Complexities in the Refugee Problem (2001+)

CPDS Home Contact Refugees Discouraging Pointless Extremism About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism   Incorporating the Alienated: A Challenge to Australia's Civil Society  Taking the 'Racism Card' Out of the Deck   Deeper Analysis of Security Issues   Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress  Don't Just Blame the 'Haters'
Outline +



In 2001 (and for a few years thereafter), it was asserted that Australia's efforts to control the flow of refugees generated by conflicts in Afghanistan and elsewhere reflected racism (see Attachment A).

However it was highly undesirable to smear political opponents with allegations of racism in relation to the refugee / illegal-migration problem when:

  • there were valid security and cultural issues involved;
  • 'playing the racism card' could severely damage Australia and its close neighbours; and
  • people-smuggling is not a viable solution to the human disaster represented by the 'umpteen' million displaced persons worldwide. 

An attempt is made below to outline those issues in terms of: 

  • the very real practical implications of culture for social and economic effectiveness - and the irrelevance of race; 
  • why no solutions may be emerging to the problems of racism (eg the racism slurs that are used to block of discussions about the practical consequences of culture for political, social and economic affairs; the intellectual difficulties of communication about cultural differences; the moral (but illogical) desire which some have to ignore the practical consequences of culture; the need for caution about encouraging some cultures' traditions for exerting power to operate in Australia; and the counter-intuitive requirements to reduce barriers to Australia's effective relationships in East Asia);
  • the complexities of the refugee / illegal-migration situation (the potential humanitarian disaster; the choice between legal and illegal migration; the real risks which illegal migration potentially poses; and the inability of people-smuggling to be a satisfactory solution for the (say) 21m refugees now in the world );
  • better alternatives than playing the 'racism card' to deal with the refugee problem - by creating an international order and effective national arrangements such that all communities might reasonably hope to prosper so that the world generally becomes more politically stable.

Some suggestions about requirements to deal with the global refugee crisis as a whole are offered in response to efforts by the UN Human Rights commission to encourage discussion of this issue through its Goodwill Ambassador.

Culture matters

1. Culture Makes a Difference - Race Doesn't

Cultural traditions have a major effect on the behaviour and capabilities of communities. 

Culture involves questions of what people believe (and this affects their goals and aspirations), how they solve problems (and this determines how effective they are in developing tools and technologies), and what sort of institutions their society will support (and very complex institutions are essential in modern developed societies). 

For example:

  • the development of a good legal system simplifies what would otherwise be a complex social, economic and political environment (ie it makes causes and effects much more predictable). This enables individual rationality to be effective as a means for problem solving. However if a culture assumes (as at least one of the world's major religions tends to do) that the world is irrational and miserable (and that it is best to 'escape' by willing oneself not to care) then a strict legal system will not be created, and the assumption that the world is irrational and miserable will tend to be self fulfilling;

  • the ability to change economic systems is vital to economic performance (see Towards a Comparative Study on Development policies: Indonesia and Australia). Thus cultures that have rigid social hierarchies or moral legalisms will tend to find success difficult. 

The development of culture has been a major factor in the rise of humanity (eg through the emergence of symbolic languages) and the growth of the belief systems and political organization that allowed the operation of complex civilizations. Furthermore Western societies have tended to be dominant in the world for several centuries because of particular cultural developments (as discussed - briefly and thus over-simplistically - in Competing Civilisations).  

It seems most unlikely that cultures have a genetic (ie racial) origin because:

  • current genetic research appears to suggest that the human genome contains only some 30,000 genes, not many more than the simplest organisms. There are simply not enough genes for much if any cultural information to be encoded genetically. Thus the old debate about whether character is determined by nature or nurture must be resolved firmly on the side of nurture. Furthermore there is more genetic variation within, than between, races. 

  • individuals tend to adopt the culture they are brought up in irrespective of their genetic makeup; and

  • education and religious conversion can have a transforming effect on individuals and communities. 

Despite this, questions of race and culture tend to be associated, because both race and culture tend to correlate within particular ethnic groups - and because cultures tend to persist in time and be closely associated with a person's sense of identity. 

Moreover several cultural features may be required to work together to achieve particular outcomes - and the adoption of any one apparently advantageous feature in isolation may not achieve much, thus inviting the view that there is something wrong with a particular race. For example, Competing Civilisations argues that a combination of individual liberty, a put-others-first ethical ideal and a rule of law were all required to allow rationality to be effective in generating Western economic efficiency and power.

Disentangling Culture and Race +

2. Disentangling the Consequences of Culture from Racism 

This linkage of race to culture is particularly unhelpful because:

  • it can lead to discrimination against, or persecution of, individuals and communities, because characteristics are ascribed to particular people because of perceptions about their racial group generally (eg the group's cultural traits may be seen as weaknesses or immorality from others' cultural viewpoint). At its worst, such perceptions can lead to the view that certain people, by virtue of race, are intrinsically hopeless or superior; 
  • valid issues related to the practical advantages and disadvantages of different cultural characteristics for political, social and economic affairs can be made almost impossible to discuss by ascribing nothing but 'base instincts' to those who try to do so. This not only prevents risks being evaluated; but also inhibits constructive changes to cultural characteristics (from which Australia's various cultures would almost certainly benefit). Moreover injustice of accusations of 'racism' against those who might discuss the practical advantages and disadvantages of particular cultural features can provide a 'moral shield' for those who might practice real discriminatory racism.

The articles referenced below, for example, have sought to present the concerns which ordinary Australians have about unauthorized migration as primarily a 'racist' issue.  However Australians must have real concerns about the risks posed by such migration (see Section 3), and have important questions  to address about the practical consequences of various cultures. 

Unfortunately any realistic attempt in Australia to discuss the practical implications of cultural characteristics was confused by 'racist' slurs by people who probably believed that they were being 'virtuous' - but who thus seriously impeded the emergence of rational consensus. Aspect to consider in relation to this include: 

A. Even Understanding Some Cultural Differences is Hard

There is a massive intellectual obstacle to effective communication between cultures. For example:

  • people simply can't communicate complex ideas across wide cultural barriers (because doing so involves stepping outside the way they  think and understand the world). For example, much of the traditional friction (and centuries of conflicts) between France and England can probably best be explained in terms of different ways of thinking (differences between a whole-of society rationality and an individual rationality which even today few would understand eg see Galtung J. 'Structure, culture and intellectual style: An essay comparing saxonic, teutonic, galic and nipponic approaches', Social Science Information, V 20, No6, 1981) . And 

  • the problem gets even worse when one starts to deal with even more radically different cultures - eg of the world's second largest economy, Japan which traditionally:

    • disputes whether communication in terms of ideas is even an appropriate thing to do - and 'gut' reactions from the 'belly' of society may be preferred to elites dealing with abstract ideas, which is the origin of 'bottom-up' decision making and the weakness of Japan's democratic system.

    • pursues 'Art of War' strategies one of whose central features involves ensuring that others do not understand one's 'shape' (which is party achieved by 'holding up a mirror' so that, when others look, all that they see is a reflection of themselves). Also 

  • some amongst Australia's intellectual elites find ways not to have deal with the problem - eg by:

    • claiming that culture doesn't make any practical difference (noting currently-common assumptions about cultural relativism, and the confusion about the value of real knowledge and experience which has emerged in post-positivist and post-modern ideologies); 

    • assuming that their (say liberal humanist) cultural values are, or should be, universal; 

    • drawing false perceptions about cultural differences through communicating with persons of different ethnicity who operate in a Westernised culture (which is an easy trap to fall into as communicating with those who are not of like culture can be too hard); or 

    • ascribing racist motives to those who attempt to raise the issue - which is the most effective, and thus the most popular, method of all.

B. The Consequences of Cultures

Western societies have been relatively successful partly because of their Christ-ian cultural commitment to universal values (ie to valuing the welfare of all) and they thus tend to see racism as morally wrong. This assumption is quite different to that held in some other major world cultures (eg in cultures in East Asia which have ancient Chinese roots where particularist ethical systems tend only to value the welfare of those with whom one has a direct relationship - so racism is considered natural and (politely / officially) practiced though people are normally too cultured to talk about it). Allegations about 'racism' in Australia are of immense interest in much of East Asia because they provide:

  • amusement that 'Asia's' moralizer is being accused of having 'feet of clay'; and 
  • the basis for advantage in negotiations because Australians believe racism to be immoral.  

Some amongst intellectual elites in Australia tend now to treat all cultures as equally valid (because of a moral desire not to discriminate against others, and because 'post-modern' scholarship suggests (with partial validity) that what is seen to be true is largely a 'social construct', ie simply a product of people's assumptions). Australia has thus sought to be a multi-cultural society - one in which all cultures would be respected and tolerated. Whilst tolerance is highly desirable, treating all cultures as equally desirable encounters several problems: 

  • it is logically impossible to value all people equally, whilst also valuing all cultures equally as some human cultures have included (and continue to include) inbuilt inequalities such as (in alphabetical order): apartheid; arranged marriages; aristocracy; cannibalism; castes; elitism; fascism; fetal abortion; feudalism; human sacrifice; infanticide; jihad; matriarchy; militarism; oligarchy; patriarchy; polygamy; racism; secret societies; slavery; social hierarchies; suttee; terrorism; tribalism; thugee. Such issues are not of purely historical interest, as East Asian societies:
    • tend to be built on assumptions of social hierarchy rather than individual equality. For example, a Chinese writer labelled Western societies as barbarians, because the invention of advanced weapons had allowed common folk to challenge to power of their aristocratic superiors [1];
    • present an alternative model for a global political and economic order to that which has been constructed in recent centuries on the basis of Western assumptions about the desirability of individualism; individual rights; universal ethics; and democracy;
  • as noted above, cultural characteristics have a major impact on whether people tend to be materially successful. The assumption that culture is mainly a social construct appears valid - but culture has consequences none-the-less. Thus there is dubious moral value in preventing evaluation of cultural practices that keep people disadvantaged by either (a) excluding them from opportunities to learn or (b) by encouraging them to just see themselves as victims and making them dependent on welfare (the latter having been the 'ideal' approach to Australia's indigenous peoples until recently - see also The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement)  
  • culture is not just an individual thing, or a question of food and artistic preferences. It affects how society works; how relationships are formed; and how problems are solved and how power is exerted. All societies are 'multi-cultural' in that they have several different cultures operating in parallel - even if only because of differences in political and religious opinions and because cultures change over time so at least slight variations are always present. However if radically different cultural characteristics (particularly those which affect how power is exerted) operate in parallel in a particular society, the result may be conflict - as some cultures' characteristics may be dysfunctional for others. For example:
    • East Asia tends to be characterized by 'communitarian' rather than 'individualistic' cultures - in other words these cultures favour promoting the wealth and power of an entire racial / cultural group (and its elites in particular) rather than promoting the welfare of the individuals within it. In doing so ALL segments of the ethnic group work together against outsiders. Thus, the Chinese diaspora who have spread throughout and been economically dominant and politically influential in SE Asia for thousands of years, tend to work together as cohesive communities in 'foreign' cultures - and also to acquire power for the benefit of their ethnic community through co-opting local leaders. For those communities, business groups constitute the economy and work closely with organized crime (triads) who provide the community's 'private army' (see Seagrave S. Lords of the Rim: The Invisible Empire of the Overseas Chinese, 1995). The triads' role in those communities is similar to, though apparently less politically influential than, that of Japan's yakuza (see Kaplan D and Dubro A, Yakuza, 1986) who appeared to gain strong but covert insider-influence over, and to distort, Queensland's economic and political systems in the 1980s. 
    • the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan (and north Pakistan) is the Pathans - who are arguably the most hospitable and belligerent peoples in the world. For example:
      • "He is not a Pathan who does not return a blow for a scratch goes a favourite Pathan proverb. Another is 'an eye for an eye, a leg for a tooth' ... (though there are dozens of proverbs which celebrate friendship, hospitality and loyalty ) the self image and the stereotype of the Pathan emphasize his recalcitrance, unreasonable independence, and the willingness to fight at the slightest excuse .... (of the Pathans an early British Governor once said) 'armed insurrection is his vocation, the blood feud his pastime, and hospitality his passion'  ".  (see An Extremely Concise History of the Pathans)

C. Why Differences need Attention

Cultural issues are not only of academic interest, but require careful consideration and management in relation to migration. For example: 

