Here we present the first in a jolting six part series by Dr George Venturini; here, he looks at our nationalism, human rights record and rampant militarism.
SUB-TROPICAL FASCISM ― THE AUSTRALIAN WAY:
NATIONALISM, PATRIOTISM AND FEAR
The word ‘Fascist’ has become a term of abuse, rarely employed in Australia, quite often by people who are short of arguments, and in many cases by people who do not know precisely what the word means. A clarification is essential before proceeding.
Fascism, historically speaking, was a bloody political movement which was linked with Syndicalist-Corporativism. It was born in Italy and was in existence just 21 years ― between 1922 and 1943. There was a criminal ‘coda’ on the service of the German occupiers between 1943 and 1945. Any better definition has proved contentious. Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have engaged in long debates concerning the exact nature of Fascism and its core tenets.
Most scholars agree that a ‘fascist regime’ is foremost an authoritarian form of government, although not all authoritarian regimes are fascist.
In the recent past, there have been at least three attempts at setting down the defining attributes of a fascist movement. One was seminal: L.W. Britt, ‘Fascism anyone?’, Free Inquiry Magazine, Vol 22 no 2 (July 2003). Two others more specifically referred to Australia: A. Broinowski, ‘A fascist Australia?’ (2006), accessible at http://webdiary.com.au/cms; and: G. Hassan, ‘The Rise and Rise of Super Fascism’ (2011), accessible at http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_61883.shtml. The two Australian scholars followed Dr. Britt’s categorisations; they agreed on fourteen of them. And they had all been preceded by the eminent philosopher U. Eco in ‘Eternal Fascism: Fourteen ways of looking at a blackshirt’, The New York Review of Books (June 1995).
With respect, none of those efforts is completely satisfactory for reasons too long to explain here. Naturally, most of the basic elements on which they concentrate are present in Australia. None of those writers, however, provided a definition. One will be attempted by way of conclusion. Of course, there are many elements of comparison, and they are shared between Australia and Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and National-Catholic Spain. Comparisons could be drawn from time to time in the following presentation which respects the order of points common to the above scholars, particularly to Dr Broinowski. But the presentation is more by way of a hypothesis than of a thesis.
The first element of an Australian Fascism is nationalism.
This is expressed in its widest ramifications: ostentation of flags and lapel pins by way of re-assurance and self-confirmation of and in patriotism; uniforms from the cradle to the grave; an always ill-disguised sense of superiority and reference to ‘race’ ― in Australia ‘the white race’; the cultivation, nurturing and indoctrination from early years of cliché views of life, accompanied with the use of symbols and slogans; sublimating in a quasi-religious respect for military ‘tradition’ and its representatives, all of which more often than not leads to an attitude to other people bordering on and often culminating in xenophobia.
Since the arrival of the British to establish a penal colony in 1788, hence the invasion of someone else’s land, Australians have participated, officially and unofficially, in conflicts in New Zealand, 1845 & 1860-61; Sudan, 1885; South Africa, 1899-1902; China, 1900-01; on several fronts during the first world war, 1914-18; Russia, 1919-21; on several fronts during the second world war, 1939-47; Malaya, 1948-60; Korea, 1950-53; Indonesian ‘confrontation’, 1962-66; Malaya-Malaysia, 1964-66; Vietnam, 1963-75; Thailand, 1965-68; Somalia, 1992-94; East Timor, 1999-2000; Iraq, 2003-2009, Afghanistan, 2001 - present;. The loss of Australian lives is close to 103,000.
On at least two occasions, the Australian people were lied to by its governments: by Prime Minister Robert Menzies about Vietnam and by Prime Minister John Howard about Afghanistan and Iraq. In all other cases, barring some aspects of the Second World War, the ‘enemy’ was ‘over there’, unknown and un-identifiable, except in the crassest way ― it was brown, red, yellow. It was always a threat to ‘the national interest’ ― from time to time invoked by politicians but disrespected at all times except when they sent the best of their youth to the slaughter. At those times, obedience became blind, unquestioned ― the lack of it always considered un-patriotic. Such un-reasoned attitude to life, the result of planned ignorance, has been fuelling in a xenophobic attitude, which has only recently been clothed but not suppressed by some undefined ‘multiculturalism’.
