A Culture Of Love Versus The Politics Of Fear.

This is a lecture I am delivering today at the Emmanuel Centre:


To be human is for our hearts to beat with the desire to love and be loved.

If there is a single universal rule of ethical human conduct recognized by the whole of humanity, it is that ‘we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves’.

The greatest threat to our love of our neighbour is our fear of our neighbour.

It is because many Aussies fear asylum seekers, we are unable to treat them the way we would like to be treated if we were seeking asylum ourselves.

Aussies have a primal historical/hysterical fear of ‘boat people’ coming to our country and dispossessing us, because our forebears came to this country as ‘boat people’ and dispossessed the people who lived in this country before us, and we fear that the next wave of boat people may do the same to us.

Aussie anthropologist, Ghassan Hage, says Aussies are afraid that if we took the land we live in, others may want to take it too. He says that Aussies have an underlying fear of revenge for the genocide our ancestors committed, de-colonisation by aborigines, and/or re-colonisation by migrants and refugees.[1]

That underlying fear has been exacerbated by the fact that so many of the boat people are Muslim. Muslims have lived peacefully in Australia for more than two hundred years, but when, on 9/11, the Twin Towers were destroyed so spectacularly and catastrophically, painful ancient memories of a thousand years of on-again off-again conflict between Muslims and Christians exploded into our public consciousness. Muslim boat people have been repeatedly represented as the precursors of an ‘Islamic invasion’. And, consequently, ‘as antisemitism was a unifying factor in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century.”[2]

The psychotherapist, Wayne Muller, says that fearful people ‘may appear deeply loving, but fear always interferes with the impulse to love. Fear blocks responsiveness to others. Energy invested in maintaining safety and comfort always depletes energy available for others.’[3] Muller says, ‘When fear arises, we harden our bodies and our hearts, closing inward to protect ourselves. We build walls, call up armies, and pay governments to protect us from danger.’[4]

Our primal historical/hysterical fear of ‘boat people’ has been deliberately manipulated and exploited by a series of governments for their own political purposes. They have intentionally and systematically (mis)represented asylum seekers as ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘security threats’ so we vote them into power to ensure ‘border security’ and ‘stop the boats’ at any cost.


Lately, more than ever, I have been having a recurring nightmare – that in the process of paying governments to protect us from this carefully-constructed and manifestly-exaggerated ‘danger’, by building walls, and calling up armies, that we are moving slowly but surely towards what I call ‘A New Dark Age’.

And I am not alone. Jacques Attali was a professor of economics at the Polytechnique in Paris, and was appointed as the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development based in London. According to Attali, Time called a ‘one-man think tank’: ‘By 2050, 8 billion people will populate the earth. More than two-thirds will live in the poorest countries. Seeking to escape their desperate fate, millions will attempt to leave behind their misery to seek a decent life elsewhere. But neither the Pacific nor the European spheres will accept the majority of poor nomads. They will close their borders to immigrants. Quotas will be erected and restrictions imposed. (Reconstructed) social norms will ostracize foreigners. Like the fortified cities of the Middle Ages, the centres of privilege will construct barriers of all kinds, trying to protect their wealth.’ [5]

And, when I wake up every morning, I see every reason to believe that, the nightmare that Jaques Attali and I both share, is becoming a terrible reality.

As I look around, I can see signs the New Dark Age has begun. Some of the features of emerging neo-feudalism that I observe include:

  1. The emergence of powerful, unelected and/or unaccountable leaders.
  2. These ‘lords’ offer protection in return for subservience and services.
  3. People are given a choice – they are either ‘for’ or ‘against’ these ‘lords’.
  4. Those people who are ‘for’ these ‘lords’ live their lives as their ‘vassals’.
  5. ‘Vassals’ wait on the ‘lords’, live off the crumbs that fall from their lords’  ‘tables’, and find refuge – in times of danger – inside their lords’ ‘castles’.
  6. Those people who are ‘against’ these ‘lords’ are branded as ‘infidels’.
  7. The ‘lords’ wipe out ‘infidels’ either by leaving them to starve ‘outside  their gates’ – in times of hunger – or by slaughtering them in ‘crusades’.
  8. There are no universal basic human rights. The only ‘right’ is ‘might.
  9. ‘Civilisation’ is the private preserve of these ‘lords’ and their ‘vassals’.
  10. And they justify this iniquitous ‘civilisation’ in the name of religion!

