This week’s menu of exclusive reading: 1) Palestinian murdered in Melbourne; 2) Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack: two clowns in Circus Oz; 3) Why the British General Election matters; 4) The sad decline of books; 5) Julian Assange campaign explained; 6) Quotes of the Week
Murder of Palestinian student in Melbourne
In January 2019, Melbourne woke up to the grim news that a 21-year-old female overseas student from Israel had been brutally murdered on her way home.
It followed earlier revelations that gangs of racists had assaulted Indian students, who were bashed and raped while others had their mobile phones and wallets stolen. Melbourne police made no arrests, university authorities and politicians shrugged off complaints, and the media ignored the outbreak of violent racism: “We’re not racists,” they all chanted.
The murder of the student from Israel quickly became front-page news across Australia and then around the world. Melbourne was blacklisted as “the world’s most dangerous city for overseas students”. For the first time, politicians and university authorities sat up and listened: selling tertiary education to overseas students was a multi-billion-dollar industry which poured revenue into Federal, State and Local Government coffers and boosted the earnings of thousands of small businesses.
When the murder victim was named, Melburnians received their first shock (of many). She was Aiia Maasarwe. It was an Arabic name not a Jewish one. While her fellow students and teachers had insisted she was a proud Arab, the media continued to refer to her as an Israeli. A few days later this was modified to “Israeli Arab” or “Arab Israeli”. Almost none said “Palestinian”.
Aiia’s grieving father, Saeed Maasarwe, arrived in Melbourne to take his daughter’s body back to her home town of Baqa al-Gharbiya in Palestine. There wasn’t a note of anger, blame or recrimination in his media interviews. Some media goaded him to become angry but he could not be deflected from a deliberate message of love and hope.
The Maasarwe family has never criticised the Australian media or the Australian authorities for their pro-Israeli stance during the murder investigation. Perhaps it is because they expected nothing better or because their long history had taught them to shun name-calling. It is a characteristic also shown by Australian Aborigines. The Maasarwes preferred to engage in a dialogue with all those Australians who demonstrated their “better selves” by extending friendship, empathy and civility to Aiia’s family.
Saeed Maasarwe called for “more peace, more safety, more beauty, more smiling and more forgiving”. At a silent vigil in Aiia’s memory, he told his audience: “She was a very special person. I don’t want her to be remembered as the victim of this crime.”
He was accompanied by Aiia’s older sister, Noor, who said they both dreamed of bringing people together from across the world and that is why they both studied and learned overseas languages.
At the end of October 2019, Saeed Maasarwe paid a second visit to Australia to establish a university fellowship in his murdered daughter’s name. Without fuss or fanfare, Saeed Maasarwe launched the Aiia Maasarwe Memorial Medical Fellowship Programme. It will provide financial support to Palestinian doctors working and training in Israel.
The programme will be administrated through Programme Rozana, an Australian initiative aimed at improving healthcare in Gaza and the West Bank. Aiia’s inaugural medical fellowship was awarded to paediatrician Dr Khadra Hasan Salami who will undergo a two-year bone marrow transplant training programme at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
At the launch of the fellowship, Mr Maasarwe said he wished his daughter would be remembered for her positivity, and not what happened to her.
“We cannot forget Aiia. She was inquisitive, she was good for everyone. I wish all the people can just remember Aiia for the good things and the positives and to look every day in the light, not in the dark things.”
In Morry Schwartz’s Saturday Paper, Mr Maasarwe wrote of Aiia’s hope to see peace in her homeland. “My beautiful daughter had many plans in her life, many dreams like young people everywhere. One of her dreams was to see peace between Israel and Palestine in her lifetime.”
Who would want to snuff out the life of a 21-year-old Palestinian who was dedicated to peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Cui bono? Who benefits?
Aiia was speaking on her mobile phone to another sister, Ruba, when she was bludgeoned from behind by her assailant. Ruba heard her sister’s screams and then a loud shout in Arabic: “You piece of shit.” Then silence.
Next Week: Aiia’s Aboriginal killer says: “Sorry”.