The figure of about 103,000 war dead does not include ‘white’ Australians who died in the wars against the original inhabitants, the Blacks of Australia ― whose systematic extermination began in 1788 and is said to have terminated at Coniston, Northern Territory, where a massacre went on between August and October 1928. The fate of the Blacks continues in other forms of government ‘intervention’. And this has left, in the memorable words of Henry Reynolds, “a whispering in our hearts”.
[See George Venturini’s series on Indigenous Recognition.]
Violence abroad is as Australian as drinking beer. Violence at home is accepted for the most incredible non-reasons. So it is ‘alright’ that, as Russel Ward wrote,
‘…in April 1974 Her Australian Majesty’s loyal opposition behaved more like a gang of fascist thugs than responsible politicians in a democratic country.’
It was even ‘more alright’ that a just meliorist, twice-elected, tormented Whitlam Government should fall victim in November 1975 to a coup by Royal-C.I.A.-Agrarian Socialists, and other back-stage-powerbrokers who had been scared out of their scant wits, in an ambush performed by an habitually-drunk Governor-General. ‘Respectability’ and ‘stability’ would be returned by the hand of Malcolm Fraser, the beneficiary of the Royal Ambush, who for seven years as prime minister almost succeeded in his avowed ambition to govern so quietly that political news would be replaced in the headlines by ‘sporting intelligence’.
The Australian is one of the most violent societies of similar physiognomy ― probably the second most violent after the United States. Silence shrouds certain types of social violence. Suicide kills more Australians than die in road accidents ― already at a peak. In 2008, according to the most recent figures available, 2,191 people took their own lives, while the annual road toll has fallen below 1,400. For the past decade, suicide numbers have hovered around 2,050 a year ― on a population of 22.5 million. The facts are not widely known, because of medieval stigma, prejudice, ignorance and a centuries-old taboo which once barred those who had taken their own lives from burial in the local cemetery. One should understand here ― Christian burial.
Fascism being essentially irrational, unreasoning and violent, the tag fits a certain view of Australia.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Demonisation and marginalisation of those who are ‘different’ – ‘difference’ being an important concept, which has a particular meaning in everyday’s language as spoken in Australia – may lead to the acceptance in war, and even in peace, that respect for persons branded from time to time as ‘the enemy’ or ‘different’ is not necessarily owed – as it is said to be professed – to Australians. ‘The other’ is not necessarily Australian. S/he is not sufficiently patriotic, but Communist, terrorist, or as defined from time to time. The goals of such exclusion from civilised norms are furthered by the use of propaganda, often passed through the media: newspapers, private radio and television stations, even through the so-called ‘education’ system ― which is, with rare exceptions, an ‘indoctrination’ system and strongly classist. The three levels of that system are, essentially: primary = minding centres; secondary = bad jokes; and tertiary = solemn farces.
Disinformation is assisted by secrecy and official denials.
Human rights are occasionally spoken of, but more frequently ignored in the interest of ‘national security’ and according to ‘need’. Conformity and indoctrination being the functions of ‘schooling’, it comes to no one’s surprise that there may be cases when looking the other way is necessary ‘in the national interest’. And if torture be complained of, it certainly does not happen in Australia ― of course not. Of course, there is a world of difference between summary executions as practiced in ‘dictatorial regimes’ and incarceration as practiced in Australia. But what of incarceration as practiced elsewhere, and favoured, tolerated and ignored when practiced by ‘our ally’, our Great-And-Powerful-Friend?
Every year, Amnesty International Reports documents the state of human rights; in 2009, it did so across 159 countries. The 2012 Report noted that, although important gains had been made, accountability and effective justice seemed a remote ideal for many as people’s lives continued to be torn apart by repression, violence and political stalemates. The Report opened thusly:
‘Australia continued to violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples, stripping essential services from Aboriginal homelands. Refugee policy favoured deterrence, with mandatory, indefinite and remote detention for asylum-seekers arriving by boat.’
Events in 2009 had already confirmed that two formidable obstacles stand in the way to justice for all. The first is the fact that powerful states continue to stand above the law and outside effective international scrutiny. The other is that powerful states manipulate the law, shielding their allies from scrutiny and pushing for accountability mainly when politically expedient. In so doing, they provide a pretext to other states or block of states to politicise justice in the same way.
Three cases in particular demonstrate that, when in difficulty over the alleged behaviour by some of its subjects, Australia abandons them.
David Hicks, Australia-born, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001; sold to American Special Forces by their allies for US$1,000; transported to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; repeatedly tortured; tried by a so-called special tribunal, found guilty; and returned to Australia in 2007 under certain restrictive conditions. He had been abandoned by the Howard Government. That Government’s Attorney-General even went to the extent of writing that sleep-deprivation is not a form of torture.
Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian born Australian Muslim was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2001, ‘renditioned’ to Egypt, tortured there and subsequently at Guantánamo, where he was kept until 2005. According to Habib, an Australian consular officer was present to his torture in Egypt. The Howard Government’s Foreign Minister publicly challenged Habib's claims to torture, saying “no evidence has been found to prove that torture has been used at the camp”. Query: did the government ever inquire about the claims of torture?
At the end of April 2011, the unrepentant former foreign minister found time to express his belief that both Hicks and Habib were “terrible people ― absolutely shocking”!
A better known case is that of Julian Assange, presently a ‘fugitive from justice’ holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He recently lost the appeal against a February 2011 decision by an English court to extradite him to Sweden for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. He has said the allegations of wrongdoing are “without basis.” The Australian Ambassador in Stockholm wrote to the Swedish Justice Minister and asked her to ensure that the “case would proceed in accordance with due process and the provisions prescribed under Swedish law.” Assange laments that the Rudd/Gillard Government and then the Gillard Government have abandoned him, there having been no further contact with him since December 2010. He also charges those governments with having passed ‘compromising’ information to the United States Government, which may want to send Assange to trial for treason.
What is important in all this is the ‘flexibility’ with which the Australian Government approaches its international law obligations: no respect of the Indigenous People, no respect of the human rights of asylum seekers, no respect of those who fall short of the accepted norms of ‘good living’, according to Australian rules; in other words, a self-definition of what constitutes law and order in the slogan ‘law-and-order’, which could be uttered by any authoritarian, undemocratic and, ultimately, fascist regime.
Hicks was a converted Muslim, Habib is the real thing, Assange is nothing less than a troublemaker. He abides by Orwell’s dictum that
‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’
Amnesty International 2010 State of the World’s Human Rights Report noted that Australia took positive action on human rights in 2009 by signing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, committing to a National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and ceasing to charge asylum-seekers for the cost of their detention. However, during the same period, Indigenous People continued to be discriminated against throughout the Northern Territory and asylum seekers who arrived by boat continued to be detained on Christmas Island, where they are granted fewer rights and less access to services than those who arrived by plane. These discriminatory policies remain in place. Protests and riots by asylum-seeker detainees have occurred every month in 2011.
In 2010, Amnesty International also highlighted the government’s failure to implement a national Human Rights Act despite the recommendation of its own National Human Rights Consultation Committee and the discriminatory freeze on processing of asylum claims from Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals.
Claire Mallinson, the national director of Amnesty International Australia, said at the time:
“As a member of the G20, Australia has a real opportunity to lead by example, but to do this it must stop putting political self-interest ahead of its legal responsibilities and deliver on its commitments to human rights.”