  • clearly Australia (or anyone else) should be very cautious about encouraging the traditional ways in which the latter cultures exert power to be developed locally as an alternative to a rule of law. When, through migration, persons from different cultures are introduced in small numbers, they tend to be acculturated into the power structures operating in the dominant culture. However if very large numbers are introduced (and acculturation is not effective) then other cultures will start to deploy their techniques for gaining power eg consider 
    • the growing ethnic branch stacking in Australia's electoral process; 
    • the claim that it would be discriminatory not to allow Muslims in Australia to create Islamic styles of power structures [1];
    • the Asian criminal gangs which appear to be a major problem now for Sydney (see Gangs) which emerged when when many individuals who were not accustomed to living under a rule of law had difficulty gaining jobs and applied their culture's traditional solution. 
  • Australia's legal and governance institutions are built on the assumption of individual liberty - a feature which is only possible where there is a deeply embedded ethical basis for interpersonal morality embedded in individual consciences (such as the 'put others first' ethical ideal derived from Christianity). In other societies reliance seems to be traditionally placed on authorities to define and enforce the nature of interpersonal morality - and when Western institutions fail to provide this support persons operating within those other cultural traditions may be unable to integrate and may even tend to cause trouble [?1] (just as societies whose institutions are built on individual liberty are in trouble if those ethical ideas are eroded - see Moral foundations of individual liberty);
  • the sectarian violence which plagues Indonesia does not seem to arise from religious concerns but from the fact that these differences have had political implications  (Greenlees D. 'Keep the home fires burning', Australian, 13/12/01);
  • even where conflict is not an issue, incompatible 'cultural baggage' may have implications for raising economic and social transaction costs - see Migration;
  • segments of the community clearly believe that cultural differences are significant (eg see Charlton P. 'Battling a cultural crusade',  Courier Mail, 8/9/01);
  • suppression of community concerns about the cultural issues associated with migration has been suggested to have allowed the issue to fester underground and to emerge in the form of extremist political groups opposed to migration in a number of European countries [1];
  • tribalism - the attachment of people to only one racial or cultural group within a country - is a real obstacle to effective social, political and economic development in many parts of the world (eg this is apparently one of the major factors in the continued disadvantage suffered by most Africans);

D. Why Playing the 'Racism Card' doesn't Help

Alleging 'racism' to damage opponents has become a standard tactic by some groups in Australia's political establishment - which is most unfortunate because (a) even though racial prejudice is can be very real in Australia, the 'political' allegations about racism that are made frequently appear to be  nonsense in fact (b) they are none-the-less almost impossible to refute and (c) they lead to sensationalist headlines which do a great deal of damage to Australia's international reputation. For example: 

  • even though Australia is comparatively more tolerant of people living in different cultures, compared with the US, China and India (according to comparative studies) (Mathewson C. 'Australia further than America from heart of darkness', Courier Mail, 13/11/01) ....
  • the election campaign increased international perceptions that Australia was xenophobic, making it harder to attract investment - according to AXISS Australia (which was established to promote Australia as a financial center). This particularly follows an article by an Indonesian observer who claimed that Australia was an international pariah (Cleary P. 'Australia a hard sell thanks to race poll', Financial Review, 16/11/01)  [Comment: the views of that Indonesia observer were probably based on the way in which the refugee situation was used by some Australian journalists and editors to gain advantages over their political opponents - though the media were NOT representative of general public opinion (Flint D. 'Commentators out of touch on refugees', Financial Review, 7/11/01)].  
  • in the event of a future takeover of neighbouring countries by factions which are hostile to Australia (which is not impossible to envisage at this time - see Islamism in SE Asia), then 'playing the racism card' could provide sufficient 'justification' for such a faction to conduct a propaganda campaign of hatred against Australia.

Groups such as One Nation, who primarily represented the 'left-behind' victims of the failure of Australia's leaders to successfully manage economic change (see Defects in Economic Tactics, Strategy and Outcomes), have argued that all Australians should be treated equally. They have been labelled as racist for doing so (see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation) partly because because they have incorrectly blamed their problems on the preferential treatment which government gives to other disadvantaged groups and also because they lack the ability to express their concerns with sophistication. However:

  • a respectable case can be made that inequality in the form of long term welfare support can do more harm than good to disadvantaged groups - through creating dependency (a point which the aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has now made politically acceptable to discuss in relation to Australia's aborigines, which was not 'politically correct' when it was raised earlier by Pauline Hanson) - eg see Jones G. and Etherington S. 'Integration the only way to break the cycle of despair',  Australian,  14/2/02;

  • individual equality before the law was one of the greatest social and economic strengths of Australia's Anglo-Saxon heritage, and the reasons for this need some consideration before casually allowing power to be exerted through cultures that are based on social inequalities (see above), or those that have little commitment to a rule of law. 

Unfortunately knee-jerk allegations of racism, without thinking the matter through or considering whether allegations are valid in particular cases, have thoroughly confused the issue, damaged Australia's reputation and slowed the emergence of a reasoned consensus. 

  • some intellectual elites have argued that there is a racist element in grass-roots groups, who suggest that Australia should take an exclusionist approach to protect its Anglo-Saxon / Western cultural heritage - and that this is an obstacle to Australia developing closer relationships in Asia. However, any 'grass roots' groups that took such an approach would be exhibiting behaviour which was quite consistent with the particularist, rather than universal, ethics of what has been promoted as 'Asian' values. Thus it would be they, rather than their critics, who would be speeding Australia's effective integration into 'Asia'. To accommodate (so called) 'Asian values' would mainly involve revoking Australia's commitment to universal values (eg accepting that it is OK to be racist, or to reject individual human rights or democracy).  In other words Australia's general acceptance in terms of 'East Asian' values would best be facilitated by becoming less interested in universal human welfare and by embracing what some of Australia's elites now see as 'moral failings'  (eg by being unconcerned about the welfare of refugees). 

For human rights activists to engage at a community level - rather than relying on elitist practices (eg media statement and ceremonies) - has been seen as necessary to allow their point of view to be considered by ordinary Australians (see Community Development)

The above does not constitute a solution to the problems with racism. Nor is it even a proposal for such a solution. It merely attempts to suggest why little progress seems to be being made towards such a solution.

Complexities +

3. Complexities of the Refugee / Illegal-Migration Situation 

A. The Problem

A clear humanitarian disaster had been looming as a consequence of conflict and the failure of economic and political systems in and around Afghanistan - and this was generating a flood of refugees that those nearby were unable to cope with, and for which UN machinery was not effective. That refugee situation was inseparable from the action of, and military action against, persons who apparently launched terrorist attacks in America in September 2001 - an incredibly complex and difficult issue in itself. 

B, The Best Solution

Ultimately the only satisfactory solution to the problem of refugees is economic and political development in the countries that the refugees are originally from (eg Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan). This, rather than just coping with the symptoms of those failures, should be seen as the main issue. (See Afghan reconstruction)

C. The Terrorism Risk

There is a real risk that persons with terrorist motivations will be concealed amongst the refugees / illegal-migrants being conveyed by people-smugglers. 

It appears likely that the Al-Quida (and similar) networks have been preparing for a large scale and long term attack on Western societies (ie that, as Taliban leaders frequently claimed, much more was envisaged than the September 11 attacks in America). And those involved have had not only the motivation but also the opportunity to determine who is included in the boatloads of people being sent to Australia. It is noted that: 

  • Jihad has been declared against Australia by leaders in the region that most refugees are coming from (eg noting McPhedran I., 'Holy war called on Australia', Courier Mail, 2/11/01). And in declaring jihad against the 'crusader' West Osama bin Laden made special mention the role of the 'crusader' Australians in separating Indonesian people - in reference to East Timor (see 'Terror war is all about religion, says leaders', Australian, 5/11/01)
  • 150-200 holy warriors (from Osama bin Laden's core following) reportedly slipped out of Afghanistan in the two months before November 2001 - according to Newsweek reports. Diplomats in Islamabad were quoted as seeing illegal migration as a terrorist threat. Even those who emigrate legally could have terrorist links. Such people have been moving around the world for years - though security has now tightened up (Blair T. 'Beware of terrorists in refugee clothing',  Australian, 8/11/01)   
  • though they may have little chance of success, Islamic extremists appear to be TRYING to coopt traditional Islam worldwide into a totalitarian political movement. For example:  
    • a source (who has clearly studied radical Islamism, though as a competing traditional Muslim he may have biases) has alleged that traditional Muslims are fearful because local branches of the radical Muslim organizations that promote terrorism in the Middle East are taking root in Western countries. They were said to have gained control of the main Muslim organizations and most of the mosques though they represent no more than 10% of the total Muslim populations. What started as the Muslim Brethren was said to be now a worldwide organized network - using many different acronyms but always ensuring radicals are in control behind the scenes. They claim to represent all Muslims and get respectful receptions from non-Muslims who know no better  (Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi 'Fundamental errors', Courier Mail,  10/10/01 - see also Radical Islamism and Traditional Islam)
    • there are signs that extremist Islamic organizations are also operating in Australia (see article by Bolt in About Islam; and numerous articles in Implications for Australia of Attack in America); and in the UK (see article by Dhondy in About Islam). 
  • France's chief intelligence officer has alleged that hundreds of al Qaida 'sleeper agents' who trained in 'heavy' terrorist tactics in Afghan camps and resettled in Europe are now ready to strike ('Al-Qaida agents ready to strike in Europe', Australian, 20/11/01)
  • some individuals accepted into Australia as refugees have reportedly been involved in people-smuggling (according the Federal Police), and this is allegedly one of the techniques being used by terrorists to fund their activities (see Refugees);
  • the traditions of the Pathan people (of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan) is not only one of extreme belligerence (as noted above) but of great pride in their participation over hundreds of years in armies of conquest organized from outside Afghanistan;   
  • ‘Refugees’ have been coming through Indonesia. This is extremely unlikely to be occurring if the people-smugglers have not been given protection (and perhaps active encouragement) by some local Indonesian officials. Supporters / members of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida networks (which appears to be large and well organized worldwide) are reportedly well established in Indonesia - and to have an international agenda that includes establishing terrorist cells in Australia (see Islamism in SE Asia). There has been speculation that Indonesia's pro-Western President could be unable to hold power for more than a year or two before Islamic extremists displace her (see Indonesia).  In this respect it can be noted that the Indonesian army has: 
    • always been a non-democratic contender for political power in Indonesia in its own right, and a chief advocate and activist for the Javanese Empire that Indonesia constitutes;
    • allegedly (through rebellious elements) been involved in organizing an unofficial and murderous militia in East Timor to defend the ‘Empire’. Various militia elsewhere in Indonesia have apparently been pursuing jihad (ethnic cleansing ?) against non-Muslim Indonesians; 
    • been displaced by Australian forces acting for the UN in what others saw as the liberation of East Timor - but which the bin Laden's jihad declaration labelled as Australian support for a UN conspiracy to separate East Timor from Indonesia (see Implications for Australia of the Attack in America). The flood of (Islamic) boatpeople sent to Australia from August 2001 could well have been seen by rogue factions in the Indonesian army as a 'counter invasion' which would be hard to resist because of its humanitarian overtones.. 
  • Indonesian police were involved in people smuggling operations linked to the Tampa, and $US1000 from $4300 paid for being smuggled went to Indonesian authorities (Shine K 'Smugglers got help from the police', A, 20/9/02)

  • Indonesia quietly arrested and deported several people smugglers to gain credibility before an international conference on people trafficking (Dodd T. 'Jakarta acts on people smuggling', Financial Review,  25/2/02)
  • The possibility of a linkage between Al-Qaeda and the people smugglers who seek to sneak illegal migrants into Australia is being investigated - as is the possibility that terrorists escaping to SE Asia might have used the same transport network ('Al Qaeda link to people smugglers' (?), Sunday Mail,  24/2/02)
  • At least 12 Indonesians with links to the founder of the Islamic group suspected of organising the Bali bombing sought refugee status in Australia in the 1990s (Marx A and McPhedran I 'Islamic extremists sought refugee entry', CM, 30/10/02)

  • The UN urged Australia to isolate boatpeople suspected of terrorism or serious crimes - and fast-track their refugee applications (Saunders M 'fast track for suspect refugees', Australian, 8-9/12/01) [Comment: what the UN is asking is presumably not easy to accomplish - unless such individuals have some clear distinguishing features]
  • ASIO has spent a lot of time conducting security assessments of asylum seekers (Chulov M. 'Terrorists already here, says spy body',  Australian,  14/2/02)
  • The US military is investigating a possible link between a-Qaeda and the people smugglers who try to sneak illegal migrants into Australia (‘Al-Qaeda link to people smugglers’, Sunday Mail, 24/2/02)
  • Terrorist trained by Al Qaeda could have come to Australia - according to Afghan foreign minister. Hundreds are still on the run. The government said that there was no evidence that dozens of asylum seekers claiming o be Afghan were linked to Al-Qaeda. But the Immigration Department is investigating the backgrounds of 700 claimed-Afghan refugees who fraudulently obtained temporary protection visas - who may have been Pakistanis. Some are suspected of links with the pro-Taliban Pakistani intelligence service. Others are suspected of fighting with the Taliban or at militant Islamic schools. ASIO stated in August that none of the asylum seekers it had checked since 1999 had been assessed as a security risk. (Phillips M 'Australia warned of ex-Taliban migrans', CM, 14/11/02)

However, it can be noted that:

  • in the 1860s the NSW colonial government was convinced that Irish Catholics were all potential Fenian terrorists (Harris T. 'Tune in for a divisive and racist view', Financial Review,  18/12/01)
  • it may be more likely for terrorists to travel in jets with well forged papers, rather than on leaky boats. It the attack on 9 September does turn out to have been done by Muslims, then it is essential to recall that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims - all but a tiny minority of whom are law abiding. Once can't blame all Christians for Irish terrorism. Australia's experience is that the country changes those who come here. Neither Irish sectarian violence nor any other form of ethnic conflict has survived here in a any threatening form.  Australia profited enormously from the Jewish refugees it took from Hitler, and the Vietnamese boatpeople who came in large numbers after the fall of Saigon were never supposed to adapt. But their sons and daughters now top their school classes. Each now group of migrants is initially treated with suspicion. Italians and Greeks were vilified after WWII. Genuine political leadership is needed to avoid xenophobia (Steketee M. 'Muslim bashing compounds the terror',  Australian,  14/9/01)

Intelligence services (if they have been doing their job) should have a much better idea of what is going on than the public (and the media). And, if there is a problem, Australia’s political leaders (government and opposition) will also presumably have been informed - but might be able to say nothing publicly if doing so could further destabilize Indonesia's already precarious political situation.  

  • [[The fact is that Australians should have paid serious attention 10-20 years ago to how to head off the economic and political difficulties Indonesia is now facing . Collusion with despots and impractical moralizing have not really helped. Furthermore questions of racial / cultural relationships are absolutely critical to the viability of Indonesia as a unified state - and casual allegations of racism in Australia for domestic political advantage have potentially explosive implications in Indonesia]]
  • [[However it is also noted that one author who has closely studied Islamic extremism suggested that US intelligence agencies failed entirely to understand the nature of the enemy now seeking to destroy the US - see  article by Paul Monk]]

D. Australia's Choices

The question does not seem to be about whether Australia will accept some refugees (because it has often done so).

Note: Australia is one of only 10 nations in the world that permit permanent resettlement for refugees - and has generous generous welfare arrangements for needy new arrivals - Rod T and Brunton R. 'Unauthorized arrivals: the unpalatable alternatives', IPA Review, Sept 2001

Rather the real question should presumably be how the humanitarian disaster represented by 'umpteen' millions of refugees worldwide can be dealt with. There is no way that people smuggling can be a practical solution for all these people - so the difficult issues identified in B (The Best Solution) above much be addressed.

Furthermore, in so far as accepting refugees is part of such a solution, it seems far preferable for refugees to arrive in an orderly way rather than by allowing people-smugglers to ignore Australia's borders.

A process for admitting refugees based on allowing free reign to smugglers provides no way to limit the numbers involved, which is significant because:

  • failure of the current global order to prevent economic and political breakdown in numerous countries means that there are tens of millions of refugees in the world. Furthermore a very high percentage of those on smugglers boats are apparently not true refugees at all;
  • the potential for environmental disasters resulting in future mass refugee movements can not be discounted. For example there is a plausible (but unproven) view that groundwater may often be a non-renewable resource - and as 40% of global agriculture depends on sources with rapidly falling water levels that something like 1bn people may be forced eventually to move in search of food and water [1];
  • there is considerable debate and uncertainty about Australia's ultimate population potential. Some with a business and economic viewpoint suggest that its current (just less than 20m) population should be raised to (say 50m) in order to create a stronger local market. However, despite Australia's large land mass (a) serious environmental analysts argue that Australia's long term population potential is already exceeded because, except in a few rich regions, Australia has very limited soil and water resources and (b) though Australia currently feeds 30m people (ie 10m through food exports) there are many signs (eg extensive soil salination) that its limited productive land and water resources have already been somewhat over-exploited by agriculture. 

From Australia's point of view an orderly process for dealing with refugees is even more important in the case of those from the Middle East (than would be the case for refugees from (say) Europe) because of the cultural issues that need to be addressed (eg see Cultural Issues and Migration);

Australia’s ability to process illegal migrants was apparently already overloaded (both through detention centres, and in the community after release from those centres) when it became obvious in August 2001 that thousands more were to be sent at the same time. Furthermore the Australian courts (and assorted community lobby groups with both humanitarian and (presumably) pro-terrorist motivations) make it hard to exert the necessary degree of security assessment of refugees.

People-smuggling leaves Australia with the cost and difficulty of picking the genuine refugees (apparently typically about 10% of the total) in a paperless throng, who may also include gangsters, terrorists or those who are in search of an easier life. It also ensures that genuine refugees have to endure hardships in detention camps which probably alienates them from a community in which some may settle.

Extremism? Australia's tough programs against illegal migrants could promote terrorist reactions (Robinson P. 'Camps legacy may be suicide bombers',  Financial Review,  4/4/02)

Suggestions +

4. Suggestions

Thus, rather than encouraging people smuggling and damaging Australia's international reputation by claiming that those who have concerns about illegal migration must be xenophobic racists, a far better strategy would appear to involve:

  • seeking options to eliminate the political and economic failures elsewhere that cause people to become refugees in the first place [1]; and 
  • improving, and generously participating in, internationally organized programs for refugees.

The fact that the Australian debate about the refugee / illegal-migration problem seemed for many years to be conducted in loud voices in terms of almost everything but these options was clearly counter-productive.

Solving the Global Refugee Crisis

In 2006 the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sought, through a Goodwill Ambassador (Angelina Jolie), to encourage more effort to eliminate the suffering of refugees [1]. In brief she suggested that: 

  • Europe's post WWII experience shows a refugee crisis can be solved;
  • the West has forgotten history and doesn't care about refugees anymore;
  • the UNHRC's resources are inadequate to deal with its responsibilities for 20m refugees;
  • developed countries object when refugees and economic migrants try to enter their territory - and confusion with economic migrants is an obstacle to dealing with refugees properly;
  • refugees fall into the hands of people smugglers, and many die. They can also be turned into hate figures for political purposes;
  • the West doesn't want uncontrolled migration - but won't invest in 'curing' crises which displace refugees, or in preventing crises in the countries refugees come from;
  • there is a need for more Marshall Plans - to provide resources in countries refugees first go to, and to support countries where peace has been established. Such investment in Afghanistan might have changed the course of history - as Osama bin Laden thrived on its neglect;
  • there is a need to create a politically and economically stable world in which people and nations can progress.

This call to action highlights a real problem, but raises more questions than in answers.

The problem can't be 'cured' no matter how much is spent on refugee support programs, because this would do nothing to prevent tyrannical regimes, economic crises and conflicts continuing to create refugees in large numbers.

The only satisfactory solution is 'prevention' by creating a more politically and economically stable world.

However the latter can not be achieved simply by more 'Marshall Plans'.  The essence of that Plan involved initiating investment in countries after military victory had provided political control as a basis for reforming government and economic institutions along democratic capitalist lines.

This worked in Europe after WWII, but is proving much more difficult where it is being attempted by the US (and its 'Coalition of the Willing') in Iraq and Afghanistan. A key difference is that Europe had previously had modern government and economic institutions based on similar principles which could be reactivated and had social and cultural traditions that were compatible with those institutions - a situation which does not apply in (say) Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover the latter are affected by factions violently  seeking to destabilize the 'Marshall Plan' in order to promote a radically different (Islamist) political and economic model or to pursue unresolved ethnic conflicts.

Creating a politically and economically stable world (ie a world in which there would be few refugees) was the reason that the United Nations and other multilateral institutions (eg the Bretton Woods triplets) were created - and it is reform of those institutions to take account of factors which has made it impossible to date to achieve their goal that is probably most vital to solve the global refugee crisis.

The key requirement to solve the refugee crisis is not not primarily more resources. Rather there is more to be gained by creating human capabilities and organisation in (a) global institutions and (b) in societies on the global margins which give all the potential to achieve material success and social harmony. These requirements are indistinguishable from those to win the 'war on terror'.

Some suggestions about the way in which global institutions and societies might need to adapt were outlined in Competing Civilizations,  while a method of exploring ways by which nations (especially those suffering chronic political and economic dysfunctions) might adapt to these (possible) new global arrangements was suggested, very briefly and inadequately, in A New Manhattan Project for Global Peace, Prosperity and Security. .

A: Playing the 'Racism' card

Attachment A: Playing the Racism Card - Some Examples 

Former Governor General William Deane attacked Howard Government - accusing it of lying over 'children overboard' affair' and other offences. It had shrunk from challenges of justice and truth and instead sought advantage by inflaming ugly prejudice and intolerance. Government has to safeguard the rights of all - including the unpopular (such as two jailed without charges in Guantanamo Bay). The government has failed to sign Kyoto agreement, and needs to do more to reduce income inequality (Macfarlane D 'Deane attacks Howard untruths', A,  30/5/03)

"We all know what the election campaign is really about. Don't worry about what people say they consider the most important issues - health and education. It's really about immigration, refugees, border protection, defence, illegal entry and boatpeople. And that's more complicated than just saying that most Australians are racists" (Shanahan D., 'Pandering to basest instincts', Australian, 9/11/01)

"Today's election ends a campaign which should have many people hanging their heads in shame. In particular, prime Minister John Howard has championed blatant racism and played on his exalted position to play on the fears of the ignorant and impressionable" (Koch T., 'A shamed nation', Courier Mail, 10/11/01) 

"The election was won by an appeal to racism" (Aitkens D 'Howard played the racism card, says Keating', Courier Mail,  13/11/01)

"Following an ugly political campaign in which racism, xenophobia and bigotry became the main tactics to win the federal election, Australia's status regionally and internationally has been reduced to a pariah. Australia can no longer claim to hold the high moral ground. Earlier on, it was an example of how a multiracial and multicultural society was to be organized. It was attentive to becoming a part of the region where its future lies, economically, politically and strategically .... That (John Howard) was re-elected, despite being so narrow-minded and out of place for an open, modern Australia, located in the western Pacific with more than 2bn East Asians and in the 21st century, shows only how immature and full of fear a large number of Australians are" (Wanandi J. (board member of Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and Jakarta Post) 'Great nation reduced to Pacific pariah', Australian, 16/11/01)

"I wish to apologise to the bigots of Australia .... It was rude of me to single out the out-and-out racists for harsh criticism ... I should, of course, have been thanking you for your honesty ... your ... hard hearted, unapologetic loathing of people from the Middle East and particularly from Afghanistan ... Your utterances ... make a dramatic and welcome contrast with the coded, veiled, mealy-mouthed expressions from the 'I'm not a racist but' members of Australia's middle and upper-middle classes ... Many of these people ... are professing Christians who love their enemies, suffer the little children to come unto them and would see and in rejection of refugees an echo of the plight of Joseph and Mary ... in Bethlehem. So three cheers for the bigots who know the truth and don't hesitate to say it out loud ... The racism of nice people ... is as subtle and tasteful as their furnishings and objects d'art.  ... Yet it boils down to the same thing ..." (Adams P. 'A nice line in bigotry', Weekend Australian, 1-2/12/01)

"Australia's image as a faraway paradise to Americans has been shaken by a front page article in a prominent US newspaper which portrays a racist, xenophobic nation with an inhumane refugee policy" - referring to an article in the Los Angeles Times (Lusetich R 'US paper lambasts detention policies',  Australian, 7/1/02) 

"The tide of xenophobia and racism evident in Australia's 2001 election campaign is swamped by sentiment pervading much of Europe ..." (Kelly P. 'No refuge from democracy',  Weekend Australian,  27-28/4/02)

"The asylum seeker crisis was manufactured ... to support a blatantly populist and racist policy" - according to Neville Roach, the former chairman of the Multicultural Council (Sophie M. 'Asylum seeker row political intervention',  Australian ,  8/8/02)

Both sides of politics claim that whatever galvanised Australians over Tampa can't be called racism - because it was popular. Howard Government is expert at manipulating race for electoral advantage - without cutting down native title or turning back boatloads of Muslim refugees being labelled for what it is (prejudice / bigotry / racism). The press is also scared of engaging Australia's xenophobia [1].

B: Mobility or Stability?

Mobility or Stability? (email sent 21/12/10)

Dr Leanne Weber and Professor Sharon Pickering

Re: Border control no solution for global problem, 22/12/10

I should like to strongly support the basic idea expressed in the title of your article (ie that a focus on border control issues is a waste of time in dealing with a global problem), but suggest that universal stability is to be preferred to universal mobility. Your article suggested that mobility (to escape from dangerous places) is increasingly central to ensuring universal human security. However stability (ie creating a world in which dangerous places that people need to escape from disappear) is surely preferable, and would ultimately be the ingredient that enables all people to move freely around the world (because others’ security fears would then evaporate).

A focus on dealing with asylum seekers (either by encouraging or discouraging people smuggling) is never going to achieve that outcome. Some suggestions about an alternative approach (which is now somewhat out of date, particularly because of the ‘racism’ red herrings that diverted attention from bigger-picture questions some years ago) were put forward in Complexities in the Refugee Problem (2001). This may be of interest.

John Craig

Response on 'Mobility of Stability?' from Leanne Weber - received 22/12/10

Thanks for taking the time to make contact John. I agree wholeheartedly with the value of universal stability, but would argue it's not a zero-sum game, and we think a range of measures are needed.

Our reference to putting human security at the centre of a broader discussion reflects this, and picks up the main thrust of your comment I think. (I hope that was left in there - I haven't seen the copy yet) Unfortunately many of the 'development' approaches on offer at the moment e.g. from the EU, are motivated more by stemming migration flows than truly meeting people's needs in countries of origin, and this shows in the way the programs are conceived.

We'd like the emphasis to move the other way - i.e. towards meeting needs, and being more relaxed about necessary movement - and I also think the perspective needs to be broader than asylum seekers. In my view, a refugee-based approach that sees refugees as special categories within a framework of sovereign border control is reflective of a system which, whether we like it or, is undergoing irreversible change - and was always a fragile compromise within that system anyway. So, I think we need a different starting point to think about these things.

I agree that most people would prefer to have opportunities they need closer to home. But elites cross borders at the moment to seek better employment opportunities, myself included, yet we deny that to others. How to get to a position where movement can be 'allowed' in a more egalitarian way, without it arising from or creating instability is a difficult question to which none of us has the full answer, but that's the question we'd like to start asking. In fact we made the point in the newspaper article - which may have been edited out - that present policies that result in refugees and other migrants being 'backed up' in buffer countries contribute signifcantly to the creation of insecurity in those locations. Sharon and I have an ARC Discovery project on this topic at the moment - Fluid Security in the Asia Pacific that specifically explores the idea of reconciliation of mobility with security, rather than seeing them as inevitably antagonistic. Wish us luck!

Thanks for sending your link. I will take a much better look once the silly season is over and get back in touch. We have a website for our Fluid Security project which will eventually go public, so we can link you into that.

All the best. Leanne

Leanne Weber, PhD
Senior Lecturer in Criminology
School of Social Sciences and International Studies
University of New South Wales

Reply sent to Leanne Weber on 24/12/10

Thanks for your feedback. I can see that you are taking a vastly broader approach to the subject than was apparent to me in your article, and this is to be applauded. Your point about the back-up of refugees causing instabilities was indeed a good one, as was reference to the futility of artificial development schemes merely to discourage economic migration.

My own perspective is that we should be seeking 'one world for all' - ie a situation in which everyone can go everywhere. But we are a long way from this, and going backwards fast in some respects.

A couple of other documents that I have worked on that are relevant to this are:

Competing Civilizations (from 2001) – which includes speculations about (a) some of the reasons for unbalanced development (including generally-unexamined defects in the prevailing international order, and well-recognised weaknesses in traditional foreign aid); and (b) the cultural dimension in different societies' ability to achieve material success (which is the main theme of the document). The near universal failure to seriously study the latter seems to me to be a primary source of the disadvantage, tensions and conflicts in the world (and thus ultimately of the emergence of refugees). Speculations about improving the situation are outlined in a segment on Defusing a Clash

The Second Failure of Globalization? (from 2001) – which concerns indications that attempts at establishing a workable international regime are simply failing as they did at the start of the 20th century before WWI (as evidenced, for example, by: failed states; inept global institutions such as UN; the ‘war on terror’ (which showed the inadequacy of both multilateral and unilateral-US reactions to extremist violence motivated by political and economic failures in the Muslim world); and the GFC, which reflects differences between global / Western cultural traditions and those in East Asia that international institutions have no real idea about). If things break down completely (and this could happen) then the number of refugees will multiply by 10 or 100, while borders slam shut.

Ending the West's Global Predominance? (2010) – which comments on the uncertain prospects of a new international order arising under Chinese traditions.

John Craig

C: Stemming Refugee Flows from the Middle East

Stemming Refugee Flows from the Middle East - email sent 6/1/11

Barry Cohen
c/- Editor
The Australian

Re: Stem refugee flow at source, The Australian, 6/1/11

I should like to try to add value to your reasonable suggestion about addressing at its source the humanitarian crisis represented by huge numbers of refugees.

As I interpreted it, your article:

  • pointed to the futility of proposals to: (a) resolve the problem of refugees by significantly increasing Australia’s refugee intake; and / or (b) encourage migration by (the potentially billions of people) who would simply desire better economic prospects;
  • suggested rather the need to overcome the problem at its source – which in the case of refugees mainly involves the Middle East;
  • argued that the absence of freedom / democracy in the Middle East was the main cause of the problem.

A similar argument was presented by the present writer in Complexities in the Refugee Problem (2001). Some preliminary speculations about Solving the Global Refugee Crisis were added to that document in 2006, and these might also be of interest.

In relation to instabilities in the Middle East that give rise to refugee flows, the problem seems far more fundamental than the absence of freedom / democracy. Some speculations about this were put forward in Competing Civilizations (2001). The latter referred to: (a) problems that have their origin in the international environment (eg in the ‘curse’ which rich natural resources places on afflicted societies, because of the way external interest in those resources distorts local political regimes and economies); and (b) cultural constraints that originate in the Middle East itself. It is futile to try to impose freedom and democracy on societies which lack a social order that can tolerate individual liberty. Their Judeo-Christian heritage makes liberal institutions possible in Western societies (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths). However in Muslim dominated societies the morality of individuals’ behaviour has traditionally been enforced by communal coercion, rather than by individual consciences, so there has been no social foundation on which liberal political and economic institutions can be erected. This was a fundamental defect that the present writer perceived in efforts by the US and its allies to ‘liberate’ Iraq (and Afghanistan) – see Fatal Flaws in The Second Failure of Globalization? (from 2001)

Your suggestion about stemming the flow of refugees at their source is valuable. However putting it into practice will be complicated. Arguably this will require reforms to the global order, and also (in the case of the Middle East) challenging the oppressive communal behaviours that seem to characterise the region (and are apparently taken to an extreme in the ideologies of Islamist extremists – as argued in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002)

John Craig

D: The biggest issue missing from the asylum seeker debate

The biggest issue missing from the asylum seeker debate  - email sent 28/6/12

Sharon Pickering,
Monash University

Re: Six issues missing from the asylum seeker debate, The Conversation, 28/6/12

Your article suggested that important issues are not being considered in relation to asylum seekers.

Details: Specifically these suggested issues were: (a) inadequate UNHCR resources in Indonesia; (b) relationship between people smuggling and Australia’s regulation of migration; (c) what happens to those prevented from coming to Australia; (d) Australia’s demonization of asylum seekers; (e) conflicts between different groups of refugees; and (f) the invisibility of border-related deaths.

While such issues are not being considered, the most important issue that is missing from the asylum seeker debate is the responsibility that students of the social sciences and humanities in Western universities have for much of the humanitarian tragedy represented by the world’s umpteen million refugees (as suggested in Complexities in the Refugee Problem , 2001+). As the latter noted, it would be far more constructive to prevent people from becoming refugees, than to debate (say) whether encouraging people smugglers or offshore processing is the best response to asylum seekers.

As your article noted Australia tends to limit immigration from strife-torn Muslim dominated countries, mainly in the Middle East (eg Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka). Eliminating the conflicts that cause people in such countries to become refugees (or seen as potential security risks if they migrate to Australia) should not be very difficult. For example, if the ideology of Islamists which gives rise to many of those conflicts were to be carefully examined, its inadequacies could be exposed (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002 and About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science, 2005). In brief, these suggest that the failure of Muslim dominated societies to modernise in the modern era relates to: (a) the communal repression of individuals; and (b) assumptions by Islamic scholars about the nature of science that rationalise the repression of individuals (but make scientific progress almost impossible). Islamists seek (presumably without recognising it) to reinforce those obstacles to the progress of afflicted societies (by making them the foundation of government). Violent efforts to promote ineffectual ‘solutions’ (and the associated conflicts, damage, loss of life and refugees) would soon cease if Muslim communities could be made aware of the consequences (eg by methods like those that were suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism).

Certainly the democratic election of an Islamist regime in Egypt (and perhaps of similar regimes elsewhere in the Middle East) may result in that recognition (as dependence on democratic election implies that such regimes can be thrown out if they fail). However the same outcome could arguably be achieved much faster if the social sciences and humanities faculties of Western universities got off their post-modern backsides and started to think critically about the practical economic and political consequences of cultural assumptions (see also Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict). Unfortunately this seems to be quite the reverse of what is actually happening in Australia (see Bringing Balanced Understandings about Islam into Australian Schools, 2010).

While there are other problems afflicting the Middle East (eg the curse of rich natural resources that many suffer), the above suggestions would probably do the most to eliminate the flood of asylum seekers.

John Craig

E: Sharing the Shame Around

Sharing the Shame Around - email sent 11/7/12

Duncan Graham,
Indonesia Now

Re: Shame Australia, shame, Online Opinion, 11/7/12

Your article suggested that Australia’s inability to fix the asylum seeker problem reflects the failure of Australia’s political leadership.

With respect I submit that the world’s failure to solve the problem of refugees from conflicts in Muslim dominated states (which translate into asylum seekers risking their lives to come to Australia) should be blamed on universities, rather than on politicians. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in The Biggest Issue Missing from the Asylum Seeker Debate.

It is only now that universities seem to be getting serious about considering the reasons that the Middle East has suffered centuries of economic and political failure (eg see Hassan R. ‘Is Islam to blame for freedom deficit in Middle East?’, Online Opinion, 10/7/12), though the need for this has been obvious for at least a decade (eg see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002).

I would be interested in your response to my speculations.

John Craig

F: Boat People Magic +

Boat People Magic - email sent 20/7/13

Greg Sheridan
The Australian

Re: PNG solution has to bridge the credibility gap, The Australian, 20/7/13

Your article suggested that the Prime Minister’s latest proposal for dealing with unauthorized migration by boat (ie preventing asylum seekers from gaining residency in Australia and paying for their resettlement in PNG) is the most ‘dramatic and serious’ so far by Labor, even though it is subject to various uncertainties (eg the capacity of PNG’s Manus Island centre, the ALP’s uncertain credibility in dealing with this issue and PNG’s expectations)

However the ‘credibility gap’ that potentially affects the Federal Government’s proposals applies equally to those of the Opposition.

There are reportedly about 45m broadly-defined ‘refugees’ in various parts of the world. This is a major and rapidly increasing humanitarian disaster that mainly results from conflicts. Seeking to exclude asylum seekers (and opportunistic economic migrants who pose as refugees) is unlikely to be effective in enabling Australia to avoid being affected by the consequences of those conflicts – because:

  • The conflicts that have led to the vast majority of recent asylum seekers in Australia (and the majority of refugees worldwide) involve Muslim dominated societies;
  • Those conflicts are a reflection of political and economic difficulties that have deep historical and cultural roots, and are threatening to engulf a significant part of the world (mainly in the Middle East) in wars;
  • Those conflicts are likely to result both in a large further increase in the number of asylum seekers worldwide, and also in serious economic and security threats to Australia.

My reasons for suggesting this are developed further on my web-site. The latter also refers, for example, to:

  • the long-obvious need to give priority to overcoming the problems affecting countries that are the source of asylum seekers ;
  • fears that may have motivated Indonesia’s president to support Australia’s prime minister in relation to seeking regional action – perhaps including Indonesia’s risk of itself being engulfed by the tensions that are giving rise to conflicts across the Muslim world; and
  •  the need to remedy chronic weakness in Australia’s ability to develop realistic foreign policy options.

The options for dealing with ‘boat people’ that are currently being proposed (by both the federal Government and Opposition) are mere wishful thinking.

John Craig

Detailed Comments

A Growing Problem

Though displaced persons come in different categories, there are now something like 45m broadly-defined ‘refugees’ in the world (see Gordon M. ‘Global upheavals dwarf Australia’s refugee numbers’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20/6/13). 

A decade ago those numbers were estimated at about 20m. The humanitarian tragedy that this represents needs serious attention not only because of the difficulties with unauthorised migration that Australia currently experiences, but because without serious attention the situation is likely to get a lot worse and have an ever increasing effects on countries such as Australia (and not just in terms of boat people arrivals).

By way of background to these comments attention is drawn to the present writer's past attempts to:

  • evaluate the impact that differences in cultural assumptions have on various societies’ social, economic and political progress – with particular reference to Western, East Asian and Islamic societies (see Competing Civilizations, 2001). This also drew attention to general obstacles to modernisation that had faced non-Western societies;
  • argue that Australia's boat people problem needed to be addressed at its source, ie by dealing with the reasons that some countries become sources of large numbers of refugees (see Complexities in the Refugee Problem, 2001 and Solving the Global Refugee Crisis, 2006);
  • understand the ideology of Islamist extremists (see Speculations about Extremists' Manifestos, 2002). The latter suggested, for example, that the leadership of Al Qaida involves a ‘progressive’ faction within Islam, rather than conservative reactionaries, who: (a) tend to have studied science in Western universities; and (b) believed that attacks against Western nations would encourage Western intervention in Muslim lands, so as to help in the recruitment of supporters of the Islamist cause;
  • suggest ‘soft power’ options available to Australia to discredit the ideology of Islamists in the eyes of potential supporters – on the grounds that Islamism would exacerbate the constraints on the initiative needed for social, economic and political progress that are implicit in the repressive way in which Islamic teachings have traditionally been enforced (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+);
  • identify issues that needed to be considered in relation to developing Indonesia’s economy recognising the differences between Western and East Asian paths to development - in an address to a group connected with Indonesia’s cultural leader, the Sultan of Yogyakarta (see Comparative Development Theory: Indonesia / Australia, 2002);
  • evaluate the US-led post-911 ‘hard power’ interventions that were presumably hoped to create a stable and prosperous future for the Middle East (see September 11: The First Test, 2003). The latter suggested that the liberal Western-style institutions that were introduced depend on numerous cultural and institutional preconditions that could not be introduced by the methods being used.