Two clowns in Circus Oz, but it’s no laughing matter
There has been something biblical, apocalyptic and Armageddonish about Australia these past few days as bushfires raged through NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
One group of people were saying, “Let’s all pull together” while others said, “No, let’s vent our fury at the climate sceptics in the conservative Coalition governments”.
It provided unarguable proof that climate change has arrived as a major political issue and that it divides the country between left and right. Battle lines have been drawn and barricades built.
The division in society is going to deepen. At its heart are profound questions: Do we believe in science or not? Will capitalism and its coal-fuelled history continue to destroy Nature, the planet and civilisation or will intelligent beings replace it with something better?
It is not a debate that is exclusive to Oz. Ferocious public arguments are happening in the US, UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and South Africa. The tempo of the argument may differ from continent to continent, but it is gathering force and strength. Lives are being lost, crops destroyed and rivers, lakes and dams are drying up. Top soil is turning to dust, trees and grass are perishing, birds, insects and animals are being wiped out and people are on the move.
National Party MPs in the NSW Parliament are ignoring all the warnings and intent on hitting back. This week they were joined by Liberals to pass the Right to Farm Bill. Nationals leader John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier, and his Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall celebrated the new law which criminalises climate change activists, anti-mining protesters and land care environmentalists.
Marshall enthusiastically welcomed the police state crackdown on legitimate protest claiming: “This is an historic day for our State’s farmers, introducing the toughest penalties in the nation for farm trespass and providing farmers with a nuisance shield [!!!!] to protect them from unnecessary and costly legal disputes.
“We are the first jurisdiction in Australia to enshrine in law a farmers’ right to farm their land and have rigorous protection from the threat of illegal farm incursions.”
He accused climate change activists of being driven by “lunatic ideology” and characterised Labor’s refusal to support the Bill as “an act of treachery”.
Protesters who picket coal mining and oppose other farmland vandalism face fines of up from $5,500 to $22,000 or three years in jail for repeat offenders.
Canberra’s Coalition is fired up too
At a Federal level, Prime Minister Pastor Scott Morrison (Liberal) and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (National) are monstering everyone who draws a link between the current wave of fire storms and climate change.
For example, Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt drew fierce criticism from Morrison and McCormack by saying: “Words and concern are not enough. The PM does not have the climate emergency under control. Unless we lead a global effort to quit coal and cut pollution, more lives will be lost.”
In a later press release, Bandt said: “Scott Morrison needs to apologise to the Australian people for putting their towns and lives at risk by making global warming worse. Let me be clear. I am not saying the Prime Minister is directly responsible for the fires and loss of life, but he has contributed to making it more likely that these kinds of tragedies will occur.”
As the fires spread and the argument got personal, McCormack went on ABC Radio National to denounce Bandt for his “disgraceful, disgusting” behaviour linking bush fires to climate change. “We’ve had fires in Australia since time began … They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time.”
At a later media briefing the Deputy PM said Bandt “should be ashamed of himself for coming and saying, in any shape or form, the Prime Minister or the Government should be responsible in some way for the lives lost … This is despicable. Comments coming from a little Melbourne apartment from a little individual with a little mind should not be accepted or tolerated at this time.”
Elsewhere McCormack attacked what he described as the “ravings of lefty lunatics” using the bushfires to gain points on the political scoreboard.
Rupert Murdoch’s Australian, which has dedicated itself to destroying the Greens party, offered its usual advice in a front-page article under the banner headline, “Greens playing with fire”. Written by Greg Brown and Andrew Clennell it advised the Greens that they risked electoral obliteration by linking the fire fury to climate change.
Barilaro accused the NSW Greens of exacerbating the bushfire threat and he falsely claimed they “opposed backburning in national parks”.
Doug Cameron, former left-wing senator now living in Tasmania, sent an internet message saying: “I’m sick of this ‘thoughts and prayers’ bullshit while Australians are dying and communities devastated. These meaningless platitudes from politicians who deny global warming are nauseating.”
