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


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

Looking for Camp 32: A Personal Journey into Cambodia’s Dark Past


Film review by Samaya Borom

Camp 32 | Hom Chhorn

Known colloquially as the Land of Smiles, Cambodia is a place deeply affected by its dark past. Hidden behind the friendly facade are generations struggling to come to terms with the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge committed indiscriminately against its own population.

During the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge party rose to power. Looking to create a communist utopia called Democratic Kampuchea where the population worked to sustain the Party and its principles of a shared agricultural economy, the Khmer Rouge set up forced labour camps where almost two to three million people lost their lives. These camps existed all over Cambodia and culminated in one of the world’s worst genocide acts, yet little is known about these camps and many are not officially documented.

Camp 32  is one man’s harrowing personal story of survival from 32, a labour camp deep in the Battambang province where the majority of the land is covered by jungle and mountainous ranges.

At just six years old, Hom Chhorn was imprisoned at Camp 32 and this experience shaped not only his life, but the life of his family who lost their father and brothers, murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Setting out to understand his past so that it informs his future, Hom decides to locate Camp 32, a journey which is advised against by both his ailing mother and sister who remember only too well the violations that befell not only their family, but thousands of other families before and after them.

Hom is driven in part by the need to tell the story of the forgotten camp on behalf of his elderly mother before she passes, but also because he needs to seek answers to his own questions, especially given his young age and vulnerability when he was removed from the family and sent to the children’s labour section of the camp.

Camp 32 is as much a film about the personal quest of Hom in putting together stories and memories of his past as it is about the collective remembering of the abominations that were committed during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Hom’s difficulty in locating official documentation from the Cambodian National Archives, the Library and even the United Nations about 32 highlights the inherent difficulties that survivors encounter when looking for information about a dark period in time that profoundly shaped their lives.

“Hom’s desire to return to a place that was the source of such brutality and sadness in order to tell the story of his family, and indeed many other forgotten victims, is memorable and laudable.”

Collective memory is often relied upon due to a lack of documentation, official or otherwise. The team behind the film are currently in the process of having Camp 32 officially recognised, something that will go some way toward acknowledging the horror of what occurred throughout the whole of Cambodia.

Unspeakable acts, horrific accounts of torture, and death of family members under the Khmer Rouge often make it difficult for survivors to vocalise their experiences, so Hom is considered extremely lucky when he is unexpectedly reunited with some of the children of 32.

The reunited friends provide further insight into life under the Khmer Rouge and it’s clear that there will always be an unbreakable bond between them due to their shared experiences as children trying to survive the horror of a totalitarian dictatorship that killed their families and friends.

Interspersed with footage of contemporary Cambodia and Hom’s family’s deeply personal accounts of life in the camp, the film captures the ever present dichotomy between good and evil, and a country of people that cannot move forward without understanding how its past contributes to their future.

Hom’s desire to return to a place that was the source of such brutality and sadness in order to tell the story of his family, and indeed many other forgotten victims, is memorable and laudable.

Given the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and the systematic genocide it committed, Camp 32 is unmissable viewing as it tells the tale of survivors, and in turn gives a voice to those victims who should not be forgotten or overlooked.

Caption: Hom Chhorn.

Find out more about Camp 32 here.

Originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

Aboriginal Human Rights Trajectory Crucial Reading

Originally published at Right Now : Human Rights in Australia


Book review by Maya Borom

No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia | UQP

In 1967, a successful referendum was held to determine whether the Australian constitution should be altered to remove references that discriminated against Aboriginal people. Momentum has since been gathering around a proposal that the Australian constitution be changed to positively recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A new referendum has been proposed for 2017, some 50 years after the initial 1967 referendum.

Frank Brennan’s No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia is a comprehensive look at the path to constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians. Brennan takes the reader on a journey, which includes analysis of the lead-up to the 1967 referendum; the socio-political manoeuvrings of state ministers and government officers around Aboriginal affairs; frank discussion around perceived promises springing from the change to the constitution; and the tabled concerns of Aboriginal advocates around legislative protections and the constitutional framework.

Brennan, a law professor at the Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, displays an expert understanding of the issues that indigenous Australians face in contemporary Australia. This is evidenced by him receiving an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal Australians.