Australia's Inadequate Responses

Australia has been affected for some years because some asylum seekers (as well as economic migrants) have arrived on people-smugglers’ boats. While people smuggling was hardly a satisfactory way of dealing with the world's torrent of asylum seekers, Australia’s response has not been much more constructive.

Prior to 2007 the Coalition’s ‘Pacific solution’ was reasonably effective in blocking people smuggling – but did not address the underlying problem. After 2007 the ALP then adopted policies and domestic institutional arrangements that: (a) facilitated people smugglers’ operations; (b) contributed to significant numbers of deaths at sea; and (c) created very real problems in dealing with the numbers of asylum seekers (and opportunistic economic migrants) who arrived on smugglers' boats. 

Australia’s current political debate about boat people remains almost completely divorced from concern about the underlying (and arguably escalating) problem. The Prime Minister and Opposition leader have argued for different ways of shifting asylum-seekers around Australia’s region (ie the Opposition would simply refuse to accept unauthorised migrants, while the Government favours sharing the problem with other countries in the region). And those who seem to believe that people smuggling is a good solution to the difficulties facing asylum seekers seem unable to recognise that the latter would presumably be better off if they did not have to flee dangerous places.

Asylum Seekers Come from Somewhere

Recent discussions between Australia’s prime minister and Indonesia’s president about coping with asylum seekers finally resulted in official acknowledgement that refugees (and economic migrants) come from somewhere.

“Dr Yudhoyono proposed in the meeting to call a conference of "all parties" in the region, who he said must be jointly responsible for the increasing flow of asylum seekers and the power of people smugglers. The conference - which Mr Rudd endorsed - should be held by the end of this month. It would involve countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar, where many refugees come from, countries such as Indonesia that they pass through and Australia, their destination.” (Bachard M., ‘Jakarta spurns Abbott’s turn-back-boats plan’, The Age, 6/7/13)

The proposal by Indonesia’s president that countries that have to cope with asylum seekers should hold discussions with source countries was a minor miracle. It presumably partly reflected Indonesia’s concern that its current difficulties would be compounded (eg by being ‘left holding the south Asian asylum-seeker baby’) if Australia’s Opposition gets a chance to ensure that unauthorized migrants are simply turned-back if they approach Australia.

The Muslim World seems to be Headed for Chaos

However there is a much deeper and more serious dimension to the problem, namely that:

  • conflicts affecting Muslim communities give rise to virtually all of the refugee flows that affect Australia (and the majority of refugees globally);
  • those conflicts reflect deep historical and cultural problems that Muslim communities have had in adapting to the modern world - problems that seem to be leading to high rates of desertion of the Islamic faith;
  • those conflicts seem to be escalating – and to be likely to generate vastly more refugees; and
  • Indonesia, which is Australia's largest neighbour and the world’s largest predominantly-Muslim nation, is increasingly likely to be adversely affected domestically by the tensions / conflicts within the Muslim world.

Elaboration: Though the issues involved are complex, it can be noted that:

  • Wars are the primary reason that people become refugees. The vast majority of asylum seekers affecting Australia (and a very significant percentage of refugees globally) currently originate from conflicts involving Muslim communities. For example 55% of refugees globally originate in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria (Gordon op cit).
  • Wars affecting Muslim communities are expected to escalate which suggests that the numbers of refugees and displaced persons worldwide will also continue to grow rapidly (see Divisions Within Islam). The latter refers to:
    • sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Those conflicts have their origins in disputes that go back to the earliest years of Islam about the nature of religious authority (ie respectively whether Muslims should be guided by traditional teachings which to some extent reflect the influence of Muhammad’s associates, or by inspired current religious leaders – especially those tracing their lineage to Muhammad);
    • the regional powers on either side of this conflict (eg Iran / Iraq / Azerbaijan and Bahrain are Shia dominated states);
    • the relationship between conflicts within various states (eg in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt) and a potential regional (Sunni-Shia / Arab-Persian) conflict;
    • the relationships with the tension between Islamism (where the state is based on and enforces Islam) and alternative political arrangements;
    • the disunity and conflict that has emerged within Islamist factions on the basis of differences in ethnicity, methods and philosophies, which seems similar to the fracturing of pan-Arab nationalism in the 1950s;
    • the unintended and unwanted side-effects of Western intervention; and
    • the unwillingness / inability of global powers to understand / deal with escalating conflict in the region.

An illustration: Tony Blair (a former Prime Minister who committed the UK to intervention in Iraq and who still has a significant diplomatic role in the Middle East) recently argued that Islamism (ie basing the state on the religion of Islam) is a major problem, on the grounds that Islam can be seen to provide justification for extremism in the pursuit of political goals. He also referred to (and warned about the escalating consequences of) numerous conflicts affecting Muslim dominated countries. However most of the latter seem to be more a result of the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims - and Mr Blair did not directly mention this. Clearly there can be a link (eg because if a country were to have an Islamist state, this would raise questions / disputes / conflicts about which type of Islam this would be). However it seemed that Mr Blair's attempt to account for the conflicts he described needed a lot of refinement. 

  • Problems that traditional Islam has in adapting to the modern world seems to be leading to a high rate of desertions and dissent from traditionally marginalised groups (see Shariah: The Threat to Muslims)
  • The emergence of a claim to have established an 'Islamic state' with a Caliph by ISIS in mid 2014 added a new dimension to these conflicts. Groups responsible exhibited a barbarity in slaughtering outsiders that some saw as reminiscent of the original spread of Islam by the sword which had led to the Crusades many centuries ago. Attacks by Egypt and the UAB against Islamists in Syria were seen to have escalated conflicts between opponents and supporters of political Islam - old-line Arab autocrats were in conflict with Islamists [1]. An historical perspective on this was provided in 'Caliphate fantasy gathers its force from the earliest traditions of Islam'.
  • Thus moderating the current global refugee crisis (and the difficulties this has created for Australia in particular) primarily requires attention to the causes of conflicts affecting Muslim societies (even though there is no 'Muslim' dimension in: (a) some sources of asylum seekers; and (b) some of the causes of conflicts that can give rise to refugee flows - see Sesay F., The root causes of refugee flows in a global context’, May 2002)
  • Muslim communities suffer from serious economic constraints and political problems (or potential problems) as a by-product of both external and internal factors (eg see Islamic Societies: the Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes in Competing Civilizations; About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science (2005); and Problems in Islamist Extremists' Manifestos). In particular cultural factors appear to be a major source of difficulties and resulting conflicts because the individual difference, initiative and innovation that is, and has been, needed for social, economic and political progress appears to be repressed by families and communities due to the way Islamic beliefs and practices have been enforced (see Please Don't Trivialize Oppression and Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid);
  • The latter includes indications that frictions within Islam are increasingly affecting Indonesia (which is the world's largest predominantly-Muslim community and has traditionally presented as ‘Islam with a smiling / tolerant face’). Indonesia's success is important to Australia, because it is a significant neighbour with whom much has been done to build good relations. Moreover Indonesia’s success is arguably important to the world. Indonesia can be seen as ‘the future of the world’ in the sense that if Indonesia (a large, aspiring society with cultural roots that are not strongly Western or East Asian) can succeed, then the 'world' can succeed - but if Indonesia can't succeed, then it may be that the ‘developing world' generally can't succeed. However the apparent trend towards increasing Islamic rigidity (which results from importing influences from elsewhere in the Muslim world) could put Indonesia’s successes and stability at risk;
  • There are arguably ways in which the cultural problems in Muslim dominated states that give rise to conflicts and large asylum-seeker flows could be addressed (see speculations below) if only the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities took a serious approach to investigating the practical consequences of differences in cultural assumptions.  Their failure to do so (apparently because of a post-modern desire to assume that culture is merely a matter of preference) is arguably a major cause of conflicts, and thus of many of the situations that have given rise to the world's 45m refugees.

The situation in the Muslim world appears to be getting out of control – and thus leading to an escalation of the numbers of refugees and displaced persons (as well perhaps as other problems) that the world will have to cope with. [In late 2015 it seemed that this was becoming a reality - see outline of A Mass Migration Crisis, and it May Get Worse]

Upgrading Australia's Ability to Respond

Proposals by both the federal Government and Opposition for protecting Australia from these problems by preventing the arrival of asylum seekers by boat seem mere wishful thinking - because boat people are only part of far more complex difficulties. For example, major regional conflicts in the Middle East could dislocate the global economy by disrupting a major part of the oil trade. And if the tensions giving rise to conflicts across the Muslim world remain unresolved and spill over to (say) Indonesia, the security consequences for SE Asia and Australia could be severe. Security concerns could also affect Australia more directly if there is any substance to fears [1] that Australian Muslims who participate in those conflicts as volunteers (eg in Syria) might then return with extremist ideologies.

The naivety of Australia's political leaders about this issue is consistent with the lack of domestic efforts to understand international events that has long characterised Australia’s depend-on-the-UK/US approach to foreign policy (see Poor Evaluation of Strategic Issues).

Example: At the time of the 911 attacks in America, there was widespread discontent in Muslim states across the Middle East about poor conditions and autocratic / repressive states. Islamist-led revolutions against those regimes across the region had seemed possible.

The US and its allies focused a large early response to attacks in US by Islamist extremists on September 11 2001 on Iraq on the basis of its presumed weapons of mass destruction - even though Iraq had no clear links to the 911 attacks.

Australia participated in US-led interventions in Iraq (and Afghanistan) that were apparently hoped to create a basis for peace and prosperity in the Muslim world, by liberating the people from a tyrannical regime and creating a democratic foundation for future progress.

This intervention created a desire for democratic reforms across the Middle East - giving rise in various contexts to the 'Arab Spring' and the possibility of Islamist regimes gaining power under circumstances where they could be thrown by an electorate if their political ideology didn't work in practice (an outcome that would have been unlikely had they gained power through revolution).

The problem was that those interventions seemed to be based on unsound / naive assumptions - because the effectiveness of liberal Western-style institutions (eg democracy and capitalism) depends on cultural and institutional preconditions that are not automatically present (see Fatal Flaws).

Australia's participation was based purely on its alliance with the US, rather than on any independent analysis. The latter might have enabled its allies to find more effective ways of dealing with the situation.

The core problem is arguably that the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities have simply not seriously considered the practical consequences of differences in cultural assumptions - so this understanding has simply been absent from all attempts (by Muslim communities and others who have tried to help them) to resolve the resulting problems.

Some Consequences of Cultural Ignorance: To over-simplify, the consequences of the dominance of post-modern assumptions (ie that culture is merely a matter of preference, and has no practical consequences) amongst students of the social science / humanities has been that:

  • those affected by dysfunctional cultural assumptions have had no way to understand the causes of those problems, or how they could be corrected;
  • assumptions by outsiders about what was needed to help have had unintended consequences;
  • in the case of many Muslim communities, this has led to:
    • internal stresses that have contributed to conflicts, and to becoming sources of asylum seekers ;
    • a presumption by some that external (rather than internal) oppression must be the source of their difficulties, and thus willingness by extremists to attack those who were trying to help;
  • very serious difficulties in dealing with flows of asylum seekers because of the risk of introducing: (a) the discord that has given rise to conflicts in source countries; and / or (b) extremists who might then pose a terrorism risk. 

The latter irresponsibility does not only lead to ignorance of the problems facing the Muslim world. Chronic ignorance is also indicated in Babes in the Asian Woods. This makes it unfortunately possible that Australia's political system is also blind to the risk that huge numbers of asylum seekers (eg 10-100m) could also emerge from China in few years if internal tensions lead to civil war when the structural imbalances in the global financial system that particularly arise from the non-capitalistic / neo-Confucian methods used in East Asia to achieve economic ‘miracles’ can no longer be sustained (see China: Heading for a Crash or a Meltdown, 2010+). Determined efforts are being made to deal with the severe structural financial, economic and political problems China faces as a consequence of the methods that have been used to accelerate economic development, but success is neither assured nor likely (because the neo-Confucian methods that gave rise to those problems seem to be being used to try to solve them).

Towards a Solution

Reducing / eliminating conflicts within (and associated with) the Muslim world presumably primarily requires that: (a) the people involved have an understanding of how they can achieve future 'success' and an opportunity to put that understanding into practice; and (b) the world generally provides a supportive environment.

Some suggestions about how such understanding might have been developed were in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+) while suggestions about creating a supportive international environment were outlined in Competing Civilizations (2001+).

Clearly the emergence of increasing conflicts over the intervening period makes progress harder. However those conflicts (which create problems for others in coping with asylum seekers) also presumably increase the motivation to make the necessary changes. 

G: Playing the 'Racism Card' - Again

Playing the 'Racism Card' - Again - email sent 31/7/13

Phillip Adams

Re: Brutal bigotry sinking boats, The Australian, 30/7/13

Your article suggests that bigotry by Australians against asylum seekers is the cause of the humanitarian tragedy associated with the deaths of boatpeople. It also suggested that boatpeople now also include ‘economic refugees’ from the effects of the GFC and refugees from the effects of climate change.

