Australia's refugee bastardry is biblical

30 Comments

 

Pilate and HerodChristian refugees have always identified readily with the Gospel stories of Jesus' trial and killing. In the sufferings of a good man persecuted for no good reason, and subject to unjust laws they can see their own experience reflected.

In the unravelling and current attempts to re-ravel the Malaysian solution, they will be even more strongly impressed and discomforted by the parallels. The stories of Jesus' trial in the four Gospels highlight the triumph of expediency over legality and morality. The Roman governor Pilate recognises that Jesus is not guilty of any crime but still has him first scourged and then crucified. In John's account he ignores the plea of his wife, the voice of conscience.

In the background to the story of Jesus' death is the voice of the crowd. The crowd is easily manipulated and an ever present threat both to Pilate's tenure and to the remaining independence of the local Jewish administration. It is expedient for both levels of government to get rid of Jesus.

Asylum seekers recognise in these details the part that corrupt legal systems played in the persecution from which they fled. They also readily see in Pilate's behaviour similarities to their treatment in Australia.

They know that Australian law commits the government to protect refugees and to detain them only in order to establish their identity. But precisely because they are innocent and are likely to be granted protection as refugees, they are punished by prolonged detention in order to deter others.

They also read enough of the Australian media coverage to know how strongly popular opinion can run against refugees and how it is manipulated by prejudiced journalism.

In the Malaysia solution and the scramble to restore it, asylum seekers familiar with the Christian Gospels will be struck by the detailed similarities.

In John's Gospel, Pilate is caught between the claims that justice makes on him to release Jesus and the voice of the crowd; between being fair and being firm. He hits on the expedience of a swap. He promises the crowd that he will free one prisoner as a favour, and offers them the choice between the innocent Jesus and Barabbas, a terrorist. The crowd, of course, chooses the terrorist. The swap unravels and Pilate is left looking neither fair nor firm.

In Luke's description of Jesus' trial, too, Pilate finds Jesus not guilty of the charges brought against him but then has to face the judgment of the crowd. He tries to escape from his travails by seeking the cooperation of his fellow regional governor, Herod. They were natural rivals for imperial favour. Knowing that Herod wanted to see Jesus, Pilate sends Jesus to him. He and his court had the opportunity to sport with Jesus and rough him up. Then he sent him back to Pilate.

Luke adds the note that Pilate and Herod became friends on that day. It would be hard for Christian refugees not to be reminded Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard as they reach out to each other in order to pass laws that will stitch asylum seekers up properly and placate the crowd.

Asylum seekers with a sense of history might reflect that Pilate, Herod and the people of the time are now remembered principally for their participation in an act of bastardry. They might then wonder speculatively how Australia today and its two current political leaders will be remembered.


 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Malaysia Solution, asylum seekers, refugees, Gospels, Pilate, Herod


 

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Existing comments

Interestingly, and more encouragingly, the views of the people today sing a different song. The following is taken from a report in The Age this morning..coverinbg the latest poll on Rudd's popularity compared with that of the PM. "Ahead of special cabinet and caucus meetings this morning to deal with the asylum seeker policy crisis, some Labor MPs will be concerned that Ms Gillard's determination to change the law to validate the Malaysian people swap is out of sync with public opinion. Only 25 per cent said people should be sent offshore to be processed (down 3 points since August), while 54 per cent (up a point) believed people should be allowed to land in Australia to be assessed. Sixteen per cent said the boats should be sent back out to sea.
Brian Haill - Melbourne | 12 September 2011


Couldn't agree more with your article. Words fail me as I watch the collusion between Julia, Tony (and some of the 'crowd') unfold. Ever hopeful, I yearn for some last minute reversal of the course down which they are heading..... Thank you for the article.
rosemary | 12 September 2011


SPOT ON.
Vic O'Callaghan | 12 September 2011


Australia's bastardy is not found in the treatment of illegal immigrants who break laws to come to Australia. A true refugee will find a place here.

Australi's bastardy is found in the federal and State laws that permit the slaughter of around 100,000 innocent babies in the wombs of their mothers each and every year..

'Thou shalt not Kill' is a Catholic imperative given to us by God himself yet the leaders and many Australians support the mass murder of babies that are occurring every day.

I would like to see some articles on Eureka Street railing against this terrible sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance!
Trent | 12 September 2011


This is the most lucid Christian comment I have seen on the refugee issue. It should be read beyond the confines of Eureka Street. Please consider introducing it to the general media Fr Andrew.
john frawley | 12 September 2011


I also wonder how the Egyptians felt about people crossing their borders to escape Herod's slaughter of Jewish children. Were Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually asylum seekers / illegal immigrants for a time?

Trent, breaking laws is not wrong if the cause is saving lives. I am sure you would support breaking laws (though not condoning violence) to save the lives of babies who may be aborted. Many if not most of the asylum seekers who come here on the boats do so because their lives, or the lives of their families, are endangered. If they break any laws, while it is a crime it is not necessarily a sin.Many of the boat people are found to be true refugees.
Mary | 12 September 2011


Yes! This must be placed in newspapers,current affairs shows...so the shock jocks are silenced and people come to their senses about christian heritage and persecution/demonising other faiths.Christ's teachings did not invoke war on others,rather love and understanding. The plank of wood in our own eyes is blinding us.

