Australia as a Good International Citizen – Book Review

Australia as a Good International Citizen

Alison Pert, Federation Press, 2014, $125 ($112.50 for members through Law Books)

Can a state be considered to be a good international citizen? Is there a standard to measure the reputation of a state, and if so how does one go about evaluating it in a meaningful way? Australia as a Good International Citizen answers these questions with a comprehensive and fascinating analysis of Australia’s role in the international legal community.

It considers Australia’s role with an international law lens. The author argues that core attributes of being a good international citizen revolve around compliance with international law, supporting multilateralism and having morality and leadership. The ability of Australia to lend support towards international tasks is also a key attribute and provides context for Pert to follow Australia’s engagement with various international instruments and legal bodies from the time of Federation in 1901 through to the recent Rudd and Gillard governments.

Pert’s specific focus on two key attributes of a good international citizen, namely compliance with international law and support for multilateralism allows her to measure the State against a criterion of established international law standards and expectations such as the concept of doing good for the greater community. Treaty making, overseas aid and nominations for world heritage listings are examples of Australia being good international citizens, while protection of human rights and in particular Indigenous rights are areas that require extensive engagement.

Originally published in the Law Institute Journal, November edition.

True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England – Book Review

Frances Dolan’s True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England is a textual journey into the meaning of ‘true relations’, which refers, in simple terms, to the credible reportage of happenings often backed up with well-intentioned documentation attesting to one account’s worthiness over any other ‘true relation’.

Dolan is keenly interested in debates surrounding interpretations of textual evidence and how such debates provide a framework for achieving a new historical understanding of ‘evidence’, particularly during the seventeenth century.

The book is made up of six chapters, divided into two sections. ‘Crises of Evidence’, the first section, introduces the reader to early modern crises of evidence, such as Anne Gunter’s bewitching and theories surrounding the Great London Fire of 1666. It provides an interesting examination of competing and consenting standards of evidence. Section I focuses on the use of, and dependence upon, evidentiary material, the validity, authenticity, and completeness of which would be judged inadequate by contemporary standards. For example, Dolan analyses the importance placed on political and confessional affiliations in evidentiary debates about the London Fire.

The second section of the book – ‘Genres of Evidence’ – explores the reading of texts as ‘genre’, though here Dolan refers to genre in the sense that ‘texts can be grouped according to the expectations they invite from and the demands they impose on their readers’ (p. 23) rather than being inclusive of a specific set of writing norms. Chapter 4 is especially interesting for its analysis of evidentiary depositions and the entrenched habit of labelling such depositions as ‘fictions’. It highlights Dolan’s central argument that relational texts raise many more questions then they seek to answer: there is no definitive way for readers to assess the true value and veracity of true relations.

The value of True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England is that it attempts to provide an analysis of the gaps found between fact and fiction in legal depositions, plays (as genre), and advice literature – it expertly connects past debates about text as historical evidence to contemporary understandings of seventeenth-century texts as evidence. The book also introduces new concepts to debates surrounding historical evidence, such as the need to include church court depositions and advice literature as genre.

From: Parergon
Volume 30, Number 2, 2013
pp. 242-243 | 10.1353/pgn.2013.0120

Delving beyond the politicised asylum seeker debate

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More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees
Rosemary Sayer
Margaret River Press

As the major political parties in Australia shifted into election mode earlier this year, the topic of refugees was almost always one that elicited an emotional response, with questions like ‘who are these people?’, ‘why did they come here?’ and ‘why should we care about them?’ becoming the norm. The recent release of over 2,000 confidential files on the Nauru detention centre that exposes sexual assault, child abuse and inhuman detention practices has seen a surge of interest in the public wanting more information and transparency around asylum seekers held in detention.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees by Rosemary Sayer is an important collection of stories told by individuals who came to Australia seeking refuge, and provides personal insight into the questions so often raised within political forums, which arguablydrowns out the voices that matter most in the mainstream debates about refugees.

The 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, of which Australia is a signatory, states that a person is a refugee if they are outside of their country due to fear and likelihood of prosecution due to their religion, race, nationality, political opinion or member of a social group (often a minority group).

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is a vital contribution to understanding the complex tapestry of the human experience that refugees bring with them when they embark on their journeys and settle in their new countries.

As an expat living overseas, Sayer notes that she was regularly asked why Australians were racist towards refugees, with Chinese friends concerned with the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the anti-immigrant sentiment playing out in the media. Sayer writes that the reason she became interested in presenting the unique stories of refugees was because she “felt compelled to embrace the opposite approach” of how refugees’ stories are commonly represented and politicised, in order to provide a voice to those who are regularly silenced by states, governments and the media.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is a vital contribution to understanding the complex tapestry of the human experience that refugees bring with them when they embark on their journeys and settle in their new countries. The stories feature diverse characters from disparate countries, from Naw Pi, a Karen from Myanmar who fled from persecution by the Burmese military who raided her village to Abdul Farid Sufizada, one of the 428 people on board the Tampa, the ship that became a turning point in Australian politics around the management of refugees and asylum seekers.