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the National Security Advisor in the Carter administration, supervised the beginning of the Afghan war and credits himself for having bought down the Soviet system, in the true spirit of the son of a Polish aristocrat that he is, says: ‘The three imperatives of geopolitical strategy are to maintain security dependence among the vassals, keep tributaries pliant, and keep the barbarians from coming together.”[6]

Australian sociologist Ghassan Hage says ‘Not so long ago the state was committed to the welfare of everyone within its borders. (We even called it ‘the welfare state’.) That is no longer so.’ [7] He says: ‘We seem to be reverting to neo-feudal times, when the boundaries of civilisation no longer coincide with the boundaries of the nation, but the boundaries of upper class society…’ [8] ‘There are no universal rights – only the privilege of the elite.’ [9]

‘In each country now – there are first world elites and third-world threats to the elites. In this neo-feudal age the challenge is not how to integrate the marginalised, but how to rid ourselves of these third-world (threats – the refugees and refugee claimants – that we have on our doorstep.)’ [10]

‘We are increasingly witnessing the rise of a culture that combines a siege (castle) and warring (crusade) mentality; by necessity it emphasizes the exclusion (and/or) eradication of the potentially threatening other.’[11]

We are beginning to build more and more of what we euphemistically call ‘gated communities’. Citadels guarded by walls, infra-red cameras, heat-sensitive alarms and private security companies. Purpose-built – as the developer of Sanctuary Cove – put it: ‘to keep the cockroaches out!’

The Australian government under John Howard planned to turn the whole continent into a ‘gated community’ like Sanctuary Cove. Millions of dollars – dedicated to foreign aid – were spent on the ‘Pacific Solution’ – a flotilla of heavily-armed patrols dedicated to preventing asylum seekers from ever setting foot upon our shore. It is a policy that is neither ‘pacific’, nor a ‘solution’. It’s meant ‘to keep the queue-jumping cockroaches out!’

The Australian government under Kevin Rudd took the ‘Pacific Solution’ further with its ‘PNG Solution’, according to which, ‘any asylum seeker who comes to Australia by boat without a visa will be refused settlement in Australia, instead being settled in Papua New Guinea if they are found to be legitimate refugees’. The policy included ‘a significant expansion of the Australian detention facility on Manus Island where refugees will be sent to be processed prior to resettlement in Papua New Guinea, and if their refugee status is found to be non-genuine, they will be either repatriated, sent to a third country other than Australia or remain in detention indefinitely’.

The Australian government under Tony Abbot government funded ‘a nasty little comic book intended to deter those seeking asylum from making the journey to Australia; the narrative culminates with images of asylum seekers languishing miserably in mosquito-plagued camps’. After the latest tragic incidents that have occurred in the Manus Island detention facility, Jeff Sparrow says: ‘Perhaps an updated version can now depict them being shot or hacked at with machetes. Why not? That’s the logic of deterrence, isn’t it? Continue to make refugees miserable until the oppression they face from Australians becomes worse than that which they’re fleeing’.[12]

Walid Aly writes, ‘It is the very logic of our asylum seeker policy – which is built on the sole rationality of deterrence – to create horror. So now, let us make this calculus finally explicit: whatever these people are fleeing, whatever circumstance makes them think they’d be better off chancing death on boats hardly worthy of that description, we must offer them something worse. That something is Papua New Guinea. The worse it is, the more effective it is destined to be. It is the very best form of deterrence.’[13]



This should – and this does – make many of us angry. Our country is treating vulnerable men, women and children with unconscionable cruelty in our name. However while anger is understandable, aggro protests are not helpful.

To bring about a change in policy we need to change public opinion. And we to change public opinion we need to create a culture of love over a culture of fear. Anger does not encourage love. Anger engenders fear. And I have no doubt the government will exploit any fear we engender, to justify the need for greater security and rationalize the expansion of the very policies we oppose.

To win this fight we need to win people over. If we express our anger through aggro protests we will inevitably drive them away from us and from our cause. We will be more likely to draw people to us and to our cause if we express our concern with laughter, tears, sweet reason and strong but gentle pleas.

