocides, these are repeated mass murders largely already forgotten. In Srebrenica alone the Serbians murdered 31000 people. Or at least there have been 8000 bodies recovered but another 23,000 Muslims remain unaccounted for 25 years after the war ended.
These were not casualties of war but victims of a brutal civilian ethnic cleansing where the Serbs executed almost every last able bodied Muslim male they could get hold off. Those that fled to the mountains were also hunted and murdered wherever possible. In total more than 100,000 people died in the war.
Our journey, in the Balkans starts in Dubrovnik, follows the bus route to Mostar in Herzegovina and wends its way onto Sarajevo in Bosnia also by bus. As I travel I read Rose of Sarajevo and Birds without Wings, both historical novels that document the sweep of history of 40 years of massacres during the death throes of the Ottoman Empire and through to the civil war in Bosnia. An un-ending tapestry of blood and brutality.
The train ride that wasn’t
En route to Sarajevo
En route Mostar to Sarajevo
Each nation â€“ one cannot say ethnic group because all these nations are composed largely of South Slavs â€“ Yugoslavia means South Slavia – document carefully the atrocities committed by others against them but ignore totally the identical genocidal fury they unleashed at other times, in return.
Thus we find ourselves in the old fort above Dubrovnik where, in 1991-2, a handful of ill-equipped Croats held out against the entire remnants of the old Yugoslavian army, navy and airforce (the latter two of which the Croats had none). The Serbs, in defiance, of world opinion and seemingly out a spite that achieved almost nothing, proceeded to pummel world heritage listed Dubrovnik reducing large parts to rubble.
The City of Mostar showing the extensive damage wrought by conflict in the city. The destroyed Old Mostar Bridge is visible in the top left hand corner, the original structure replaced by a temporary pedestrian bridge.
Mostar War Damage, the old town and old bridge
From Dubrovnik we head north and east to Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina (The name Herzegovina means “duke’s land”, referring to the medieval duchy of Stjepan VukÄiÄ‡ KosaÄa who took title “Herzeg of Saint Sava”. Herceg is derived from the German title Herzog).
We travel from Dubrovnik to Mostar by bus mainly because in the aftermath of the war many of the train routes connecting Bosnia to Croatia and Serbia no longer operate and we are deposited at a typically ugly bus station â€“ nowhere in Eastern Europe is immune from the plague of soviet era architecture and the descendants of that architectural style.
From here we are fleeced double the normal charge for our taxi ride from our bus station to our AirBnB. The same taxi driver offers to take us on a tour of the local area at a price that we later find is as inflated as buying smashed avocado in eastern Sydney. This is the sort of price that the Idiot Traveler would pay without checking.
But as usual we are smart and fail to take up his offer out of sheer inertia. The route to the AirBnB takes us through Mostar’s civil war front line where the Croat leaders having betrayed the Bosnians, with whom they were formerly in alliance, sent their troops to try and create a greater Croatia from stolen Bosnian land.
Mostar is an odd city. In many ways it is nothing special â€“ much of the city is just a pretty ordinary modern urban centre. The old city, the part for which most people visit, is a tiny part of Mostar, just a street or three wide and a few hundred metres long. There are genuinely old parts that survived largely undamaged but significant parts were entirely reconstructed after the damage of the Balkans war and many buildings remain as ruins, or are full of bullet holes.
Those few streets are an archetypal tourist trap of market shops and restaurants perched above the river selling a mixture of everything from genuinely gorgeous art pieces through to junk. The famous old bridge itself is not, of course, old having been famously, and deliberately, destroyed by the Croatians during the war.
But despite all that one cannot but be struck by the sublime juxtaposition of the old city and bridge perched above the deep green NeretvaRiver. Mostar is named after the ‘mostari’ (the bridge keepers). We are fortunate to have one of the best AirBnBs in Mostar with a stunning view of the bridge, a breakfast costing $5 that would cost $20 in Australia and hosts who are friendly and who also double as our tour guides to the areas around Mostar.
There are five mosques and two churches visible from the balcony a reflection of the diversity that means Bosnia has one of the world’s most complicated political systems reflecting the disparate political ambitions of Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats â€“ something that further exacerbates an economic situation that has led to 27% unemployment including youth unemployment of 66%.