Sayers reflects that “spending time among refugee families that had often been dislocated by war and were now living such challenging lives had constantly made [her] reflect on [her] family’s good fortune of being born in Australia”.

Interestingly, Sayer includes a chapter on those who have been left behind – illustrating that the journey to becoming a refugee is often not taken in isolation and that there are far-reaching consequences that are often unseen. Sayers explores how familial ties are often strengthened when a husband, brother, mother or sister flees in the hope of a better life.

The author also visits Mae La, the biggest refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and attempts to document the entire experience of the refugees there with sensitivity. At Mae La, Sayers notes that “the significant effort made by all the refugees to maintain their dignity and hope in the camp community” contributed to their ability to maintain a positive outlook, despite some of them being there for numerous years while their claims were being assessed.

In the process of writing More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees, Sayers often had her own cultural constructs and ideas about refugees and the circumstances leading to them seeking asylum challenged. In her introduction, Sayers notes that she rarely harboured a thought as to what it meant to live in a free society until she spoke intimately with the refugees who had themselves become displaced because of socio-political interference.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees expertly weaves together not only conversations with refugees but the historical and socio-political backdrops that have forced them to flee their countries for shelter in Australia. As Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers increasingly becomes a political and moral issue, it is well worth reading this book to hear authentic voices.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is now available from Margaret River Press.

Article originally posted here: RightNow: Human Rights in Australia

What it means to be a refugee in Australia

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Younis Yousefi, My House, 2004, unfired clay handpainted

Pictures in my Heart: Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia
Fiona Hamilton
Wakefield Press

Noted French novelist Marcel Proust once claimed that “only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees”. In Fiona Hamilton’s book Pictures in my Heart, Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia, the reader is treated to artworks created by refugees from Afghanistan living in Murray Bridge, a small town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. The pieces explore what it means to be refugees in Australia. Linocuts – prints cut into a sheet of linoleum – are used as the medium through which the artists’ depict their separation from their families and their harrowing experiences as asylum seekers.

Between 1999 and 2001, many Hazara male refugees came to Australia by boat and were placed on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) while the Australian government assessed their asylum claims. Living on a TPV meant that this particular group of men was able to live in the Murray Bridge community, rather than in detention as is the case now for those seeking asylum on Australian shores. However, the TPV also meant that the Australian government would reconsider their petition for asylum after 30 months. If circumstances changed, there could be every chance that their review would be unfavourable and that they would be sent back to Afghanistan – a potential death sentence for those fleeing the Taliban.

Familial themes pervade the artwork, while the stories further reinforce how dangerous Afghanistan has been for those caught in the Taliban’s warfare.

Alongside longtime friend and artist Miranda Harris, Hamilton saw the opportunity to run a series of art workshops as a way of mitigating the intense periods of loneliness and separation that accompany the refugee experience. The book is a collection of stories, linocuts, photos and clay art made by the men who attended the workshops. Their contributions featured in a 2003 exhibition at the local town hall.

Whilst significant as artworks in their own right, the series of works highlights the collective plight of many refugees; caught between wanting to honour their own socio-cultural backgrounds while trying to become valued members of Australian society. Familial themes pervade the artwork, while the stories further reinforce how dangerous Afghanistan has been for those caught in the Taliban’s warfare.

Broken up into chapters such as “Home”, “War”, “Journey” and “Boat”, Pictures in my Heart, Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia is a collection of memories and hopes representative of the initial shared refugee experience – from the decision to embark on a dangerous journey to freedom to the challenges faced as a result of governmental intervention.

Unfortunately, the ability of refugees to access artistic programs such as the Murray Bridge program is not a shared experience, and we are poorer because of it.

Originally published at Rightnow: http://rightnow.org.au/review-3/importance-art-understanding/

The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism – Book Review

Blood-Year

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror | David Kilcullen | Black Inc.

As the Islamic State claims responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium, David Kilcullen’s bookBlood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is essential reading that charts how this terrorist group –once believed to be a minor threat – spread from Iraq through to Europe and beyond, with gruesome consequences for all it comes into contact with.

Kilcullen’s critique of the lack of a competent strategy to defeat ISIS (as well as other terrorist branches) is honest as it is confronting. As part of the team that devised the post-9/11 strategy to deal with Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, Kilcullen notes that their apparent failure to take into account the rise and expansion of ISIS across strategic states as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria has had disastrous consequences that have been felt most recently through the realisation of attacks in the heart of Europe.

The author is well placed to write a book on the rise of the Islamic State, with an impressive resume that includes being an Australian Army soldier, a civilian intelligence officer, and a United States government employee who served the Bush administration during the War on Terror and the Obama administration afterward.

… the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

As a specialist in counter-terrorism, Kilcullen’s careful observations on policy and political campaigns, and their subsequent onground effect make for compelling reading – characterising some of the failures of 2014 to 2016 as “nothing less than the collapse of Western counter-terrorism strategy as we’ve known it since 2001”. The book underlines the fact that the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

Kilcullen makes it very clear from the outset that his observations in Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror are driven from his personal experience as a key player in the theatre of war and the development and implementation of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy in the US and Australia.