An image of the baby Jesus carried by Mary and Joseph,seeking refuge as they fleed persecution would be so powerful..
Catherine | 12 September 2011


Vic O'Callaghan was right... Spot on!
John Frawley has the right idea too... this article should be publicised beyond Eureka Street. The links of this Biblical comparison are palpable - too obvious to ignore. This article is a tour de force.
Bob GROVES | 12 September 2011


Thank you again, Andrew.I also wish that your wise and lucidly written articles could be more widely read.
Maryrose dennehy | 12 September 2011


Thank you Andy for this excellent article. Once again you have given us food for thought amidst this awful situation of a government going against all its principles of decency, humanity, justice and compassion. I feel devastated about what is happening.
Carole McDonald | 12 September 2011


Great article!

I agree with you, Mary.

Unfortunately Trent, many people misunderstand what a 'true refugee' is, and Australia's immigration policies if they believe they will all find a place here. They also misunderstand the UN Convention on Refugees if they think asylum seekers are 'illegal'.

I was looking recently for some quotes about refugees in the Old Testament. Many times I came across the phrases do not mistreat/vex/oppress the stranger/soujourner, the fatherless, the widow, the poor/needy ...

Catherine, you may be interested to know that Peter Nicholson created such a cartoon shortly after Tampa crisis - it was in the Australian, 29 August 2001 (he kindly granted permission to reproduce the image in my dissertation). I would love it to receive a wider audience!

http://nicholsoncartoons.com.au/refugees-holy-family-christmas-island-no-1m.html
Moira Byrne Garton | 12 September 2011


Andrew: You are getting as bad as the worst of the American bible bashing hate mongers by quoting totally unrelated parts of the bible. Julia Gillard is showing far more true compassion for true refugees then you as she tries to prevent more death on rickety boats. In a democracy and elected Parliament can change a law to suit changing circumstances and it should do so.
Beat Odermatt | 12 September 2011


I also wonder how the Egyptians felt about people crossing their borders to escape Herod's slaughter of Jewish children. Were Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually asylum seekers / illegal immigrants for a time? Trent, breaking laws is not wrong if the cause is saving lives. I am sure you would support breaking laws (though not condoning violence) to save the lives of babies who may be aborted. Many if not most of the asylum seekers who come here on the boats do so because their lives, or the lives of their families, are endangered. If they break any laws, while it is a crime it is not necessarily a sin.Many of the boat people are found to be true refugees.
Mary | 12 September 2011


It's a very cruel irony that part of this farce is played out on Christmas Island, which has been excised from Australia for immigration purposes.
Penelope | 12 September 2011


Be careful about citing Jesus, Mary and Joseph as examples of refugees or you may be arguing for Temporary Protection Visas? Once the danger was past they went home!
Patrick James | 12 September 2011


Luke's Pilate - Herod collusion is a convenient evangelical device: he offers an apologue in favour of the Roman administration and a not so subtle invective against the Jewish religious authorities. In both cases, Luke uses very powerful symbols of populist sentiment in its baying for innocent blood. In Lk 23:2 Jesus is accused of 'perverting our nation' (ethnos); in v4 'the mobs' (ochloi)are prominent; in v5 Jesus the innocent is accused with some insistence of stirring up 'the people' (laos).

Andrew, your comparison between Lk's trial narrative and the currency of the present asylum seeker debate is both appropriate justified. The politicians, the tabloids and the jocks are all playing up to and exploiting the basest emotions of 'the nation', 'the mobs' and 'the people.'

David Timbs | 12 September 2011


One also despairs that the M.P.s who are pushing to further crucify individuals who seek safety and protection from wars and persecution in which our governments are involved like Iraq and Afghanistan proclaim how Christian they are.
But they pick and choose their church and state separation principles. No wonder citizens are cynical of politics.
Power corrupts and out of sight, out of mind, where no media is allowed, we will spend outrageous fortunes to deter boat people.

Deterrence is a furphy, and the Muslims know that Mohammed the Prophet and Jesus and Moses were all refugees.
We tell these stories to teach our children, to give them something to guide their life but in times like this, the practitioners in power are hypocrites. Better to do without the inner conflicts.
Julie McNeill | 12 September 2011


But Gillard doesn't even recognise asylum seekers as human beings with rights.
Marilyn Shepherd | 12 September 2011


"This article is a tour de force."

Exactly right. And to commenters who want to see it more widely read: post a link to it on other blogs!
Russell | 12 September 2011


Andrew, this is the best article I have seen on this shameful subject. Congratulations!
Peter Downie | 12 September 2011


Following on earlier government decision-making today.....