Other Labor MPs, including Anthony Albanese, Senator Penny Wong and Joel Fitzgibbon, were less forthcoming. It was immediately apparent that they were not going to agree with the remarks made by a Green MP … or a Liberal or National. Instead they just waffled.
ACTU accuses Pastor Morrison
I am indebted to ACTU secretary Sally McManus and her researchers for listing 194 reasons why the Coalition governments of Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison bear a major responsibility for the early November fire season.
This is a selection from the ACTU’s charge sheet:
- Morrison’s claim that the Coalition “saved” the Great Barrier Reef is ridiculed in May 2007.
- Morrison’s Coalition pressured the CSIRO to approve Adani’s groundwater plan in record time – a single afternoon.
- Morrison insisted on removing “crisis” from the wording of a Pacific summit communiqué.
- Michael McCormack said Pacific Islands will survive the climate crisis because “they pick our fruit”.
- Natural Disasters Minister David Littleproud said: “I don’t know if climate change is man-made.”
- Morrison announced he will not attend the UN climate summit while on his US visit to meet Donald Trump.
- Morrison said the People’s Republic of China – as a “newly developed nation” – must do more to combat climate change.
- Morrison condemned Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s UN speech by warning against her “needless” climate anxiety.
- Morrison criticised the UN for pursuing “negative globalism”.
- Morrison accused anti-mining activists and of “denying liberty” and supported criminal legal sanctions against protesters. Big mining houses, tax-dodging land and water thieves celebrated.
Why Britain’s General Election matters
Britain’s General Election on Thursday, December 12, is arguably the most important in the country’s long history. It has been compared to Clement Attlee’s earth-shattering Labour Party victory in 1945 against the Tories led by wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
UK voters need to face the December election with clarity and purpose. It is time to put aside sentimentality and personal prejudices.
By voting Labour in large numbers, voters have the historic opportunity to achieve:
1) The electoral annihilation of the hated Tory Party;
2) The electoral annihilation of the spivvy Nigel Farrage and his self-styled Brexit Party;
3) The rescue of the National Health Service, creating public housing and free education for all;
4) The re-nationalisation of all privatised industries which have failed as economic and social models, including railways, water and hospitals.
4) Holding a fresh vote on membership of the European Union;
5) A major step towards an independent and united Ireland;
6) Re-writing the Act of Union which imprisoned parts of Britain and allow independent Scotland, Wales and Cornwall to join – after popular vote – a new United Kingdom;
7) Re-establishing Britain as a non-nuclear power in the forefront of halting the arms race in conventional and nuclear weapons.
Some anti-Tory voters say that they can never vote for Jeremy Corbyn. But the election isn’t about liking or disliking Corbyn. It’s about putting the Tory Party in the dustbin of history.
All the propaganda weaponry of Rupert Murdoch’s media is directed against Corbyn and Labour. Metropolitan newspapers, pay TV, hirelings from academia and the commentariat have been recruited and paid handsomely to back Boris Johnson and the Tories.
Some voters with other passions have suggested ignoring the election and not voting at all. However, abstainers only aid the Tories who are depending on a very low Labour turn-out. Don’t give it to them.
People don’t have to suspend their special interests in saving badgers, stopping animal cruelty or domestic violence. They can do both – vote Labour on December 12 and maintain their single-issue activities too.
Voting in elections is a tactical question. It is not a question of principle. At the next General Election voters will weigh up all the pros and cons and then vote. They may not wish to vote Labour again. Fair enough.
But the historical moment cannot be ignored. Joining hands with millions of working class and middle class voters and supporting Labour is the way to deal a death blow to the Tories.
Books galore, but what’s worth reading?
As the present-giving season comes around again, I’ve started trawling bookshops to find gifts for family and friends: novels, fiction, non-fiction, or children’s books, are my usual choice.
If you find a decent bookshop run by a book-lover, please treasure it and get all your friends to go there. Regrettably, good bookshops have become a rarity in the 21st century and book-reading is out of fashion.