By freezing the processing of asylum applications from people fleeing two of the world’s most violent conflict zones: Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the Australian Government failed to fulfil its international legal responsibilities. This is a glaring example of a government placing political self-interest above upholding its human rights responsibilities and the well-being of those in need.
Despite some promising steps, Australia is continuously failing to deliver sustainable, long-term solutions to human rights problems.
No authoritarian, undemocratic, fascist regime would refrain from scapegoating a minority as a tool of domination of the masses.
Examples still stare in one’s face: Mussolini blamed strikes on the workers because they were led by subversives, meaning Socialists – of whom he had been one – and Communists ― on the left of which he had been when he was an atheist-syndicalist. Hitler narrowed the ‘targeted’ group: it had been the Jews who, through their speculations, ‘had lost the First World War for Germany’. Franco attempted to justify his coup against the Spanish Republic – and found great comfort in that from the Catholic Church – on the grounds that it had fallen prey of Judeo-Masonic-Communists. In all this, the wearing of the ‘right’ shirt against that of the ‘wrong’ colour – or no specific colour – is very important. So, Mussolini prescribed his to be black, Hitler brown and Franco blue.
Depending on ‘need’, it is easy to see the progression in the famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller, which goes roughly as follows:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out ―
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out ―
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out ―
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me ― and there was no one left to speak for me.
But what if somebody is a homosexual or a Muslim ? Things may be quite different then.
There are often matters over which public ‘discussion’ is encouraged ― if it can be controlled. They are, of course, just distractions from issues which really matter. But they make for good entertainment and find courageous paladins in the most august venues. Quite recently, a ‘Liberal’ senator spent an inordinate amount of time, in the Senate, on radio interviews, and newspaper articles to advocate the banning of the burqa. The learned senator succinctly stated the grounds for his proposition:
“Equality of women is one of the key values in our secular society and any culture that believes only women should be covered in such a repressive manner is not consistent with the Australian culture and values.”
This is just a smoke-screen: equality of women is not a value in Australia ― it does not exist; and the society is not secular ― the head of state is still the defender of the Anglican religion; Parliaments still open with invocations to a Christian god; court witnesses are proffered a King James’ Bible for oath-taking, et cetera. ‘Culture’, in every day jargon, is a very fluid concept ― more often than not an empty vessel. One would be very hard put to look for ‘Australian values’ anywhere.
To substantiate his case, the ‘Liberal’ senator referred to a then recent case of robbery in Sydney by a burqa-wearing bandit. As the learned senator reported:
“The bandit was described by police as being of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’.”
Balaclava-wearing bandits are obviously unknown to the senator. And, assuming, but not conceding, that the burqa is a requirement in professing one’s faith – trying to take seriously for a short moment the senator’s call – one wonders how many people he has actually seen wearing a burqa in Australia. What would the senator suggest next: that the Jews who congregate in certain suburbs, particularly in Melbourne, should not wear their shtreimels – the fur hat worn by many married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men – in public because it is ‘un-Australian’?
Of course, the senator would not dare suggest that nuns in traditional habit look very much like women in burqas, and monks moving about in sandals and dressing gowns are typically Australian. What would the senator say of those various eastern orthodox Catholic priests with their bizarre attires? Would some priests and Jews with their ‘un-Australian’ funny little skull caps upset the senator? And what to say of all those new Australian women subjects who came from Africa and continue to wear, in public, traditional African dresses?
Translated into plain English, what the ‘Liberal’ senator means is: curtail and, if possible, stop the entry of Muslims ― because they tip the well-balanced Judeo-Christian society on which Australia is said to be founded. The real substance is of a much cruder kind and is demonstrated by the shadow minister for immigration enjoining his ministerial colleagues, at a meeting of the Shadow Ministry in December 2010, to use community concerns about ‘Muslim immigration’ for the Opposition's political advantage. It is not a pleasant view, though the Opposition has no monopoly of narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and base calculations.