I should like to respectfully suggest that in our era the major reason that ‘refugees’ (as conventionally understood) have to leave dangerous places and face hazards on their way to seeking asylum is the ignorance that results from a widespread bias against analysing / discussing the practical consequences of cultural differences. My reasons for this are outlined in Boat People Magic? In brief the latter suggests that: (a) neither those who seek to encourage nor those who oppose people smuggling are getting to the root of the problem; and (b) the latter is largely (though not solely) a result of biases by students of the humanities and social sciences in Western universities against seriously considering the at-times cultural causes of disadvantage and conflict within affected communities that force people to become refugees.

For example, the majority of the world’s asylum refugees (and almost all of those heading towards Australia) come from Muslim-majority nations – whose problems have a significant cultural component (eg see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?). This is never seriously studied, partly because of traditional repression of domestic academics by fundamentalist Islamic scholars in many Muslim-majority nations.

However a different form of fundamentalism biases Western academia against studying the practical causes of such problems – namely a fear of being attacked as ‘bigots’ by those who equate cultural critique with racism and seek to promote political correctness rather than practical solutions. Undoubtedly individuals can be subjected to racist attacks because of their different cultural backgrounds. But there can be far worse consequences for affected communities as a whole from insisting on unquestioning acceptance of cultural diversity (ie of not considering the practical consequences of culture). The latter certainly seems to be ‘politically correct’ in Australia (see some evidence following this email).

Progress by societies has cultural roots (eg see Culture Matters). For example Western societies’ progress in recent centuries has been a by-product of their Judeo-Christian and classical Greek heritage (eg see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual). East Asia’s success in economic catch-up has roots in disciplined / coercive neo-Confucian methods (eg see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group? ).

However a belief that others have the ‘right’ to be successful no matter what they believe and do is anything but helpful (eg see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?)

What your article called ‘economic refugees’ (ie would-be migrants who don’t face danger at home but are looking for a better life) pose as refugees, and can face the same risks. But a major reason that they can’t have a better life at home is that ‘politically correct’ biases contribute to a failure to seriously consider the practical implications of culture for political and economic progress. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) may be increasing the numbers of ‘economic migrants’, but that yet-unresolved crisis is partly a consequence of the failure to understand that international financial imbalances (which are a major factor in the GFC) can result from culturally-sourced differences in financial systems (eg see Structural Incompatibility Puts Global Growth at Risk, 2003+; Financial Market Instability: A Many Sided Story, 2007+; GFC Causes; and Too Hard for the G20?, 2010).

Your article validly drew attention to the phenomenon of environmental refugees. But environmental challenges are exacerbated in many source regions by poor government and economic under-development. And once again a contributing factor is the ‘politically correct rather than realistic’ biases that are expected in Western universities (because academics otherwise risk being labelled ‘bigots’).

A decade ago almost everyone who wanted to justify people smuggling as a rational solution to the world’s refugee crisis played the ‘racism card’ (see Playing the "Racism card"). This was not helpful then (see Culture Matters - Race Doesn't). It remains unhelpful. There is an urgent need for Australia to adopt a less fundamentalist approach to multiculturalism (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism)

John Craig

Examples of Equating any Questioning of the Consequences of Culture with Racism

In 2008 the acting Race Discrimination Commissioner implied that questioning the consequences of cultural assumptions was intrinsically undesirable.

“Over these past three or so years I have become concerned by what I observe to be an increasing ambivalence and at times, antagonism towards multiculturalism, both as a set of principles and as a government policy that frames social relations in Australia.

What is of particular concern is that the debate on multiculturalism tends to be framed by, either international incidents involving terrorist attacks or, at the local level, incidents of racial tension or conflict. For instance, following the London attacks in 2005 and the Cronulla riots in 2006, some politicians and media commentators asserted that such incidents were the result of the freedom that multiculturalism gives people to practice particular cultures and religions: those cultures and religions that were considered incompatible with the core values of Australian Society. Multiculturalism, it was claimed, eroded social stability and national cohesion.

I have actively participated in these debates, mainly through press releases and speeches as well as submissions to government and the Australian Parliament, in order to reiterate HREOC’s support for multiculturalism as both a principled and practical response to the reality of cultural diversity in Australia.

Combating extremism should not mean yielding to the anxieties and fear that fuel racism and racial violence. Rather it requires a strategy in which the positive effect of multiculturalism plays a central role in providing a rational, democratic antidote against all forms of extremist action.

Despite the importance and success of the government’s multiculturalism policy, and following the policy review that took place in 2005, there is still no affirmation by the government of their commitment to this policy and its principles.

This paper brings together within the context of human rights, my position on multiculturalism. It seeks not only to reiterate the support that HREOC has given to multiculturalism over the past two decades but also to reinvigorate multiculturalism as an important foundation for the growing cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of Australian society.” (Multiculturalism: A Position Paper by the Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner)

In 2013 the Racism: It Stops with Me campaign by the Australian Human Rights Commission implied that endorsement of cultural diversity (without any qualification in relation to the practical consequences of cultural assumptions) was a priority anti-racism initiative.

“What this means for you

  •  Endorsing the campaign will build on your existing initiatives to prevent discrimination and support cultural diversity”

The Australian Psychological Society apparently regards any consideration of the practical effects of cultural differences as a form of racism.

“Racism refers to pervasive and systematic assumptions of the inherent superiority of certain groups, and inferiority of others, based on either birth or cultural differences in values, norms and behaviours. Those who are assumed to be inferior are treated differently and less favourably in multiple ways.” (Moving beyond Racism)

The University of Western Sydney argued that championing cultural diversity (irrespective of the consequences for affected communities) was an anti-racism initiative.

Local government areas or townships can host vibrant cultural festivals and fairs as a means of publicly championing the benefits of cultural diversity. These types of events should send a clear message that the broader community is shared by people of a range of backgrounds, and that everyone – despite their race, culture or religion – is welcomed and accepted. (Types of Antiracist Initiatives)

H: Refugees: What did Jesus Do?

Refugees: What Did Jesus Do?

Calling for a Christian Response to Asylum Seekers

In August 2013 a call for a Christian response to asylum seekers in Australia's region appeared on Bruce Wearne's Nurturing Justice web-site (see Hospitality, Regionality and Public Justice for Asylum Seekers).

This was based on a consideration of the admonition in the Letter to the Hebrews to "not neglect hospitality", and sought to encourage reconsideration of the way in which the South West Pacific and Indian Ocean region functions in Australian politics. It was noted that the Federal Government's stringent attempts to challenge the basic assumptions of the "business model" of people smugglers who are eager to profit from frantic asylum seekers who want to settle in this country does not change the fact that the people settled in Manus Island and Nauru would be Australia's neighbours.

Excerpts from Hospitality, Regionality & Public Justice  

The Letter to the Hebrews 13:1-6 ....

May you always live with love for one another as members of the same family. And hospitality is something you must not neglect.

A Christian political option is not an invitation to engage in a hobby. Men's sheds have their place but a Christian political option must not be confined to pottering around. There is hard, tiring, exacting political work to be done since it is part of the work we have been called to form and offer as citizens living under the rule of the Resurrected Jesus, the Ruler of earth's rulers.

So what about the strict new measures brought down by the Rudd Commonwealth Government which have been devised to confuse and undermine the "business model" of the exploitative people smugglers wherever they may be in Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia? This new policy is going to result in sending people to Manus Island and Nauru. These people have been frantic enough to hazard an illegal boat journey from Indonesia that makes it into Australian waters - men, women and children. If the Government has its way these people may not now make it to live in Australia BUT they will still continue to be our neighbours, neighbours in this region. This we must not forget. Simply refusing to allow them to settle in Australia will not mean they have ceased being our neighbours. They will indeed become part of our regional neighbourhood.

Billions of dollars are to be given to PNG and Nauru to provide "world's best practise" detention centres for asylum seekers who are sent there. But a very serious question looms: Could this not in time simply become part of a renewed neo-colonialism as the Australian Government takes on a "big brother" role across the South West Pacific? Let's not fudge the inherent possibilities here.

So the question is this: how can we as Christian citizens, espousing a Christian political option in this polity, avoid becoming party to any such emergent neo-colonialism?

This led to a proposal for developing an organised, coordinated and coherent Christian regional political option for the South West Pacific region”.

It is suggested below (which is a revised version of an emailed comment) that such a proposal would be most useful if the word ‘political’ was left out and Christians' responses were not expected to be limited to the SW Pacific / Indian Ocean Region.

What Did Jesus Do?

In Mark 4: 16-20 the New International version of the Bible records Jesus' introduction to his ministry in Nazareth as:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus came to a world where many were oppressed, and many were refugees. He changed that world. But he did not do so by lobbying the political authorities of his day to (say) release prisoners (or set up hospitable facilities for refugees). Rather He himself helped those on the bottom rungs of society who were potentially oppressed (eg by healing / feeding them) and proclaiming the Kingdom of God which involved bringing the spirit of God into those people's hearts. This had spiritual benefits, both temporal and eternal, for those who entered that 'Kingdom'. And it also had practical consequences because those who then lived in accordance with the spirit of God (a spirit of love) were both motivated and empowered to help themselves and support others more effectively. 

And over time this changed the world in ways indicated by Jesus' reading from Isaiah. He came initially to the Jewish people who were a conquered and oppressed marginal society in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus day. His followers then 'conquered' the whole of the Greco-Roman world from inside. They were so convinced by his example, teaching and resurrection and so strengthened by the Holy Spirit that they took on the known world in his name - though many suffered from doing so. Their influence was powerful not only because of its spiritual content, but because for the first time in history it valued and empowered those on the margins of society. One result was that after some 400 years of often-lethal persecution Christianity became the official religion of Rome - in what had previously been a pagan empire.

Christians were not Commissioned to Lobby Politicians

Some years ago the present writer went to an event sponsored by a Christian organisation which looked at problems in SE Queensland (eg domestic violence and homelessness). The whole emphasis was on the Christians lobbying government to set up programs to deal with those problems (see Is the Smart State a Just State: A Commentary, 2003) - ie the message was 'they orta' do something about this. There was nothing about solving those problems through carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission. Making disciples will create people who are motivated and empowered to help themselves and help others – so the incidence of (say) domestic violence should diminish, and the foundations for life-success and mutual-support would increase thus reducing homelessness. Government programs to deal with such issues would not only be costly, but they could not get to the root of the problem in ways that only Christians can do.

A significant part of Australia’s current social problems (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions) arises from the fact that many Churches have focused more and more on lobbying governments to do things to bring ‘justice’ to various groups. There has thus been too little effort to what Jesus actually told his followers to do – and which which would create a grass-roots foundation in people’s lives to others to help / support others.

The Church’s role is to bring the gospel and salvation to individuals – and by doing so create a foundation for a just and effective society (see Church's mission). And as the latter noted, well intended efforts by Christians to promote ‘justice’ through support for political reforms in Queensland actually inadvertently contributed to gross injustices and to a serious further worsening of government effectiveness because their understanding of the situation they were dealing with was not as reliable as they thought that it was. Neither Jesus nor his immediate followers suggested that Christians would automatically have the God-like wisdom required to prescribe solutions to complex problems and there are many limits on human efforts to do so (see indicators).

The potential for adverse unintended consequences to follow from well-meant efforts to encourage people-smuggling as a 'solution' to the problems facing the world's refugees can be seen by considering the potentially devastating effect on Indonesia (as suggested in Boat People Magic?) of further increasing the risk that the disputes and conflicts that plague the Muslim world will be introduced into the world's largest Muslim country that has traditionally reflected a relatively tolerant version of Islam .

Keeping the Church out of politics seems to be far more likely to achieve the sorts of outcomes that under-pin your latest article (see Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics, 2009), because:

  • this then allows the Church to focus on what only it can do, which incidentally is likely to have the biggest beneficial impact; and
  • lets governments (hopefully influenced by appropriately-qualified Christians) deal with the complex issues that are their responsibility without pressure from an organisation (ie the Church) that is not equipped in itself to deal with them.

And this seems to be particularly relevant in relation to the difficulties facing asylum seekers – for reasons suggested in Boat People Magic?

Addressing Asylum Seekers' Underlying Problems

An organised, coordinated and coherent Christian approach to the challenge posed by asylum seekers in the SW Pacific / Indian Ocean region will be a great idea providing it is based primarily on doing what Jesus commanded his followers to do in the Great Commission.

Almost all of the countries from which asylum seekers come to the SW Pacific / Indian Ocean region have majority-Muslim populations – and that fact is central to the political and economic problems that they experience – and the resulting instabilities and violence that generate asylum seekers. Addressing the underlying problem is something that only the Church can do. But if Christians merely focus on lobbying governments in relation to the processing of asylum seekers, then nothing is likely to be achieved for many decades in terms of: (a) creating environments in source countries that desperate people don’t have to flee from (and which are mainly not in the SW Pacific / Indian Ocean region); and (b) reducing the disruptions and security risks that destination countries face.