On my first expedition I was shocked to find the shelves groaning under the weight of ghastly tomes about self-help, how to become a millionaire, diet your way to thinness, be amazingly popular at school/work, marry into money, unleashed, happy and successful. There were books heading for the remainder bin which were allegedly “best-sellers” by “authors” described as “New York’s hottest publishing sensation”. One was called (I kid you not!) Unleash the Power Within. Another one on its way to the remainder bin.
Instead of the sweet smell of books, I found myself in alien territory. This was space for lonely and dysfunctional teenagers, desperate newly-weds, new and old mothers, cat psychologists, male and female feminists and people looking for the elusive path to empowerment under the iron grind of capitalism. I was rescued by Marianne Power’s Help Me! How Self-Help Has NOT Changed My Life.
Finally, I decided to order copies of Nawal El Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zero. Described as “the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab World”, Ms El Saadawi’s book describes life inside Egypt’s unspeakably cruel Al Qanatir prison. In a 2014 interview, she said: “The root of the oppression of women lies in the global post-modern capitalist system which is supported by religious fundamentalism.”
Ms El Saadawi, a qualified doctor, told The Guardian in a 2009 interview: “Hope is power. I insist on it, even in exile. I never lose hope.”
Meanwhile, The Guardian has launched yet another “re-positioning” campaign to attract readers by using the slogan: “Hope is Power”. Has Dr El Saadawi been acknowledged? Not yet.
The unfriending of Julian Assange
In a US radio interview, John Pilger, the writer, film director and multi-award-winning Australian journalist, explained why so many journalists in the UK and US have turned their backs on the plight of jailed reporter Julian Assange, the North Queensland-born co-founder of Wikileaks.
“My own theory is that Julian Assange’s work shamed so many journalists. He does what journalists ought to have done, and don’t do any more. He’s done the job of a journalist. That can only explain it.
“I mean, when you take a newspaper like The Guardian, which published originally the WikiLeaks revelations about Iraq and Afghanistan, they turned on Julian Assange in the most vicious way. They exploited him for one thing.
“A number of their journalists did extremely well with their books, and Hollywood scripts, and so on, but they turned on him personally. It was one of the most unedifying sights I think I’ve ever seen in journalism. The same thing happened in the New York Times.
“Again, I can only surmise the reason for that. It’s that he shames them. We have a desert of journalism at the moment. There are a few who still do their jobs; who still stand up against establishment power; who still are not frightened. But there’re so few now, and Julian Assange is totally fearless in that. He knew that he was going to run into a great deal of trouble with the state in Britain, the state in the United States – but he went ahead anyway. That’s a true journalist.”
Assange support keeps growing
A petition signed by more than 200,000 Australians was presented to Federal Parliament this week. Greens Senator Peter Wish-Wilson said it was one of the biggest petitions presented to Parliament and almost guarantees a debate on his plight in a UK prison.
The emboldened organisers are now going for 300,000 signatures. “This is a huge outpouring of support for a really, really important man – Julian Assange,” said Wish-Wilson. “Let’s do whatever we can to bring him home to Australia.”
Point of Discussion
About 25 years ago everyone I knew either went to the Melbourne Cup at Flemington, watched the running of the Melbourne Cup at gala lunches in Sydney or had a bet on it. In 2019 I know no one who went to the Melbourne Cup, watched it or had a bet on it. Discuss.
Quotes of the Week
“We will not survive while we continually think we are worth more than every other living thing. The earth is not an inert thing. Once you have a concept of that, everything is alive: where you walk and how you treat the Earth is how you treat every living thing.”
“I never say I’m a feminist because I’m not part of that. My female ancestors have made me what I am, not feminism.”
– Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Australian academic and Aboriginal rights activist from Stradbroke Island
“The logical end point of feminism is always anti-capitalist.”
-Jia Tolentino, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine
Both Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Jia Tolentino were speaking at the inaugural Broadside, a feminist ideas festival held at Melbourne Town Hall on November 9 and 10. “It’s about smart, funny people sharing their expertise and their stories,” said a promotional advert.
The all-women speakers’ event was the brainchild of Tamara Zimet, formerly of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, who had a sparkling idea and then made it happen.