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 Scott Probst takes us once more into the breach…

… or close the wall up with our English dead!  OR so the poet wrote in Henry V. We find ourselves at one of those junctures in Australian political history where it is actually hard to tell what the people driving the bus are thinking about.

I’m referring in this case to Syrian refugees – although I concede I could be talking about taxation reform, climate change policy, education funding, health, or….. any number of things.

Unless I am mistaken, our gumment is currently of a mind to do two things:

  1. Take in an extra 10 or 12 thousand refugees from Syria, given the ongoing, unprecedented crisis there;
  1. Bomb Syria.

Now, walk me through this: refugee movements are usually caused by war and deprivation. War mostly though, whether it be outright, declared international war, civil war, guerrilla war, war on an ethnic population, systematic abuse and discrimination or any other cruel, pointless, atavistic exercise in victimisation. In order to comfort some thousands of people fleeing at least one of these situations (sometimes two or three) in their home country, we are going to take them in, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. Details, as they say, to come. They may or may not come instead of other refugees. Details to come.  We may only take the Christian ones. Yes, really. Details….

Okay. The basic idea seems to have merit, pending details. I would however wonder out loud how the Muslim community in Australia might respond to only non-Muslims being offered sanctuary.

It’s when I come to point 2 that I have some confusion infesting my thoughts. If I was fleeing a place, and saw that Australian jets were flying back over my head to deliver nasty things to my homeland, what would I think? I’m sure there will be assurances that the Australian missions, such as they are, will not be hurting anyone except the ‘baddies’ or the ‘other baddies’, or perhaps the ‘other other baddies’, however about 4,000 years of experience tells us that it is not just these ‘bad’ folk that suffer in war. In fact, it is mostly civilians that suffer in any conflict. In fact, Australian attacks in Iraq have recently been implicated in the killing of civilians there, so the fighting in Iraq is conforming to the lessons of past wars. That is, of course, if we even chose the right ‘baddies’ to bomb in the first place.

No doubt you can see where I’m going with this. Why would we simultaneously take refugees and help demolish the place where other refugees would come from? Without getting too bogged down in history, we might say this reminds us of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam, which I think lists the last three wars we got involved in. Also I’m reminded of the situation in Sri Lanka prior to their last presidential election, where our action to aid refugees was to give the government some old patrol boats to help them stop refugees from leaving. This, in a country where disappeared political opponents and journalists were the norm and Australia ran dead on a war crimes tribunal proposition.

Just what exactly do we like so much about refugees that we seek to cause more? Or, put another way, what do we have against good government that we would seek to prevent it?

Surely it would make more sense to promote good government than engage in conflict and help generate more refugee movements. One might think that, well, in Iraq, for example, it’s far too late for that; in Sri Lanka, we could do nothing; and in Syria, we weren’t exactly on speaking terms with the Assads. This would be to ignore history. For how long were we part of a power bloc that supported Saddam Hussein? How long did we sit on the sidelines of the mess in Sri Lanka without expressing more than mild concern for Australian tourists that might venture there? What about the countries in the Middle East that would benefit from support in strengthening government – Tunisia for example? Lebanon perhaps – goodness knows there are enough Lebanese Australians to make this relevant.

But no; we are making ourselves the political victims, in international terms, of following the same tired ideas that we always have. And at home, if you know any Syrians, ask them what they think about bombing Syria and taking refugees at the same time. I don’t personally know any Syrians, but I used to know the son of Saddam Hussein’s primary school teacher: apparently Saddam was a nasty customer right from the start.

Should we not have known how that was going to turn out?