One of the most common tools of fascist propaganda is scapegoating of people from minorities.
In Europe, even before the events of 11 September 2001, Muslims were identified as enemies and accused of ‘taking-over’ Europe. Those events offered an opportunity to justify attacking the scapegoats ― Islam and Muslims. Following the bad examples coming from Europe, but also from the United States and Australia, Muslims are often unfairly portrayed in Australia by radio talk-show hosts who feature material which is deliberately offensive, vulgar, and sufficiently suggestive of racist views, as terrorists, anti-women and violent in order to justify social discrimination and to sustain injustices.
The following data is taken from a table of the top 15 countries with the highest military expenditure for 2009, published in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2010, using current market exchange rates in 2009 US dollars: Australia ranks fourteen; it spent 19.0 billion, equal to a share of 1.8 per cent of 2008 Gross Domestic Product, or a 1.2 per cent of world share.
Australia’s defence expenditure has increased by 50 per cent between 1989 and 2007. The Government allocated AU$ 22 billion to the Australian Defence Organisation in the 2007-08 financial year. In the 2006-07 budget, the Government announced that it would continue to increase real Defence spending by at least 3 per cent each year until 2015-16. The Australian Labor Party promised during the 2007 federal election campaign to maintain defence spending if elected to office.
As Broinowski noted:
‘Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected.’
The ‘Australian Defence Force’ is a misnomer. It has mainly four functions:
1) to serve overseas in support of other governments’ decisions;
2) to employ weapons which are force-sold to Australia because of the power of the military-industrial complex of Australia’s Great-And-Powerful-Friend;
3) to pursue intimidation and/or invasion of other countries, while maintaining the ‘tradition’ of militarism as a source of male dominance, if not of machismo, which is an expression of nationalism;
4) a limited function as coastguard.
Militarism and nationalism are like twins joined at the side. They live and thrive on rhetoric with frequent recourse to the Crown; the (dysfunctional) Royal Family; the (foreign) flag; and the totally melancholic, often morbid, tribute to the dead which takes place ‘that one day of the year’ on 25 April ― Anzac Day. That is the day – as Dave Warner once said – when ‘we march our march and we drink our beer’. It is on that day that everyone who is said to have died for Australia is ‘honoured’ ― by marching and getting high on beer.
Anyone who knows a little history would remember that marching has always been regarded by dictatorial regimes as a needed substitute for thought. Large consumption of beer helps to blur fact from myth. Thus, the landing at Gelibolu, which is the name of the place Australians, New Zealanders and British invaded in 1915 with absolutely disastrous consequences, has become a ‘sacred day’ in ‘secular’ Australia. And thus the confusion between history, myth, reminiscing and fabulae raves up, with the risk of serious consequences if one were to attempt to re-establish the truth on the occasion. After that, everything is permitted in the name of laconicism and that grand, all embracing, all soothing resource which is ‘mateship’. This, of course, is regarded as an exclusive Australian quality. No other returning soldiers, whether volunteers or conscripted, in other countries are allowed to possess it.
Gelibolu was an ill lost battle from which no good came; it never ‘tested a young country’s mettle’ and did not ‘show what game young men can do’. It gave Turkey a national founding hero, Ataturk, and Australia almost a century of bloodstained hypocrisy. And there seems to be no end to it.
Questions are never asked of the simplest kind, such as: why were we warring against Maoris in New Zealand in 1845? And what on earth were ‘colonial’ Australians doing in Khartoum in 1885, or against the Boers in South Africa, or ‘federated’ Australians doing in Russia in the 1920s?
Treasonable it would be to ask: why should our youth continue to be cannon fodder for the financial advantage of weapon-manufacturers, offending countries and people they have never visited, defending on someone else’s land our power élite, their miners, banksters, money-makers, pimps, and establishment we hardly ever use to our own advantage? Asking that would be, and so is, taught from cradle to grave to be un-patriotic, un-Australian.
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