Given that any member of the parliamentary Labor party would be expelled for refusing to support Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s disgracefully resurrected and so-called Malaysian refugee deal, it’s a hollow triumph that could never really be properly labelled a ‘win’ for the government. It’s a loss for democracy, a loss for Australian decency and a further abandonment of the ideals the ALP once proudly trumpeted.

It also puts the Governor General, Quentin Bryce on the spot.

Given that Australia is now to thumb its nose at the international convention on refugees…effectively crossing out its signature…how can the Governor General remain as Patron of ‘Australia for UNHCR’ the UNHCR support agency whose website asserts that it’s “..dedicated to providing life-changing humanitarian support to refugees and other displaced and stateless people supported by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)”?

The ‘Life-changing’ reference, especially in regard to Malaysia, would certainly take on a very heavy irony.

As for UNHCR’s regional representative in Australia, Richard Towle, does he get to be formally advised that we’ve decided against continuing to be a convention signatory or is he expected, like the rest of us, to take that simply as read?



Brian Haill - Melbourne | 12 September 2011


Has anyone noticed that those terrible Greens also oppose the off-shore processing of asylum seekers? They seem to have reached the same conclusion on humanitarian grounds as the Rev Hamilton has on the grounds of Christian charity.
Uncle Pat | 12 September 2011


Thanks, Andrew - well put. I agree with others that this article should be made viral.

Bishop Vincent (Melbourne) came to my mind as I was reading this. It must be so painful for him and other refugees who are now happily settled here. We have to keep praying.
Teresa Low | 12 September 2011


I also wonder how the Egyptians felt about people crossing their borders to escape Herod's slaughter of Jewish children. Were Mary, Joseph and Jesus actually asylum seekers / illegal immigrants for a time?

Trent, breaking laws is not wrong if the cause is saving lives. I am sure you would support breaking laws (though not condoning violence) to save the lives of babies who may be aborted. Many if not most of the asylum seekers who come here on the boats do so because their lives, or the lives of their families, are endangered. If they break any laws, while it is a crime it is not necessarily a sin.Many of the boat people are found to be true refugees.
Mary | 12 September 2011


On radio station 720 I heard a member of the ALP utter that he had 'tried and failed' in a bid to have asylum seekers processed onshore. Vale ALP. Not sure which party will gain my vote next election but the Greens seem to be the only ones standing on principle on this issue. If only I could support all of their policies!
Ern Azzopardi | 12 September 2011


Go Andrew. Name it for what it is. I know it's all wrong, but I don't know how to say it. YOU keep speaking for us - and help to make it clear for us.
jgavard@bigpond.com | 13 September 2011


I appreciate Ern Azzopardi's dilemma - how could one vote for the Greens in view of some of the other policies in its platform.

Is there a political party whose platform I can support 100%? NO.
That's one of the benefits of a preferential voting system. The political parties are all flawed. It is just that some are more flawed than others.
Some are never going to get elected or ever get enough seats to form a coalition, but they can act as ginger groups. And, boy!, does Australian politics need some ginger - that is if you'd like your politics to be like a good curry - an interesting mix of flavours that provides sustenance and good taste.
Uncle Pat | 13 September 2011


Trent, asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants, even if they arrive on a leaky boat with no identification documentation. Asylum seeker is a recognised status under both international and Australian law therefore they are not breaking ANY laws by arriving in this country. The media labels them as 'illegal immigrants' and suddenly everyone thinks they're breaking the law and so we have little sympathy for them. I believe the manipulative role of the media in inciting the crowd's response was one of the points raised in the article. You've provided a classic example of how this is done.
Carol | 14 September 2011


I agree with most of the comments. Why won't the mainstream media publish this kind of Christian voice? Why, and this is more troubling to my mind, don't we hear things like this from our Bishops? Is it because, like many of their counterparts in the US, they are fundamentally supportive of the Conservative side of politics and don't wish to embarrass the Liberal Party? It is sad that some of our high profile Church leaders resort to attacking the Greens in the press, when the policy on refugees espoused by the Greens is actually closer to the values Fr. Hamilton sets out than that of prominently Catholic Abbott and Hillsong Protestant Morrison. I recently read that a retired Australian Archbishop had said that he 'regretted' not being as outspoken on refugee issues as he might have been...yeah, right! OK to say it now...
Ann | 20 September 2011


You can see a lot of thought has gone into this article and bibical comparisons always brings in another element of reflection.
The word bastardry also brings in other connotations, for example children the result of clergy unable to maintain their vows and abandoned to preserve the priesthood, without roots and inheritance rights, virtual refugees with No room at the Inn identified with Mary the unmarried mother expecting the birth of the Christ child we celebrate every year.

Of course there is always adoption and mothers have been coerced into that too, at a time of disorientation and vulnerability, left with the daunting prospect of having to face the Catholic community and legal implications of fighting for support and rights for the child brought into the world by two people, deprived of the unalienable rights for three.

It's strange, if not a human quality I suppose, not to see what's before our own eyes when picking up and running with the thread of others.

L Newington | 08 October 2011


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