His father is esteemed High Court Justice Brennan, who famously rejected the notion of terra nullius in the Mabo case (1992), though Brennan himself notes in the preface that his own introduction to the complexity of Aboriginal issues first emerged as a junior barrister in 1981 in Queensland.

Deftly written and all-inclusive, No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia is a must read for those interested in Aboriginal issues in the Australian socio-political landscape, particularly the teasing out of Aboriginal concerns around discrimination and adverse treatment arising from the changes to the constitution in 1967.

These issues most recently played out through inconsistent laws dealing with native title, while the treatment of Adam Goodes is further proof that overt racism continues to pose a real threat to indigenous Australians’ mental and physical health.

No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia is available from UQP.

The Coal Face, book review.

Originally published at Right Now : Human Rights in Australia


Book review by Samaya Borom

The Coal Face | Penguin Books Australia

On 9 February 2014, a fire started at the Hazelwood coal mine and would continue to burn almost unfettered for nearly two months. During this time, the residents of Morwell and the greater LaTrobe Valley breathed in the toxic smoke and went about their daily business, taking direction from the Department of Health who assured residents of the non-toxicity of the coal mine ash.

The Hazelwood mine fire – one of Australia’s greatest environmental and public health disasters – was completely avoidable, writes Tom Doig in his book The Coal Face. Doig interviews local residents who provide firsthand accounts of the disaster, which because of the time it was left burning, was to have catastrophic consequences on their future health and wellbeing.

Through Doig’s account, it becomes increasingly clear that the fire was able to occur due to what could be referred to as political interest in the region. Hazelwood Mine was a substantial employer in the LaTrobe Valley and in the years and months leading up to the disaster, the promise of economic stability often overruled environmental and public safety concerns.

Doig provides many examples of this, from the privatisation of the mine under the Kennett government when it was to be decommissioned, to the approval of a planning permit that allowed GDF Suez, the owner of the mine, to expand into an area close to eucalypt trees – well known for being highly combustible.

Had the book not been based on real events, it could have almost been labelled a absurd step-by-step case study of what not to do in an environmental disaster; the fact that a mine operated in such close proximity to a town without adequate fire prevention methods in place, or indeed working water pipes, is astounding.

The lack of initial media reportage, or interest in the mine fire outside of the immediate area is also curious. It spurned a grassroots political movement to ensure reporting of the disaster was not further censored by political pressure during an election year. Doig expertly captures the community voice, and in doing so, presents a very real representation of a disaster of mass proportions.

An initial inquiry into the fire was opened on 11 March 2014 by then Premier Napthine, with the final report launching at the Morwell Bowls Club. Doig points out that locals believed it was not exhaustive enough and campaigned to have the inquiry reopened on the basis of new community data that pointed to a spike in deaths around the time of the disaster.

On 25 May 2015, the Hazelwood Mine Fire Enquiry was re-opened with the board of enquiry being lead by the Honorable Bernard Teague. The terms of reference include looking into short, medium and long-term health implications of the mine fire as well as whether rehabilitation options are viable.

The Coal Face is crucial reading for those interested in an analysis of the decades of irresponsible decision-making that culminated in the disaster, as well as a complete rundown of the mismanaged fire, that has now earned the moniker of one of Australia’s greatest environmental disasters.

The Coal Face is available from Penguin Books Australia.

The Ground Beneath Their Feet HRAFF review

Originally published at  Right Now’s Top 10 HRAFF 2015 Picks

The Ground Beneath Their Feet | Nausheen Dadabhoy

Film review by Samaya Borom

On the morning of 8 October, 2005, Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir suffered an earthquake which killed 82 thousand people, injured a further 100 thousand and rendered 3.5 million people homeless. Nausheen Dadabhoy’s The Ground Beneath Their Feet follows the story of two women who suffered spinal injuries and who must learn to deal with their injuries as well as social expectations around the role of women in Pakistani society.

Ruqiya and Khalida are two women who were injured in the quake and are forced to re-evaluate their position in society which revolves around defined gender roles. The film follows the the women over a period of five years, from the rehabilitation hospital to returning home to villages and the challenge they face in terms of mobility and acceptance around their disability.

The Ground Beneath Their Feet is an intimate look into the complexities around disability and how this affects gendered roles within established Muslim communities. The documentary will appeal to those viewers interested in the intersection between culture and disability, in particular how familial and social mechanisms can impact upon the way in which a community deals with disaster and disability.


Documentary Places Women at the Centre of Social Change

The documentary Disruption is showing at the Transitions Film Festival.

Film review by Samaya Borom

Disruption | Transitions Film Festival

Financial literacy is not usually something that people would readily associate with human rights and gender equality. Yet across Latin America, a group of economic activists are working to ensure these work in tandem, raising the socio-economic profile of women and families in the poorest communities.

These programs work closely with women from impoverished backgrounds and try to break the cycle of poverty by educating women about economic management, socio-economic community development and gender equality.

The financial inclusion system revolves around balancing monetary payments with financial education about the banking system in a bid to increase involvement by women in the economic processes within the community – something that is often denied to them.

Payments are conditional in that they require children to go to school and women to attend public health clinics – they are also paid directly to the women who must manage the payments and entrepreneurship is encouraged so that women are often supporting each other through community ventures. The payments are directed through a bank account which gives women the opportunity to learn about economics as well as increasing their ability to participate in sections of society otherwise closed to them due to the poverty they live in.

Working in partnership with governments and banks, the group’s story is told through a series of insights into the programs they offer in Peru, Colombia and Brazil and illustrates the exponential power financial literacy has on communities that have traditionally been at the lower end of the economic prosperity scale.

Where there was once a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, there is now hope that financial and gender rights education will be the catalyst to break the mould.

In this sense, Disruption highlights very real issues surrounding gender and economic inequality that Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru and Brazil faces. In these countries, especially in rural and remote communities, the very nature of poverty often impacts women and children the hardest as they operate on the fringe of society not having traditionally been exposed to programs or policies that encouraged civic interaction.

In Peru, a difficulty in getting the ‘Women Savers’ program off the ground was the distrust and unwillingness of women’s husbands to allow their wives to participate. Gender-based arguments were used to initially deny participation in the program and this wasn’t just restricted to Peru. In encouraging financial inclusion programs within local community settings, the Fundación Capital group also started to break down barriers that had traditionally denied female involvement in areas such as decision-making and community leadership.

The stories captured by Yates show how education can forever alter the trajectory of a woman’s life and the positive impact that this has not only on the immediate family but on the community as a whole.

However, a program is only as successful as the amount of women it seeks to assist so the move from a small-scale program to one infinitely more scalable was always going to be a challenge, as the documentary delves into.

Moving inclusion programs from participation rates of 7,000 women to the large-scale rollout of 200,000 requires a delicate balance of economic activism and enthusiasm, from building working relationships with governments and the banking sector to alter their financial management of impoverished communities to building on willingness to invest in digital technologies and become a champion for the often marginalised and overlooked.

In Disruption, we are offered a glimpse into what could possibly be the future of banking for communities across the world. Its system of financial inclusion works to dispel poverty through financial literacy whilst also educating women and families about gender rights and equality. It illustrates how entrenched capitalist systems can be used to provide a mechanism, or framework, for communities to extricate themselves out of poverty and thus control their own financial futures.

It’s no wonder that some 45 countries across Asia and Africa are also trialling their own financial inclusion programs.

Originally published http://rightnow.org.au/topics/education/documentary-places-women-at-the-centre-of-social-change/

The Normality Beyond A Disability

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia


Ugly: My Memoir | Hachette

Ugly-coverWhen Robert Hoge was born he did not spend his first month bonding, as babies do, with his parents, in particular with his mother. Instead, he spent the first month and five days in the nursery in a hospital in Brisbane while his mother decided whether or not to bring him home to become a part of her family’s life.

Robert was a special baby; he was born with a tumor that had formed during the early development phase. It affected his appearance and was compounded by the fact that his legs were also deformed. By his own admission he became an instant member of the “Ugly Club”. Keenly aware of the limitations that Robert would experience socially, emotionally and physically, his mother soon became his biggest advocate and became determined that he would live a life similar to that of his siblings – with access to education, healthcare and everything else a growing child could want for to ensure a successful, fulfilling and happy life. Robert went home to meet his siblings and from then on was a member of the Hoge family.

Ugly: My Memoir is the intimate tale of Robert Hoge from birth through to university and on to his own journey of having a child. Not one for letting his physical disabilities interfere with living life, Ugly is a unique deeply moving story about Robert and his family, for it illustrates how disability can be overcome to an extent through the support and love of family and friends.

Robert is encouraged to take up opportunities as they arise and becomes involved in all aspects of social life that he can – indeed, sometimes too enthusiastically such as the time he took off his prosthetic legs to go faster down the toboggan ride which very nearly killed him. The narrative is engaging and honest and it is an enjoyable and interesting read, not just for the medical insights into operations to deal with his deformity, but for the picture it paints of growing up in suburban Australia where childhood and adolescent crushes are as abundant as late nights at university – in other words, his disability was never a disabling factor in him living and loving life.

Robert Hoge shows us that some forms of disability need not inhibit the ability of a person to achieve what they want in society. His strength of character and ability to go after what he wants proves this – in fact, his experiences make him more determined to achieve what he wants from life.

Without the strength and advocacy of his family and those who supported him along his journey in his early years things may have turned out differently for Robert. Even now, having a disability often means being subjected to opinion and actions that exclude a person from actively participating in relationships and situations within society. In Ugly, Robert illustrates the normality of his being – his disability is just on the surface, his strength and humility is what makes him a human being, and that’s something that all of us share regardless of our physical representations.

Human rights off the table?

Street scene in Beijing

Street scene in Beijing

This article was originally published at G20 Watch

Given that the G20 is being billed as the most significant leadership meeting that Australia has ever hosted and will ‘address the global growth challenge in an ambitious and meaningful way” we need to ask where the discussion on human rights is taking place.

Should we be worried that there appears to be a distinct lack of reference to human rights at the biggest meeting of world leaders? Does it really matter if human rights are not discussed openly, if at all, in reference to global economic growth?

In a word, yes, because the absence of discussion that takes into account human rights obligations and responsibilities means that the Summit may make recommendations that are counter-intuitive to current human rights instruments.

Take for example The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)which focuses on socio-economic rights and responsibilities such as labour rights, access to education, standards of living and the right to health.  All G20 members have ratified the Covenant except for the US, Saudi Arabia and the EU (France and Germany have ratified the Covenant).

Under Article 6 of the Covenant, State Parties recognise the right to work in an occupation of choice and must take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. This can include ensuring that there are technical or educational frameworks in place as well as ensuring that the State creates specific policies or legislation to realise such a right.

It is encouraging that one of the main focus’ of the Summit will be expanding the paid workforce, especially to boost the participation of women and young people. However, this aim needs to be backed up with concrete plans on how to make it happen, especially in contexts where young people are not able to access proper education and women still face discrimination in the workforce and spend a lot of time caring for children and elderly relatives.

In line with creating new growth in the workforce, the G20 needs to reform current tax and business practices. Under the ‘growth and development stream’, G20 participants will examine tax and banking reform and has, as one of its aims, already suggested a digital approach to the tax and banking environment by digitising payments.

How would a move towards a digital tax and banking system impact upon the ability of a citizen to participate in business when the barrier to access such infrastructure is high?

Arguably, the Summit needs to consider how a global move to digital services will impact upon the day-to-day business of micro-economies in areas such as Africa or Asia where small and medium enterprises (SMEs) deal in small cash transactions and where access to digital infrastructure is minimal and/or prohibitively expensive.

There should be frank and open discussion about the importance of human rights because global growth does not occur in a vacuum. Yet the G20 will not explicitly address human rights. A desktop review of the G20 website, as well as policy papers and working group outputs arguably illustrates a distinct lack of independent research or discussion around human rights and the effect the role that the G20 can or could play in safeguarding or expanding such rights.

How can human rights be heard and seen at the G20?

One obvious suggestion is that the Summit should consider human rights not as a separate issue to be discussed outside of the Summit, but rather something that should be embedded into each and every discussion concerning future and current policies. This means human rights issues will be reflected within the agendas and working groups co-chaired by States.

Surely greater discussion concerning human rights is expected at such an important global platform.