'Asylum seekers - institutionalised cruelty, the banality of evil and immorality' - Article by John Menadue

5 June 2014

John Menadue writes many articles in support of the rights of asylum seekers. Please see the article reproduced below with a link to further articles by John.

Asylum seekers – institutionalised cruelty, the banality of evil and immorality.

by John Menadue

The recent statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops on asylum seekers says ‘The current policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation … Enough of this institutionalised cruelty … We call on the nation as a whole to say no to the dark forces which make these policies possible.’

In her book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’, published in 1963, Hannah Arendt refers to the ‘banality of evil’. Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely stupid person who relied on cliché rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. She says ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil’.

In his post in this blog on February 17, reposted below, Hugh Mackay speaks of ‘international brutality … why not call our asylum policy what it is – immoral?’

Our policies towards asylum seekers – cruel, evil and immoral- depend on our first dehumanising and then demonising asylum seekers. They are not like us and do not deserve empathy and protection. It is an attempt to dull and chloroform our consciences.

  • Asylum seekers are illegals and akin to criminals. We launder our language to hide the cruelty and brutality of our policies. Even the Department of Immigration now uses the term ‘illegals’ which they are not.
  • Asylum seekers are so devoid of humanity that they would even throw their children overboard.
  • Journalists are excluded or deterred from visiting detention centres because we might hear of the hopes and fears of vulnerable people.
  • How can we have sympathy for asylum seekers who buy the services of people smugglers?
  • They are Muslims.
  • They are ungrateful foreigners who riot in detention centres.
  • They commit crimes in the community and should be treated and listed like paedophiles.
  • They bring disease and wads of cash.
  • They throw documents overboard and don’t tell the truth.

As this day by day process of demonization proceeds the spark of humanity, decency or the divine in each of us is snuffed out. We are made to look foolish and soft if we respond to “our better angels”.

Our leaders are not just determined to dehumanise asylum seekers but play mind games with us by suggesting government policies are designed to save people drowning at sea. If only there was the smallest bit of truth in this the government would be sending out ships to rescue desperate people at sea and ministers would be waiting hopefully for the UNHCR or the Nobel Prize committee to make a humanitarian award.

Through political spin and by good people staying silent, we are losing our moral compass on what is right and decent. As Lord Lane, the former UK Lord Chief Justice put it ‘Oppression does not suddenly stand on the doorstep with a toothbrush moustache and a swastika armband. It happens step by step.’

It is happening despite our asylum “problem “being minor compared with other counties and particularly poor countries like Pakistan.

In allowing evil and cruelty to win our political terrain we could recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller who was imprisoned by the Nazis ‘First they came for the communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.’

We don’t seem to care that perhaps in a decade we will be as ashamed of our present asylum and refugee policies as we are now for what we did to our ‘stolen generation’.

Where is our anger and concern?

I recall a speech some time ago by Bill Moyes, the former host in the United States of the Weekly Public Series on PBS. He said ‘What has happened to our moral indignation. On the heath, King Lear asks Gloucester ‘How do you see the world?’ and Gloucester who is blind answers ‘I see it feelingly.’ I feel it feelingly also. The news is not good these days. I can tell you though that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free – not only to feel, but also to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair; the cure for cynicism … What we need is what the ancient Israelites called hochma – the science of the heart – the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you.

And it does depend on you and me.

We are acting cruelly and immorally. Evil now has an everyday face. But we pretend it is not us. Yet the opinion polls tell us that it is us – that we want to treat asylum seekers this way. Scott Morrison tells us ‘I get so much encouragement when I walk through Cronulla, go down to the beach or up to Miranda Fair’.

Hannah Arendt said ‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’ That “sad truth” is happening in Australia today. We are standing by and letting it happen.

To view this and other articles by John Menadue please follow the link below:

John Menadue. Asylum seekers – institutionalised cruelty, the banality of evil and immorality.