Monday, January 23, 2006


And Cain said unto the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that everyone that findeth me shall slay me." And the Lord said unto him, "Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." Genesis.
Now that it appears that we are preparing ourselves for yet another plunge into the turgid pool that is the debate over the institution of identity cards for Australian citizens, the power of the above passage can be viewed in a different light, casting an interesting perspective and providing singular arguments in favour of such a move. As can be seen, identity cards have their origin in the Book of Genesis. Cain, the sorry adelphocthon of his hapless brother Abel, was instituted as the world's first identity card, hence the mysterious ‘mark,’ placed by God upon him, in order that he be identified to others. The rationale behind the need for such identification was primarily based upon 'security considerations,' that is, the mark was placed upon him, for his own 'protection,' and as a safeguard from harm.
The second aspect to this very near primordial institution of the identity card is less re-assuring. Sure Cain's mark served to protect him; he lived to a ripe old age in repentance, built a city and sired descendants with the exotic names of Enoch and Lamech. However, Cain’s mark was bestowed upon him principally as a consequence of him committing a most evil act and also in amelioration of an unduly unbearable punishment.
The circumstances in which our august rulers would re-institute a debate as to the introduction of identity cards mirror in many aspects, those of their archetype. For, as the Bali Bombings, the Gaza abduction, the continuing chaos in various Middle Eastern countries and the recent foiling of alleged ‘terrorist plots’ in this country indicate, our world is no longer safe for us. Identity cards could, by separating the sheep from the goats in apocalyptical fashion, deliver us from evil, especially given the sophisticated technology that is readily available these days, that has almost cast the whole genus of forgers into extinction. The corollary to this however, is gravely disquieting. What unscaleable heights of evil have our acts attained, that our benign rulers would place their marks upon us, to protect us from undue harshness of punishment? Is it our sybaritic obsession with bread and circuses that is now causing our decline and fall? Is it our own hubris in the 'achievements' and 'values' of our own 'civilisation?' Or rather is it that we, in the fashion of the proverbial lambs led to the slaughter are eternally condemned to sheepishly follow our demented shepherds, their dogs snapping viciously at our heels at the slightest hint of straying, along their self-appointed paths to oblivion?
Possibly. Yet where an identity card is issued by the State it asserts a unique single civil identity for a person, thus defining that person’s identity purely in relation to the State. New technologies allow identity cards to contain biometric information, such as photographs, iris measurements, or fingerprints. Other information typically present on cards, or their supporting database, may include include one's full name, parents’ names, address, profession, nationality in multinational states, blood type and Rhesus factor. In return, the bearer of such a card obtains certain privileges: ‘proof’ that he is accepted by the grantor of such an identity as is recorded upon his card, access to services and deliverance from exclusion. This too has its precedents in yet another instance of identity marking referred to in Genesis. Abraham in particular, was instructed by God to circumcise all the males of his people, in order to seal the covenant marking them as His Chosen People:
"He that is born in thy house… must needs be circumcised; and thy covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."
Will the insitution of Australian identity cards therefore be corollary to the making of a New Covenant between ruler and ruled? If so, it would be interesting to note the terms of such a Covenant. Whereas God wished his chosen people to acknowledge Him as their God and obey His laws, will the grantors and protectors of our identities require that we accept their values, their opinions and their acts unquestionably? One also wonders how dissenters, sceptics and cynics, who would break such a Covenant through their own consciences would have their ‘souls cut off from their people.’
The recent re-emergence of the debate seems to be symptomatic of our PM’s usual toying with sensitive issues and then quietly dropping them if public oppostion has the potential to translate to political damage. In keeping with the Orwellian status quo where Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, even though thought criminals would maintain that it was at war with Eastasia, especially boatpeople a few years ago, the PM was a vociferous opponent of the introduction of idenity cards during the infamous ‘Australia Card debate.’ Yet in keeping with our close alignment with the primary members of the ‘Coalition of the Willing,’ his volte-face is not without precedent. As far back as 2003, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett stated that his government intends to introduce a national identity card scheme based on biometric technology, together with a database to track the resident population, to be made compulsory by 2013. To that end, the Identity Cards Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in January 2004. The bill failed as it was not passed before the UK general election of 2005, but was reintroduced soon after.
The Home Office argued that the card would frustrate international terrorists, 35% of whom travel under a false identity. More recently, the UK also claimed the cards will help to prevent illegal immigration, ‘health tourism,’ benefit fraud and identity theft, and that biometric passports would make it easier for British citizens to travel to the US. Hooray! Interestingly enough, the US, despite its draconian airport security measures, is not keen to introduce such a card, it being difficult to do so under its curent political system and because other, less obvious ways of compiling information on people are available to it.
The implications of an increasing tendency towards creating a surveillance society are truly fightening. It appears that the primary way in which our rulers would safeguard our freedoms is to make us appreciate them by severly proscribing them. The definition of an idenity is also fraught with problems. Imagine if the Cronulla race rioters were able to identify their targets via a forceful removal of their identity cards.
One wonders what will be next? Tracking of dissidents and undesirables via infra red paint, digital code or mobile phones a la West Bank and Gaza? On the other hand, a by-product of the debate on idenity cards and what goes in them, could prove a refreshing and amusing re-assessment of what exactly our government considers that our ‘identity’ should formally comprise of, as Archbishop Christodoulos found out, in Greece. Will we in turn see vast hordes of Greek grandmothers escaping the suburbs and marching down Lonsdale Street yelling «South Melbourne Hellas ή Θάνατος?» Personally, if identity cards are introduced, I should like them to include a category next to date of birth, eye colour, height etc, entitled ‘Footy Team’ and another entilted ‘Aussieness’' Various graduating classifications such as ‘True Blue, Dinki Di, Born and Bred, Mate, Wog (but alright), Asian (but enemy of terrorism so alright) and Muslim (but loyal to Australia so alright)’ and finally, ‘Didn’t shout me a beer so Unaustralian,’ could determine our true level of commitment to the Grand Covenant of Social Cohesion. In parallel with the film Minority Report, our crime is not that we have disobeyed but that we will always have the potential to do so. Pity help us, that we learnt nothing from the totalitarian experience of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
In complete contrast to the Book of Genesis, the final book of the Bible, Revelation, is wary of any particular marks of identity, considering them malevolent and destructive. We close with the relevant passage, which is as unequivocal as to require no further comment:
“And he had power to give life….and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” That goes for fake tans too. Happy damnation to us all. I’m off to the tattoo remover's.

First published in NKEE on 23 January 2006