That aside, his writing is backed up by comprehensive references that enable the reader to delve deeper into issues and situations if they so wish. From the fall of Mosul to the push by Russian and Syrian forces into Aleppo and surrounding villages, the book offers unique insight into the operations of ISIS as well as the State actors – such as the United States, France and Australia – attempting to deal with ISIS’s violent activities and threats.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is a gripping read that will help readers make sense of how ISIS has arguably become the number one global terrorist threat.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is now available from Black Inc.

Originally published at Right Now: The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism

Osamah Sami Tackles the Refugee Experience with Homour and Gusto – Book Review

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Good Muslim Boy | Osamah Sami | Hardie Grant

Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami is a well-written and entertaining memoir of one man’s journey from a persecuted young Iraqi living in Iran to a refugee immigrating to Australia in the mid-1990s with his cleric father and family. The memoir follows Sami’s trials and tribulations as he and his family settle down in Australia.

Sami’s keen insight into Australian and Muslim life, in particular, and the cultural expectations and differences that can create conflict are captured in an open and honest way – his comedic eye finding the humour in most things, even if this is often directed at himself.

Sami’s anecdotes of being detained by Homeland Security in the USA and fleeing Iran during the Iran-Iraq war are a testament to his engaging writing style and his keen observational skills.

Though he was born in Iran, Sami was looked down upon as an Arab and outsider in his local community, struggling to fit in with the Iranian children, whose cruel taunts and actions reminded him of his status as an outsider in the close-knit Iranian community. As a child, he also struggled to fit in with the cultural expectations of his own family; this discrepancy increased dramatically as Sami grew into a young man caught between his Iraqi identity and his new home in Australia.

Difference is a recurring theme in the book and Sami tackles it with gusto. From condemnation of the Australian Iraqi community about his appearance in a gay movie on the internet to their outrage at him playing a Lebanese man engaged to a lesbian as well as Saddam Hussein in Saddam: The Musical, the conflict between secular Australia and Sami’s cultural and religious background is readily explored.

The result is a book that not only provides honest insight into the cultural appropriation of Muslims in Australian society, but an elucidating journey into Sami’s own family’s issues as they too struggle with the idea of maintaining strong links to socio-cultural and religious practices.

Good Muslim Boy is an entertaining book that provides a light-hearted read on what is essentially a serious and confronting account of what comes with seeking a better life in Australia. The ability to straddle multiple identities in a bid for acceptance in, not only your country of birth, but your adopted country is difficult, but Sami expertly navigates such terrain with wit and candour.

Good Muslim Boy is now available from Hardie Grant.

Originally published at Right now Osamah Sami Tackles the Refugee Experience with Humour and Gusto

War Through a Womans Eyes: Book Review

Australian Women War Reporters

Book review by Samaya Borom

Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam | Jeannine Baker | NewSouth Publishing

War reporting has traditionally evoked images of fearless and iconic men like Ernest Hemingway, Neil Davis and Father Francis Timoney, who reported directly from the battlelines, took risks and waxed lyrical about the destruction they witnessed on both landscapes and human bodies.

Such reporting was viewed as a masculine endeavour, with much less written by women on their involvement in the theatre of war, When they were referenced, it was traditionally in reference to nursing, humanitarian aid or pastoral care, not as authors of war reports themselves.

Female war reporting provided a decidedly different view to the countess reports flooding out via popular newspapers and magazines.

Jeannine Baker’s Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam gives a voice to the countless Australian female reporters who traversed the globe in defiance of traditional gender roles and who, arguably, paved the way for the modern female war reporter.

Baker expertly illustrates the important contribution that female Australian war reporters have made not only to the media landscape of the time, but to historical records that further our understanding of key military events that have shaped contemporary society one way or another.

Female war reporting provided a decidedly different view to the countess reports flooding out via popular newspapers and magazines. From singular reporting on British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boer war and reporting on the Korean war during the 1950s to the eventual mass accreditation of at least 75 women reporters in Vietnam – Baker illustrates the slow growing acceptance of female reporters in the field and the move away from romanticised experiences of women in war.

It is, however, clear that the growing acknowledgement of Australian women war reporters in the media was slow. As a result, Baker frequently returns to pointing out long held gender discrimination in war reporting in the hope that the industry, and audiences, will display more enlightened attitudes.

Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam is a book about the struggle of women attempting to define themselves outside of stereotypical notions of gender – a topic relatable to not only the media industry but also other professions where there has traditionally been a gender imbalance.

Recreating key female war reporters’ journeys, the book is an insightful read for those wanting to know more about these courageous Australian women war reporters and how their experiences ultimately shaped the war reporting landscape of today.

The quest for gender equality and recognition continues, but the path is no longer a lonely one.

Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam is now available from NewSouth Publishing.

Originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia