Shame!

The follow article appeared in The Age (13 Aug. 2019):

Kurdish refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani says future generations will judge this ‘‘dark period in Australian history’’, after accepting his fourth major literary prize for his insider’s account of detention on Manus Island.

Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains, Writing from Manus Prison, was yesterday awarded the $25,000 National Biography Award, the nation’s richest prize for biographical writing, at the State Library of NSW.

Accepting the prize using WhatsApp, Boochani said the literary community was an important part of Australian civil society and ‘’resistance’’. ‘‘I think it is very valuable, and I do appreciate everyone for recognising my work,’’ he said. ‘‘I think history will judge this generation and will judge all of us in this hard and dark period of Australian history.’’

Boochani’s autobiography tells how the journalist-activist fled Iran in 2013 under fear of persecution and made the journey from Indonesia to Australia by boat, unaware of the Australian government’s decision to deny permanent settlement to any asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Six years later he is still refused entry.

The judges, Margy Burn, Dr Georgina Arnott and Professor Iain McCalman, praised Boochani’s book as an ‘‘astonishing act of witness and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance’’.

Written in Farsi as a series of text messages sent to his translator and friend Omid Tofighian, the book was an ‘‘impassioned letter’’ to the authorities who would define Boochani as MEG45, his number in detention, the judges said.

‘‘Boochani describes life on Manus as only an insider can, recounting the shocking tiny details of cruelty, degradation, humiliation and constant surveillance. He finds beauty in strange flowers and the Manusian moon and draws solace from solitude when it can be found.’’

The writing was poetic and epic and steeped in the tradition of Persian culture and belief systems, the judges said. ‘‘The book is profoundly important, all the more so because of the means of its production, an astonishing act of witness, and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance.’’

Feted by the literary world, No Friend But the Mountains has been honoured by the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and Australian Book Industry Awards.

It is hard not to agree with Boochani’s prediction that history, to our ever-lasting shame, will judge this generation of Australians harshly.  Even now, with the exception of the morally bankrupt, Australians experience the shame of having lived and supported a nation that excluded non-white immigrants under the “White Australia” policy, that within most of our lifetimes, denied citizenship to the indigenous peoples of this land and removed children from their families, and that even now, with the permission and (dare I say) the encouragement of people like you and me,  indefinitely imprisons men, women and children, and targets them for abuse in off-shore concentration camps.

In addtion to being an obvious sign of the lack of moral development among the Australian population and the government, the case of Boochani and many, many others represents the gross stupidity of the government’s policy, for it is denying Australia the wealth of talent possessed by those who want to live here, but are excluded. 

Future generations of Australian will come to know how post-World War II Germans felt about their nation’s crimes.

Bob Thomas, Sept. 2019