Certainly it is a lot harder for Christians to follow Jesus' example and commission (rather than by lobbying governments - ie saying that ‘they orta’ do something).

But following Jesus' example and instructions would be far more effective and beneficial.

Existing Christian outreach efforts in Muslim majority communities and to Muslims in Australia could usefully be accelerated by the provision of additional support and encouragement. This could be complemented by efforts to help Muslim communities both in Australia and elsewhere to understand the source of their problems (as suggested in Boat People Magic?). Islam was built in part on Judeo-Christian teachings and Jesus is a major prophet under Islam. But the way such teachings and examples were interpreted when Islam emerged in an Arabic tribal context has created repressive environments that were quite different to what Jesus (and the Old Testament prophets) taught.

Increasing understanding what Jesus actually taught and did (and what practical difference this makes) has the potential to transform the Muslim world – and both: (a) bring personal salvation to many millions of people; and (b) put an end to the torrents of asylum seekers who have flooded the rest of the world.

Response from Bruce Wearne to original email - received 5/8/13

Your "fingering" an ambiguity in my presentation is to the point. Thanks for taking so much trouble to respond to my piece.

Yet I am of the view that if the preaching of the gospel is not also enriched by a teaching of God's justice and mercy then indeed we will be negligent as to its comprehensive message to us as Christian citizens. BUT I am not at that point trying to augment denominational lobbying of governments however positive such may be. Nor am I suggesting a pulpit-ministry that is simply giving NJ-type analysis week after week.

I do not think that the kind of organisation that I have in mind could properly emerge if there were not a greater sense of Christian solidarity among us as followers of Christ across the entire region. And in that sense I have tried to avoid suggesting that Nurturing Justice is wanting to take the "lead" in such an organised effort. I am assuming that "idea-feeding" and broadsheet education is but a small step to encourage Christians across the region to think about how this might be achieved (in a couple of decades time perhaps?), but I also happen to think that such integration might also have to find cognate movements in journalism, in industrial associations and with churches and congregations rediscovering their place as vital centres for proclaiming the good news.

Now of course you are equally to the point that the Christian mission from wherever it be reaching out in generosity cannot be contained geographically in its own "sector" ... (we've been actively helping a young woman serve in her gap-year with a Malawi school for the deaf and mentoring a Christian Khmer MA student in Aid and Development in the Cambodian backblocks as well as supporting a Christian educational effort in Yorkshire) but I am of the view that a renewal of our discipleship in this country may well need us (i.e. Australian Christians) to be discipled by our South Pacific brothers and sisters in a renewing, even converting way, to a renewed Christian view of development (inc political development). It is very welcome that Australian Christian churches have found an ear to listen to what aboriginal leaders (e.g. the Dodson brothers among others) have to say about serving God and seeking justice and mercy in this land.

Yes you are, in my view, quite right about the kind of distracted denominational lobbying that is not only turning the churches away from its "core mission" in offering prophetic pastoring to their flocks it is also in danger of narrowing concern about the "institutional impacts" of social problems and their remedies to what the lobbying groups can get onto front pages and get a few "Facebook" "Likes".

I might not have had the confidence to include "political" in my advice here had I not been very much involved as a "foreign features editor" for the now disbanded Fiji Daily Post up to and after the 2006 coup.

I have been reading Alan Storkey's Jesus and Politics (Storkey inspired the NJ by-line "Political Perspectives that (try to) Reckon with the Patient Rule of Christ Jesus) and also Kenneth Bailey's take on Luke's parables. The political answer that Jesus clearly gave says Bailey (Pilate and the Tower) was this:

Any intense political movement must look deep within its own soul to repent of its own evil, lest it destroy itself and the very people it seeks to serve; and the compassion of Jesus reaches out to all who suffer, not only to those who are politically oppressed.

There is certainly work to do and I would not want to get into any lobbying competition with denominational "church and state" policy groups. Even to know how to adequately respect what is already being lobbied would take a pretty strong research arm and as i say, like you are also obviously saying, this "stuff" must not be reduced to a mere hobby.

In the meantime I count it a genuine enrichment to my own work to have you writing to me and prodding my reply.

Keep up the good work and thanks.



I: Stop the Refugees

Stop the Refugees - email sent 9/4/14

Frederika Steen
Social Justice Junkies

The attached pamphlet indicates that the Synod of the Uniting Church in Queensland is encouraging church members to participate in an inner-city march on 12 April to ‘Stop the War on Refugees’.

However I should like to submit for your consideration that Christians should not aspire to merely create a world in which refugees are well treated. Rather Christians’ goal should be to eliminate the need for people to become refugees. There are reportedly something like 45 million broadly-defined refugees in the world. Rather than lobbying for state action to help a few (which bears no relationship to what Jesus did in His lifetime) Christians would be better occupied taking practical action to reduce and perhaps eliminate this humanitarian disaster. A key to achieving this would be carrying forward Jesus’ Great Commission in the areas that are the main sources of refugees.

Neither encouraging nor discouraging people smuggling does anything to deal with the real problem – namely that huge numbers of people face wars and other forms of violence at home which forces them to become refugees (see Boat People Magic ). Rather than playing around the edges of this problem, Christians would be better advised to take note of how Jesus helped those who faced the same sort of official oppression that causes people to become refugees today – ie he changed and empowered them, and thus changed their world (see Refugees: What did Jesus Do?).

Marching around the city demanding social justice through political action is not what Jesus did to change the world.

John Craig

Response from Frederika Steen - email sent 9/4/14 - reproduced with permission

I too think that doing something constructive about the causes which drive people away from home and family is the key to resolving the world’s refugee and displaced person crisis. Make that an Australian diplomacy and aid and development priority, and stop engaging in wars! But I cannot ignore that in my community people who came for protection and dared to make a dangerous refugee journey here, as is their legal right, are being discriminated against , tormented and denied human rights by the government of the day.

It is the Government of Australia which has set up mandatory indefinite detention of men women and children who have not committed a crime, transported them against their will to other countries where their safety and well being cannot be guaranteed . It is this Minister of Immigration who decrees ( without discussion in Parliament , without legislation) that those who came by boat, “genuine” refugees included , are denied permanent residence, family reunion of immediate dependants and all government legal assistance. Arbitrary decrees which torment and damage fellow human beings.

It is a fact that 90% of “boatpeople” who have crossed our borders in the last 20 years have been confirmed- in the end , after review of uninformed and unfair decisions- to be refugees who need protection. As a former Immigration officer with three decades of personal involvement with refugee settlement and advocacy in the community , I can illustrate a thousand times over why principled people , including Christians, who value life and human rights must challenge Governments- Coalition or Labor -which persecute and mistreat asylum seekers and refugees. It is in my local Brisbane community that human lives are being broken as a result of Government policies which breach domestic and international law. I believe in acting locally because the bullying and mistreatment of human beings offends me and the injustice burns me.

Meet some of the victims, hear about their lives and I defy any civil Australian to remain aloof from the real, Government decreed cruelty to people who have suffered too much already. Asylum seekers in Brisbane are depressed, grieving , impoverished and jobless.

Could any 18 year old you know survive on 89% of Youth Allowance, denied the right to education or to work and on his own, without the emotional support of his extended family?

Frederika E Steen AM

(address details deleted)

Reply to Frederika Steen - email sent 10/4/14

Thanks for your considered response. I would appreciate your permission to reproduce it on my web-site after Stop the Refugees.

However Australian diplomacy and aid are not what are most needed to overcome the difficulties facing the Muslim dominated countries that are currently the origin of most of the world’s refugees. Such countries have had immense cultural problems for centuries in coping with the modernising world for reasons suggested in Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes? (2001); Saving Muslims from Themselves (2012); Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid (2013); and Liberty and Islam in Australia (2014).

And those problems translate into great uncertainty and disputes in affected countries about appropriate political and economic systems – which can lead to violence and potential violence especially in the Middle East. And sometimes that violence is directed against the external world (eg by al Quaida) on the basis of the presumption that such countries’ problems are the result of external, rather than internal (eg Islamic), oppression.

Diplomacy and aid can’t solve this problem – any more than fighting (or avoiding) wars intended to help such nations to modernise by eliminating brutal regimes (as in Iraq) or the terrorists (eg Islamist extremists) who believe that even more Islamic repression is the ‘answer’. Helping such nations to understand the source of their problems and to find realistic solutions (eg as suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002) is arguably the way to eliminate the disputes and violence that give rise to many refugee flows. Wars to ‘liberate’ such nations can’t work because introducing the liberal institutions that are effective in Western societies can’t help in the absence of the cultural foundations that such institutions require (see Fatal Flaws in relation to what was wrong with the rationale of the US-led ‘liberation’ of Iraq). Obstacles to liberty in peoples’ heads can’t be eliminated by displacing tyrants.

The major obstacle to dealing with the cultural obstacles to modernisation that generate most refugee flows is the resistance by students of the humanities and social sciences in Western universities to considering the practical consequences of culture (eg see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict, 2001 and It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities , 2014). However Christian churches are also partly to blame because:

  • they have not seriously considered the importance of widespread Christian adherence to the sorts of institutions that have allowed social, economic and political progress in Western societies (eg consider Philosophy and Religion: The Case for a Bigger Picture View, 2010 and A Challenge to Australia's Churches? , 2013);
  • the Judeo-Christian tradition is one of the foundations of Islam – and Jesus provided a way to submit to God (Islam’s key aim) which is not repressive. Churches have simply been oblivious to their opportunity and responsibility in terms of eliminating the distress and violence that pervades the Muslim world.

However ignorance and irresponsibility in Australia in relation to the practical implications of culture have not been limited to problems affecting the Muslim world. At the moment we have the farce of Australia’s prime minister trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with China in the hope that this, and Chinese investment in Australia, would help overcome Australia’s current economic challenges. He and his advisers seem oblivious of the culturally-sourced political and economic crisis that China currently faces which make a few million boat people headed for Australia from China a no-less-likely future scenario than huge flows of foreign investment (eg see China: Heading for a Crash or a Meltdown and a recent article which expresses China’s predicament in simple terms).

Once again Western universities are mainly to blame for ignorance of the practical consequences of non-Western cultures (as illustrated in Babes in the Asian Woods, 2009). However churches are also partly to blame because they have been simply oblivious to the opportunities that emphasis on individual welfare and capabilities that accompanies rapidly expanding Christian adherence offers to make East Asian development less globally disruptive and the subtle way in which China’s authorities seem to be seeking to suppress this.

If Christian churches were simply faithful to Jesus’ Great Commission (which has the effect of building the foundations of just and effective societies) they would make their best (and a very significant) contribution. Problems arise where churches try to mobilize governments politically (eg to promote ‘social justice’ or anything else through state action) for reasons suggested in Keeping Religion out of Australian Politics (2009). For example, public policy issues involve complexities that do not allow effective solutions to be necessarily reached simply on the basis of Christian principles. And Church involvement in politics breaks down the advantageous separation of church and state. Appropriately informed and motivated Christians should certainly be involved in politics. But churches themselves should not put aside the Great Commission to do so.

Once again I would be interested in your response to my speculations.

John Craig

Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis

Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis - email sent 9/9/15

Mr Craig Laundy, MP
Member for Reid

Re: Liberal MP's impassioned plea for refugees, Sydney Morning Herald, 5/9/15

You and many others successfully advocated an emergency increase in Australia’s refugee intake.

However bringing stability and real progress to the Middle East, which is the main source of the world’s refugees, would be better than merely trying to cope with those who flee regional conflicts.  And the Middle East’s problems that cause millions to flee can’t be solved just by preventing the barbarity associated with ignorant factions such as Islamic State.

Serious efforts to encourage reform of Islam would be far more effective and are desperately needed.

My reasons for suggesting this are outlined on my web-site.

 John Craig

Details of Why Reforming Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis

The Scale of the Refugee Crisis

The world faces a massive refugee crisis. There are something like 45m broadly-defined refugees worldwide - and this vastly overshadows the few hundred thousand currently seeking to migrate to Europe from Syria, Iraq and north Africa. Thus there is essentially no limit to the flood of refugees that could go to receptor nations.  The UN’s special envoy for migrants and refugees has reportedly stated that the flood of refugees from the Middle East and north Africa has only just started because the region is disintegrating into religious wars [1].

