What it means to be a refugee in Australia

Yousefi_03 002
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/

HRAFF 2016 Picks

Drone | Tonje Hessen Schei

Imaging living under the threat of being killed by an unmanned aircraft at any moment. This is the reality of villagers living in Pakistan or Yemen who face extrajudicial killings from the United States, whose use of drones is highly questionable in the continued War on Terror. While the hunt for Al-Qaeda continues, it is the unarmed citizens that face indiscriminate maiming and death.

Tonje Hessen Schei’s Drone is a highly controversial documentary that features interviews with former drone operators, heads of defence, dissidents and concerned citizens who have been involved in one way or another in the drone war occurring across Pakistan. It tells the story of how the United States Government wages a war from the sky; a war that involves young, indoctrinated military men pressing the trigger and blowing up civilians under the guise of protecting US interests. A drone manufacturer in the film remarks that “war is the opportunity to undertake business” and Schei does well to illustrate this point;

drone warfare is both a business opportunity as it is a merchant of death.

Drone also discusses the phenomenon of ‘Militainment’ – where the world of military games meets military intent. Scarily, the US military is described as having invested in creating games that are used for recruitment tools. In this sense, the film illustrates how drone warfare becomes a normalised activity where emotion and humanity is stripped from those pressing the trigger and where, because the activity looks like a computer game, the media becomes used to seeing images on television of drone attacks against ‘militants’.

Drone is a must see film for those interested in the future of warfare, as well as human rights activity in a world with increasing electronic and unmanned warfare.

Drone screens on 8 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Dreaming of Denmark | Michael Graversen

The media reports that thousands of children arrive on European shores as unaccompanied minors, although little is known or reported about what happens once they arrive. Michael Graversen’s Dreaming of Denmark follows the story of Afghani Wasiullah, who came to Denmark as an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum.

Wasiullah is an 18-year-old with a failed asylum bid who absconds to a new life in Italy, hearing that it is easier to obtain official status there than in Denmark, where he has been staying in a centre for the past three years.

The film personalises the plight of young refugees, seeking acceptance in their adopted homelands much the same way that young teenagers want to be accepted by their respective peers.

From sleeping rough to trying to fit in in a refugee centre, it sheds light on a seemingly forgotten demographic in the refugee debate. In this sense, Wasiullah is at once fragile as he is strong, he is both representative of the child refugee seeking asylum as a scared minor, as well as the young adult seeking his own way in a new land – one that has at times rejected him as well as embraced him.

Dreaming of Denmark is of interest to those whom has wondered what happens to those children who seek asylum in countries as unaccompanied minors – does their adoptive country embrace or dispel them?

Dreaming of Denmark screens on 7 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Originally published at Right Now: HRAFF 2016 Film Picks

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

good-muslim-boy

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

A Framework for Understanding Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Book Review

antisemitism

Anti-Semitism | Frederic Raphael | Biteback Publishing

Anti-Semitism by Frederic Raphael is part of a new series of works called ‘The Provocations Collection’ from Biteback Publishing. This collection is a sequence of short opinion pieces, or polemics, that delves into a controversial topic. At a time when there is a resurgence of extremism and anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, conversations about anti-Semitism in the human rights context need to be increased to counter the increasingly violent right-wing and extremist movement.

Esteemed novelist and prolific writer Raphael explores the rise of anti-Semitism through commentary around key historical events that have contributed towards a narrative around Jewish history that could be referred to as anti-Semitic.

Interspersed with references to modern events such as the rise of the Islamic State and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the book positions itself as a contemporary musing on anti-Semitism that illustrates how Judaism and the Jewish people have survived various attacks on nationhood and identity throughout the centuries.

Moving from a discussion about the New Testament and Catholic dogma that saw a silence surrounding the rise of the Third Reich and analysis of global media’s reporting on the State of Israel to quiet reflection of his own understanding of Jewish identity and anti-Semitism, Raphael is strong in his views about what constitutes anti-Semitism. The book explores issues such as self-identity, historical revisionism and religiopolitical homogenisation in an easy and elucidating manner.

Raphael employs a conversational method of writing – part academic, wholly opinionated and easily accessible. Interspersed with references to modern events such as the rise of the Islamic State and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the book positions itself as a contemporary musing on anti-Semitism that illustrates how Judaism and the Jewish people have survived various attacks on nationhood and identity throughout the centuries.

The book presents a solid argument for the need to maintain human rights values and frameworks that protect religious freedoms and provide safeguards against crimes against humanity, which can occur when such frameworks are eroded or ignored.

Dealing with a highly controversial topic, Anti-Semitism is an interesting read on the history of anti-Semitism and provides the historical context behind the worrying rise in extremist and anti-Semitic behaviour in Europe and elsewhere.

Anti-Semitism is now available from NewSouth Books.

Originally published at Right now A Framework for Understanding Resurgence of  Anti-Semitism

Overburden | Transitions Film Festival 2016

In West Virginia, an entire community has united to fight against a mining corporation that wants to destroy Coal River Mountain to mine coal. The alternative is a wind farm that will power the region; however political support is thin and the coal company has resources to fight the community. Chad A. Steven’s Overburden is the story of a community fighting for the survival of their town.

In mining, ‘overburden’ refers to the rock, soil and ecosystem that exist above the coal. It is something that mining companies remove to access the coal seams. The devastation on the environment is enormous as it forever changes the landscape.

Residents of Coal River Mountain sense that coal mining, once a stable employer for many generations, is coming to an end and that they must find greener alternatives – not only for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of their town. Other members of the town are staunchly against anything but coal-driven employment.

Steven brings together a pro-mining advocate and an anti-mining advocate, whose experiences of the mines propel the story forward, with both identifying that a diversified economy is the new middle ground. Overburden is a must see for those interested in grassroots activism and the effect it can have on community-led outcomes.

The Transitions Film Festival is taking place in Melbourne from 18 February to 3 March and in Adelaide from 20 to 29 May.

Originally published at Right Now  Top Six Transitions Film Festival 2016 Picks 

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