From Mostar we move onto Sarajevo arriving after a circuitous bus trip through the spectacular mountain scenery and gorges surrounding the Neretva River.
We would have preferred to go by train as the train journey is reputed to be scenically one of the best in Europe but for reasons best know to Bosnian railways the line, which re-opened in July, only has two trains a day. The first of these requires you to get up at about 5 am, or some similar ungodly hour, and the second, and last, of which deposits you in Sarajevo in the middle of the night. No one, apparently, wants to travel at any civilised time of day.
We find our AirBnB is within spitting distance of old Sarajevo. In common with Mostar much of the old and a great part of modern Sarajevo had to be rebuilt having been shelled repeatedly by the Serbs, who controlled all the hills surrounding Sarajevo and mounted a siege of the town.
Reports indicated an average of approximately 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on 22 July 1993.This urbicideAmong buildings targeted and destroyed were hospitals and medical complexes, media and communication centres, industrial complexes, government buildings and military and UN facilities.
The view the Serbs had
The Bosnian Romeo and Juliet
Entire families destroyed
Sarajevo: Despite the bloody war & graves, still multicultural
More than 10,000 people died during that time and for much of the war the only access in and out of the city was via a 1.6 metre high tunnel dug by Sarajevans under the airport which was controlled by the UN. All Bosnian arms supplies came in and out of the city by this route. The siege was effectively ended by NATO intervention in 1994/5.
Miljacka River, Sarajevo
A paradise of car free streets
A Sarajevo Rose
Luxury Olympics Hotel – destroyed by the Serbs as they left
Although Sarajevo was besieged by the Serbs and the city was divided into areas controlled by Serbs and others controlled by the Bosnian forces the population of Sarajevo under siege was a mixture and Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks and all fought together in the Bosnian armed forces.
Today Sarajevo remains a city which is proud of its continuing multicultural heritage and the city is dotted with signs proclaiming this, as well as with a multitude of cemeteries where the war dead were buried including the famous grave of the Bosnian ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Admira IsmiÄ‡ and BoÅ¡ko BrkiÄ‡, a mixed Bosnian-Serbian couple who tried to cross the lines and were killed by sniper fire.
They became a symbol of the suffering in the city but it is unknown from which side the snipers opened fire . Even so, in addition to the thousands of refugees who left the city, many Sarajevo Serbs left for the Republika Srpska, which is a semi-autonomous part of Bosnia. As a result the percentage of Serbs in Sarajevo decreased from more than 30% in 1991 to slightly over 10% in 2002.
Luxury Olympics Hotel – destroyed by the Serbs as they left
The Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo (RDC) found that the siege left a total of 13,952 people dead: 9,429 Bosniaks, 3,573 Serbs, 810 Croats and 140 others. Of these, 6,137 were ARBiH soldiers and 2,241 were soldiers fighting either for the JNA (former Yugoslav army) or the VRS (Serbian militia). Of the ARBiH soldiers killed, 235 were Serbs, 328 were Croats and the rest were Bosniaks.
Sixty percent of all people killed in Sarajevo during the siege were soldiers. In particular, 44 percent of all fatalities were ARBiH personnel. A total of 5,434 civilians were killed during the siege, including 3,855 Bosniaks, 1,097 Serbs and 482 Croats. More than 66 percent of those killed during the siege were Bosniaks, 25.6 percent were Serbs, 5.8 percent were Croats and 1 percent were others.
Of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city, at least 40% had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters.
Map showing the siege with Serb positions overlooking the city
Graffiti on the old bobsleigh run destroyed by the Serbs
Most of the winter olympics facilities were deliberately destroyed
Serb positions above the city
The tunnel under the airport
Image showing the route of the tunnel under the runway
The tunnel that saved Sarajevo and winter Olympic ruins destroyed by the Serbs
Today the old city of Sarajevo has been largely restored and provides a traffic-free pedestrian enclave of shops, churches, mosques and museums which reflect the remaining diversity of the city.
The museums, displays and ‘siege tours’ provide a salutary exposition of the futility of religious and sectarian violence as well as the human potential for both brutality and for overcoming the hatred of war.