As many as a million migrants are headed for Europe each year. This heralds a new age. There are now more displaced persons and refugees than at any other time in history - ie about 60m. And they are moving in numbers not seen since WWII. They don't just come from Syria but from many countries and regions (eg Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Haiti as well as a dozen or so countries in Northern / sub-Saharan Africa). This reflects failed states, unending wars and intractable conflicts. The resulting migration crisis could get a lot bigger - eg if Islamic State militants succeed in Iraq and Syria and the Taliban makes territorial gains in Afghanistan. 25% of Afghans want to leave and 100,000 plan to do so this year. 6-8m Syrians are displaced - with over 4m in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordon. Egypt's 5m Copts (the Middle East's last remaining major Christian sect) are worried about their future in an unstable / hostile country. And many ancient minority groups (such as Yazidis in Iraq) are already displaced. Yemenis have yet to move in substantial numbers - but their plight is worsening daily as a result of Saudi air-strikes. They are no further from Europe than is Eritrea - the current biggest source of African refugees. And even in Nigeria, 40% of people would migrate to the West if they could - and the lesson of 2015 is that there is nothing to stop them. The president of the European Council expects millions of potential refugees to try to reach Europe. Many are fleeing persecution, poverty ethnic / religious wars - but these are often symptoms of more profound changes. In the Middle East and Africa, the borders drawn by Ottoman dynasts and European colonists are breaking down as autocratic Arab states that enforced a grim peace on generations implode. As traditional authority fails, militant groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram seek to fill the gap - while others suffer unspeakable treatment at their hands. Climate change is also having an effect - as some areas suffer prolonged droughts. Europe has seen mass-movements in the past (eg 700,000 from the break-up of Yugoslavia and 1.1m from removal of Iron Curtain). But the numbers involved and diversity of source problems are now unique. Many migrants are from countries where the West tried to intervene and failed spectacularly (eg Iraq and Afghanistan).  There are now over 2m Iraqis headed for Europe. Libya is another failed intervention - as (though few Libyans leave) chaos makes it an easy path for others. Europe is being encouraged to accept migrants - because of its own history. However many countries are already having trouble dealing with terrorist recruitment amongst disaffected Muslim populations that result from earlier / smaller migrations. This is generating xenophobia and open racism - which has political impacts. And the crisis is likely to get worse - overwhelming Europe's welfare systems. The global 'south' is on the move, and the global 'north' (not just Europe) will have to deal with this [1]

There is however very great doubt about receptor nations' ability to handle the whole of the problem - as some European leaders are starting to recognize (eventually even those in Germany [1])

Source of the Crisis

The majority of the world's refugees (though not all) involve people fleeing chaos in Muslim dominated countries or conflicts between Muslim groups and their neighbours. The chaos and conflicts in majority Muslim countries are largely by-products of discontent about Muslim societies’ authoritarian regimes and centuries of relative economic backwardness, and from disagreements about how those historical problems should be overcome. Those historical problems largely reflect difficulties in keeping up with the rapid progress that Western societies have achieved (and that East Asian societies have been catching up to), and these challenges are now being compounded in some cases by environmental stresses (eg the flow of refugees from Syria has apparently been compounded by drought [1]),

Thus, in order to deal with the majority of the world's refugee crisis, it is primarily (though not only) necessary to help Muslim societies overcome the difficulties they have had for centuries in coping with the modern world. Though external influences and other factors have been involved (eg see The West as a Problem), Muslim societies' major problem seems to be that at many levels (eg families, communities) the difference / initiative / innovation that is needed to achieve progress (or even to keep up in  a changing world) tend to be suppressed because of the coercive way that the religion of Islam has been enforced - probably as a result of its origin in an Arabic tribal environment (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014).

Background: This hypothesis is a product of the present writer's opportunity to reverse engineer the intellectual foundations of economic 'miracles' in East Asian societies, compare this with the cultural foundations of Western societies' centuries of progress and identify the apparent absence of any means to achieve similar rates of change / progress in Muslim-dominated societies because of the way Islam is traditionally enforced.

Another Consequence: The expectation that compliance with the religion of Islam depends largely on family / community influence also seems significant regarding the difficult and sometimes violent relationship between Muslim communities and others (see Individual Responsibility for Actions, 2015).  The latter points to reasons to believe that responsible behaviour by individuals requires that they are not subject to non-Muslim influences - so that: (a) Muslim communities tend to keep themselves largely separate from other cultures; (b) others can be seen to be responsible for crimes (eg rapes) committed against them by Muslims [1, 2, 3]; (c) a perception by Muslim communities collectively that anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault; or (d) in the extreme it can be believed that non-Muslims must be converted, killed or driven from Muslim lands. 

Factors affecting refugee flows outlines one informed observer's conclusion about the cultural features of societies that tend to generate refugees in comparison with the cultural features of those who are the destination of refugee flows.

Inadequate Responses

Australia’s current response to the refugee crisis has been limited to accepting some refugees on humanitarian grounds while also participating in military efforts to destroy Islamic State.  This is grossly inadequate.

Islamic State has been using barbaric methods to establish itself a real state (in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere) because its leaders apparently believe that Islam's history shows that barbarity can be an effective way to subjugate a population [1, 2]. And Islamic State's barbarity has been a significant factor in the latest large refugee flows from Iraq and Syria.

However the problems that generate conflicts in, and refugees from, the Middle East can't be solved by merely defeating extremists such as Islamic State in battle (see Military Tactics are Not Enough, 2015).

Islamist extremists seem to believe that their societies' historic problems could be overcome if they gain power and rule as 'God's enforcers'. In practice this would oppress Muslim societies more severely - and prevent: (a) desperately-needed domestic social, economic and political progress in affected communities; and (b) Muslim communities making constructive contributions to much needed global change. Islamist extremists' ignorance of such matters can't be defeated on the battlefield.

However reform of Islam to enable Muslims to be more effective in achieving real-world domestic and international change would probably quickly discredit Islamist extremists in the minds of their potential recruits (see Taking Away the 'Islamic State's' Religious 'Oxygen').

Overcoming Muslims' Problems by Reforming Islam

For reasons suggested in Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World (2015) and Islamist Extremism is not Muslim Societies Biggest Problem (2015), it is likely that Muslims could play a more effective role in contributing constructively to domestic and global reforms if they formally recognized the this-life freedoms with next-life consequences made possible by Islam's greatest prophet, 'Isa (who Christians call Jesus) - see also Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East, 2014).

Other varying suggestions about the need for and required nature of reform of Islam are coming from many sources eg see West must engage with progressive Muslim world to end malaise (Ameer Ali); The Trouble with Islam Today (Irshad Manji); The Intellectual Battle against ISIS (Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum); Islam cannot disown jihadists driven by rage against history (Clive Kessler); Review of 'Reforming Islam: Progressive Voices from the Arab Muslim World' (Amushih group of progressive Muslims); Battlefield of Ideas is where Fanatics will Fall  (Janet Albrechtsen); Across a Violent Divide: Reclaiming Jihad from Extremists (Dave Andrews and Nora Amath)'; The Two Faces of Islam (Patrick Sookkhedo in conjunction with Grand Mufti of Syria); Why Islam Needs a Reformation (Ayaan Hirsi Ali); Sisi's Vision for Moderate Islam (Egypt's President, Abduel Fattah el-Sisi); The Future of Tolerance (Quillam); Burqas, Biology and the Islamic Reformation (Phil Dye); Muslim Reform Movement (Mohammad Zuhdi Jasser and Rabeel Raza); Tony Abbot calls for Religious Reformation of Islam (a former Australian prime minister); 'Saudi official: Arab culture immersed in hatred' (Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, a Saudi Arabian politician); 'Saudi Arabia, the mainspring of Islamic radicalism' (Nauman Sadiq); New Age Islam (a publication by Muslims promoting change); 'Attacks by Tony Abbott, Donald trump: Arch Conservatives offer nothing but gruff' (Waleed Aly); Islamic State lays claim to Muslim Theological Tradition and Turns It on Its Head, (Harith Bin Ramli); If Islamic State is based on religion, why is it so violent? (Aaron Hughes); I’m A Muslim Reformer. Why Am I Being Smeared as an ‘Anti-Muslim Extremist’? (Maajid Nawaz); Undermining terror: the Moroccan plan to promote moderation (King Mohammad IV of Morocco); Muslim Fears (Muslim Leaders in South Australia); Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive, and faith can be an important liberator (Dr Susan Cartland); Religion and Politics: Reflections from Jakarta (Nursheila Muez); Like It or Not, Islam is a Problem (Gary Johns); and Casting Out Fear (Jeff Fountain).  

An article on Islamic Reform in an online encyclopedia highlights: its very early roots in Islamic tradition (eg Muhammad's expectations about the need for regular reform); the history of reform; and current trends. A Google search of 'reform of Islam' highlights large numbers of: (a) documents dealing with the need for, nature of, or objections to such reform; and (b) Wikipedia articles on various current reform movements and options.

Pressure for reform of Islam is clearly arising internally as indicated by reported desertions of the faith as well as 'revolts' by groups who have been relatively disadvantaged (eg women) - see (see Shariah: The Threat to Muslims and Why I renounced Islam, Allah and Mohammed - and my challenge to every Muslim)

To make a significant impact  on the current global refugee crisis Australia's best response would be to support Muslims and others who are seeking (through reform of Islam) to find a way for Muslim societies to: succeed; make a serious contribution to global reform; and live in harmony with other cultures. Some early suggestions by the present writer about how this might have been achieved by Australian-centered leadership (ie by commissioning a mainstream Islamic panel to act as 'jury' to assess the arguments by diverse experts) were in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+).

Religious 'lawyers' (eg Islamic jurists) should be encouraged to make submissions to such a 'jury' - but should not be included in its membership. If reform of Islam is needed, then it would be likely that religious legalists would be part of the the problem rather than the solution - just as 'Isa (ie Islam's greatest prophet who Christians call Jesus) reportedly believed was true in his day of the scribes and Pharisees who emphasized the letter of laws (which at times merely reflected human traditions) in ways that were incompatible with the spirit that lay behind God's laws (eg see Mark 12:1, Luke 11:46). 

Another obstacle to effective reform is that Islamist extremists also constitute 'reform' movements within Islam. For example, Al Qaeda seemed to emerge as a modernizing faction that was a spin-off from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and was led by Muslims in Western universities (see Modernizing Islam). And the Islamic State seeks to 'reform' Islam by shifting back to the way things were done when Islam first emerged in the 7th century (see About Islamic State)

However the biggest obstacles to the reforms needed to allow Muslims to be more successful and influential (and thus also ultimate responsibility for chaos in the Middle East and for much of the global refugee crisis) are not Islamic jurists or Islamist extremists but rather: (a) Western political leaders who maintain that Islamist extremism has nothing to do with Islam; and (b) the humanities and social sciences faculties of Western universities whose dominant modern and post-modern ideologies reject giving any serious consideration to the practical consequences of dysfunctional cultural assumptions, or what might be done to help societies who suffer those consequences (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict, 2001 and A Case for Restoring Universities, 2010 ).

The latter is particularly serious because critical evidence that the 'jury' would need to take account would be advice from social science experts about the implications of traditional Islamic cultural environments for achieving (say) economic and political progress.  

Amnesty Should Encourage a 'Big Picture' View of the Asylum-Seeker Crisis

Amnesty Should Encourage a 'Big Picture' View of the Asylum-Seeker Crisis - email sent 30/10/15

Anna Shea,
Amnesty International

Re: Amnesty slams lawless boats policy, Sky News, 29/10/15

You were quoted in this article as suggesting that there is a the need for a royal commission into the methods used in Australia’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’. This proposal was apparently based on a report about this prepared for Amnesty (ie By Hook or By Crook – Australia's Abuse of Asylum Seekers at Sea). I also note that the responsible Australian minister has argued that that report was wrong in material respects (Scott E., Amnesty Border report a Slur: Dutton, The Australian, 29/10/15 ).

I should like to submit for your consideration that there would be more to be gained from a royal commission that was asked to report on ways to end the world’s asylum-seeker crisis, than from one that merely investigated how its symptoms are being dealt with by Australia’s governments. Mainstream debate in Australia about asylum-seekers has been irresponsibly simplistic. It has largely been limited to whether, and if so how, people-smuggling should be discouraged as a response to the crisis (see Boat People Magic, 2013). However, as the latter suggested, the world faces a major humanitarian disaster and it would be better to seek out ways to bring that to an end - rather than how best to cope with the symptoms (ie huge asylum-seeker flows).

Amnesty International recently published an equally unsatisfactory proposal for dealing with the humanitarian crisis. In effect it advocated: (a) tolerating situations in which tens of millions are forced to become refugees; and (b) trying to cope by setting up systems in developed economies to process them (Eight ways to solve the world’s refugee crisis (12/10/15). Amnesty International claims to be interested in the rights of people seeking asylum worldwide. Surely Amnesty International should have a more progressive ambition (ie establishing and protecting people’s right to not be forced to seek asylum).

Some suggestions about what might be needed to dramatically reduce the conflicts that are the cause of the majority of the world’s refugee / asylum-seeker flows are in Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis (2015) while suggestions about how Australia might currently take a lead in achieving this are in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization (2015).

Those suggestions are by no means certain to be the best available option and, in any event, don’t deal with the whole of the problem.

However I submit that Amnesty International should lift is sights in relation to dealing with the global refugee / asylum-seeker crisis. Encouraging Australia’s government to do so also (eg by setting up a royal commission to address the ‘big picture’) would also be more constructive than the suggestions about investigating asylum-seeker processing that you were reported to have recently made. A ‘big picture’ inquiry would presumably not only need to deal with the majority of the world’s asylum-seeker flows (ie those that result from conflicts in or with Muslim communities) but also with: (a) related national security issues; and (b) what can be done to reduce other sources of asylum-seeker flows.

I would be interested in your response to my speculations

John Craig