Monday, May 15, 2006


"Politics,” Henry Adams wrote, “as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” In Australia, the word ‘hatred’ is uncommonly used as a descriptor of public life. Within that sphere, founded upon the Westminster principal of genteel folk applying their own Benthamite conceptions to the macrocosm, there is always ‘conflict,’ ‘debate’ and ‘disagreement,’ but seldom ‘hatred’ per se, though lately, the spectre of ‘ethnic hatred’ is sometimes bandied about, surprisingly given the mainstream media’s aversion to emotive language, within the context of terrorism and the need for security. This has seen Australian society become insular and more determined that the internecine strife of the war ravaged countries it quixotically attempts to assist is prohibited from entering this country through a cordon sanitaire of political correctness and prescribed or proscribed topics of discussion.
The cynical and arbitrary way in which such distinctions are made should not be overlooked. For if one has the temerity to overstep the cordon and brush up against proscription, one runs the risk of being totally excommunicated from the fold through the acquisition of the title ‘unaustralian.’
More often than not in this country, the word hatred, whenever it manifests itself, is preceeded by the verb ‘inciting’ and the adjective ‘ethnic’ emphasising the myth that trouble in paradise is never intrinsic, with all the inherent contradictions that this implies, but rather, imported. Generally speaking, the consensus is that ethnic communities should leave their troubles ‘at home,’ especially given that such ‘troubles’ are contemptuously dismissed as nonsensical, as they almost always refer to diverse historical viewpoints and past conflicts that bear no relevance to the main narrative. That is not to say that Australia closes its eyes to the plight of those afflicted by conflict throughout the world. On the contrary, on an official level, Australia’s humanitarian assistance to the Pacific nations and Africa is significant while within the mainstream, Australians are quite sensitive to the humanitarian catastrophe of Rwanda, the Middle East crisis and the starving communities of Africa. Proving that history is as important to Australia as any othe country, Australians are also sensitive to past events that determine their outlook upon the future. Thus, much sympathy exists for the victims of the Holocaust and rightly so.
Somehow though, the same level of sensitivity does not exist for issues troubling the ethnic minorities living within this country. There seems to be a determination not to tolerate any such sensitivity where facts are disputed between one or more ethnic groups. The immediate assumption is that this will cause ‘ethnic hatred.’ The panacea seems to be a quick papering over the cracks in ideological homogeneity with the “You’re in Australia now” wallpaper. Ethnic issues that have somehow infiltrated the cordon sanitaire are mercilessly weeded out from our parochial vegetable patch without proper investigation as to their edibility or extent of mailgnancy. For example, while it is perfectly permissible for enlightened Australians to discuss the Darfur conflict with concern and take firm positions on the subject because it is occuring so far away and poses no threat of disruption to our community, when it comes to divisive issues such as the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, where two Australian communities have clearly conflicting positions, the whole validity of the existence of the issue is called into question, and crystalline facts and UN resolutions miraculously become fluid and dismissed from the mainstream narrative. Those responsible for the sprouting of such contentious plants above the surface of our community humus are termed ‘haters’ because the aforementoned plants have no place in the homogenous discourse of our garden. Interestingly enough, the various and diverse weeds of our garden who feel that elements of ‘competing’ weeds are somehow impinging upon their interests attempt to gain legitimacy for their survival by calling for the extirpation of the other’s weeds in the interests of preserving ‘ethnic harmony’. This is paradoxical, considering that while debate between ethnicities can be passionate, this has rarely if ever translated to violence and especially not to the extent of the Manly riots last year.
Jenny Mikakos, member of the Victorian Legislative Council has experienced this firsthand. Her speech in Parliament where she highlighted the Pontian Genocide in the light of its 19th May commemoration and called upon Turkey to engage in a reconciliation process was particularly brave, considering that firstly she had to contend with the interjections of some of her parliamentary colleagues who have a diametrically opposed point of view upon the issue, proving the words of J Minchin: “In political discussion heat is in inverse proportion to knowledge,” to be particularly apt. Further, in an election year, she, among all her collegues of like ethnic origin has consciously exposed herself to accusations of inciting ethnic hatred and misusing her position to propagate her own private views. Already sections of the community that opposes her views on the genocide and has the tendency to become hysterical when the mere word is mentioned are moving in that direction. Thus, in raising the question of the Genocide in Parliament, Jenny is possibly facing vote losses by angry members of her electorate.
To charge Jenny with inciting ethnic hatred, especially in the light of her ethnic background is of course as ridiculous as accusing the Jewish community of doing the same by raising awareness of the Holocaust. Jenny has been a member of Amnesty International for a great deal longer that she has been a member of the Labor Party and throughout her career she has championed the rights of afflicted people throughout the world, regardless of nationality. In particular she has been vocal in expressing her solidarity for human rights abuses in Rwanda and Sudan and her current concern for the commemoration of the Armenian, Assyrian and Pontian Genocide should be viewed within the context of a Parliamentarian who is also a humanitarian and certainly not as any cynical attempt to play ethnic politics – especially when her principled stand may be to her political detriment. When one considers that the main thrust of Jenny’s speech was an appeal that “the Turkish Government must begin the reconciliation process by acknowledging these crimes against humanity,” we realise that this issue does not affect local communities at all but rather is one of international importance that must resist efforts to be contemptuously degraded to the mandragora of ‘ethnic politics.’ So much so in fact that other politicians, notably Rob Maclellan, Bob Carr and Steve Georganas have felt sufficiently moved to make similar speeches on this issue in the past and it is upon this established precedent that Jenny has drawn.
In courageously exposing herself to criticism, Jenny has put into practice the great humanitarian Nelson Mandela’s maxim that: “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” If only all of our politicians could follow Jenny’s suit, venturing off the easy road of political expediency to traverse the high and narrow road that leads to principle and character. Unfortunately, if the conduct of those of her collegues who rudely attempted to shout her down is anything to go by, Walter Bagehot’s assertion that: “One cannot make men good by Act of Parliament,” sadly rings true and it would be a savage indictment upon our political culture if a selfless Parliamentarian could not take a stand on an issue of principle without obtaining total respect for making that stand, regardless of whether one agrees with their viewpoint or not. That, is called democracy.
Sooner or later a mature and compassionate Australian society will eventually have to realise that the bizarre ethnospecific cordon sanitaire it has erected around the perimeter of its own intellect is unsustainable and by continuing to enforce it, it is merely perpetuating harmful stereotypes that entrench the very phenomenon that it seeks to extirpate. Jenny’s speech is therefore a step in the right direction and it is pleasing to perceive, despite the somewhat limited reaction by isolated sectors, how positive and enthusiastic its reception has been in the wider community, serving to decry the stereotype of politicians as self-serving and restoring our faith in our Parliamentary system. All Victorians should justiably feel extremely proud of her.
Lastly, one cannot help but notice that the first line of Jenny’s speech reads: “On 19 May the Pontian community in Victoria and around the world will commemorate the 87th anniversary of the Pontian genocide.” The Pontian community. Not the Greek community. I think there is something in that for all of us, don’t you?

First published in NKEE on 15 May 2006