We need to acknowledge people’s fears. Their fear of difference. Their fear of conflict. Their fear of change. We need to accept them – both the people and their fears – and help them explore them and examine them without fear of us.

We need to allay people’s fears. Their fear of ‘illegals’. Their fear of ‘queue jumpers’. Their fear of ‘security threats’. We need to patiently explain to them, that in spite of the government’s rhetoric, according to the governments own records, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers are not illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ or ‘security threats’, not people for us to fear.

Then we need to introduce people to refugees face to face. When we arrange for people to meet refugees, most Aussies can’t help but see ‘boat people’ as ‘people’ – not as illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ or ‘security threats’ – but ‘people’ much like themselves, and find themselves moving from fear to love – or at towards least something ocker (a little less touchy and feely) akin to love.

There are no quick fixes. There are no short cuts. Venting our rage is going to be counterproductive. If we are going to create a culture of love over above our politics of fear and over against our policies of fear, we all need to take on the exceedingly-important, excruciatingly-painstaking work of encouraging one another – our selves, our families, our friends – to let our humanity get the better of us and learn to love our asylum seeker neighbours as ourselves.



In my opinion the best examples we have for creatively engaging the 21st century neo-feudalism of our New Dark Age are Francis and Clare, the legendary figures of ‘Brother Sun and Sister Moon’, who undermined 12th century feudalism by gently showing their compatriots how to overcome their fear of the ‘other’, by laying aside their weapons, unlocking the gates of their castles, welcoming outsiders in, and gladly sharing their wealth with the poor.

The political philosopher, John Ralston Saul, says of Francis and Clare and their companions: they ‘were the most famous activists (of their day).’ They ‘took personal responsibility, and imagined a social model which … would change our societies.’ He said that: ‘to a great extent they laid out the modern democratic model of inclusion – an important step towards egalitarianism’. [14]

There are four ways we can try emulate the example of Francis and Clare. By…

  1. Aussies And Asylum Seekers Walking Together

In 2014 Tri Nguyen decided to walk from Melbourne to Canberra in 35 days towing a home-made wooden boat (an idea inspired by a Leunig cartoon of a man and a duck towing a trolley) talking to as many Aussies along the way as he could, to assure them they had nothing to fear from ‘boat people’ like him.

He told everyone he met his story. In 1982 Tri Nguyen came to Australia as a boat person, seeking asylum, after fleeing the war in Vietnam. He remembers being welcomed by Australians. When they arrived his family had ‘stayed at the Midway Hostel in Maribyrnong “where there was no barbed wire”. Locals ‘taught them English, gave them clothes and meals, and helped his father find a job at Australia Post’. And a group from Moonee Ponds Baptist Church helped bring the rest of his family to Australia eight years later. He says sixty Aussies went to the Melbourne Airport early in the morning to welcome them.

Tri told everyone who listened to his story that his prayer was people would welcome ‘new wave boat people’ like they had welcomed him and his family.

Over the Easter weekend I joined Tri Nguyen and three other asylum seekers on the last leg of their walk to take that message to the heart of the nation.

  1. Christians And Muslims Standing By One Another

On August 13, 2015 The Age reported that ‘ugly scenes are expected at mosques across the country in October, with neo-Nazis and far-right activists planning co-ordinated protests against Muslim migration and Islam. ‘The global protests, planned for October 10, were called by ex-Marine Jon Ritzheimer, who asked Americans to bring guns to the protests. In an online call to arms directed at Australians, Mr Ritzheimer called on his allies in the United Patriots Front, the Australian Defence League and Reclaim Australia, and their supporters, to “[do] what’s right for humanity”. Saying (we’ve) let Muslims in and ‘now they want to f— with our way of life’. Any mosque in your neighbourhood, that’s where your location is to go and protest.”

‘In Australia, the call to arms was enthusiastically backed by the United Patriots Front, a fringe splinter group of the Reclaim Australia movement, and others. The self-styled “great Aussie patriot” Shermon Burgess, organiser of the UPF, told followers in a video that “the whole world is going to rally against Islam”, and called on Australians to follow suit. “It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, find a mosque and you get there.” [15]

When I heard about this call to arms, I talked to Muslim friends about what we could do about it. We decided it would be great to get a large group of Christian leaders to stand in solidarity with Muslim leaders at the Kuraby Mosque. On October 10 some thirty senior Christian leaders, most of whom had never been to an Islamic Centre before, publically made this statement:

‘As Christians we stand side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to condemn all bigotry and prejudice and plead for respect and peace in communities across the country.