Sarajevo also provides a reminder of the most futile and bloody of human wars, World War 1 which started as a result of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian extremist and act that is marked by the plaque on the corner of Zelenih Berentki St.
This post is the third in the series Europe 2017 – From Corsica to Bosnia – links to previous posts in the series are below:
It’s clear that Australians whose daily out outpouring of bile against Muslims, refugees and strangers, in general, have never experienced the generosity, warmth and welcome of strangers in strange lands. Had they done so it is hard to believe that they would behave towards people with different values, skin colours and religions as they have been doing.
My childhood homes for 16 years, from the age of 6 weeks, were all in countries where people had no reason to feel friendly towards white, blond haired, privileged and wealthy children but my experiences and that of my family were overwhelmingly positive.
One Bhuddist country, Thailand, two Muslim countries, Egypt and Iran and one Apartheid country, South Africa, all provided a welcome which puts Australia’s xenophobic, racist and cruel Government to shame and where the welcome and warmth of the citizens of those countries is in sharp contrast to the outpouring of bile by a minority of Australians.
Those experiences, of so long ago, are not isolated or historical. More recently, I have spent weeks or months in Egypt (2014), Turkey (2015), Jordan (2014). In every circumstance, both historical and recent, I have experienced no hostility, no racism or xenophobia and an overwhelming inclination from everyone to be friendly and helpful and to understand and be open to people from other cultures – and not just from those who might stand to benefit from the spending of tourists but more broadly from the person in the street. Perhaps I have been lucky but I like to think not.
We lived in Egypt between 1960 and 1965. This was just four years after the Suez CrisisÂ when Israel, Britain and France had invaded Egypt in response to Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal.Â Â So there we were, a British family (I was born in Britain in 1955 just before my family left for Thailand), living in a country which only four years previously had been invaded by the British armed forces. Despite this, the Egyptians were overwhelmingly welcoming. I had the same experience in 2014, during protests and repressionÂ in Tahrir SquareÂ when Egyptians would invite me to their homes for tea, despite their knowledge of Australia’s role in the Middle East and about its attitude to refugees.
We moved to Iran between 1966 and 1969, to a country where the west, in the form of a CIA inspired coup had deposed the democratic, and popularly elected, Mossadeq Government in 1953, a mere 14 years previously and had restoredÂ the repressive Shah Reza Pahlavi to power. Despite this Iranians were welcoming and friendly.
We lived in South Africa between 1969 and 1972, at the height of apartheid, where no black or brown person had any reason to feel remotely friendly to people with white skin and yet, as a teenager, experienced no sense of hostility or racism. Compare this with the abuse of people of all ages, including teenagers in Australia, just for looking or being different
Compare this with the hostility to French people during the protests against nuclear testing in Mururoa – a small island 8700 kilometres distant. Â As an example in Darlinghurst, Marc and Murielle Laucher, a couple with dual French-Australian citizenship, foundÂ the windows of their cafe, La Petite Creme, smeared with faeces – which was not an isolated incident.
More recently, I have been in Turkey, a country on the frontline of the hostilities in the Middle East, and which is dealing with hundreds of thousand of refugees. This is a country where an Islamic-leaning Government has encouraged a less secular society and where negotiations over many years to enter the EU have not exactly endeared many Turks to “western” oriented societies. Never mind Gallipoli and the history of conflict between the Ottomans and the west.
Yet every person from the most secular to the most religious was welcoming and friendly and there was no sense of people being prejudiced due to the alleged clash of western and islamic values. In fact the sense of a reconciliation of those values (women in bikinis and headscarfs) was far stronger than in Australia. None of this is to say that no racism exists in these other societies or that minorities in all societies don’t behave in the same way as the racist bigots in Australia but it seems less prevalent and less obvious.
There is something peculiarly obnoxious about the toxic mix of political conservatism, xenophobia, racism which is making Australia a less pleasant, less open and less welcoming society than many of consider it to be. It’s a subject about which we need a national debate. How do we combat this? How do we change the politics of fear that allows this prejudice to thrive. And what can every citizen do to assist?