‘As people committed to nurturing united diverse communities in Australia, we are very concerned at how Aussie Muslims are being unjustly targeted by self-styled “Aussie patriots” for being associated, through their religion, to violent extremism which they themselves totally oppose.

‘We are all people of faith. An attack on any of us because of our religion is an attack on all of us. All of us have the right to feel safe in our homes, on our streets and at our places of worship, churches or mosques. All of us have the right to practice our faith freely without fear. We appeal to every member of our community: stop this harassment, stop this aggression, stop these attacks. This is a time for all people of goodwill, of all religions and none, to come together to act decisively and constructively to protect the fabric of our community which could be so easily torn apart.

‘We ask all people to:

  • Act in an exemplary manner, strong but gentle.
  • Adopt a dignified, friendly, approach towards all.
  • Respect people regardless of their faith tradition.
  • Acknowledge similarities and differences between our traditions.
  • Remember that the one thing we all agree on is that we are called to love God unreservedly, and to love our neighbours as ourselves;
  • Not judge each other but encourage each other to judge ourselves in the light of our call to love God and our neighbours as ourselves;
  • Use our wisdom and knowledge and skills to serve one another.
  • Discuss any problems we have face to face to solve them peacefully.’
  1. Taking Radical Gentle Nonviolent Direct Action

The Australian Churches Refugee Task Force say we should resist our government’s policy of indefinite detention of asylum seekers as it is actually “State-Sanctioned Child Abuse”. They say there were 2013 asylum seekers in Australian detention facilities, including 127children – 88 on Nauru. It is not surprising, in light of these high detention rates, that between January 2011 and February 2013 there were 4313 reported incidents of actual, threatened and attempted serious self-harm in immigration detention facilities. Between 1 July 2010 and 20 June 2013, there were 12 deaths in immigration detention. Coroners have found that six of these deaths were suicides. Of children who have been detained for more than 1 year:

  • 100% presented with Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome
  • 50% presented with persistent physical health problems
  • 70% displayed symptoms of an anxiety disorder
  • 80% engaged in self-harm behaviours
  • 100% presented with major depression
  • 100% displayed suicidal ideation

Churches tried every possible angle of advocacy to successive governments over many years. But the governments refused to respond to constructive advice and offers of help. Many groups, including churches, offered to help the government in caring for asylum seekers who come to our shores. The Uniting Church, for example, offered to care for the 30 or so unaccompanied children currently on Christmas Island who are about to be sent to Nauru. Mr. Morrison dismissed this offer out of hand in a press conference. The Baptist Union of NSW-ACT offered to temporarily house about 70 detainees at Villawood so they would not need to be moved to the extremely remote Curtin detention centre in West Australia while refurbishments take place, isolating detainees and denying them access to their lawyers and support networks.

‘In a pub in Paddington, Sydney, three friends started gathering together to discuss what they could do about the cruelty being inflicted on people seeking asylum in Australia. (They) had no idea their conversations at the Paddington Arms would develop into an idea that would (become) Love Makes a Way.

‘They planned what was intended to be a one-off nonviolent direct action in the office of then-Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on 21 March 2014. The mainstream and social media response was beyond any of the group’s expectations. This level of publicity was repeated when a second action happened a few weeks later in Perth, this time with a number of Christian clergy. Before they knew it Christians from all over Australia started to ask how to get involved, and they realised LMAW was more than a one-off thing.

‘Trainings commenced all over the country, and so did more actions. In 2014 alone LMAW organised 22 nonviolent civil disobedience actions that drew high levels of media interest and played a part in ensuring the violence being done to people seeking asylum in Australia remained in the public eye.

‘These actions included a twin sit-in (May 2014) in the offices of then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and a National Day of Action (10 Dec 2014) that (I was involved in which) included 7 simultaneous action in 6 cities. Actions have continued since then, most notably an action in Parliament House Canberra, (that I was also involved in myself) on the 10th anniversary of the day John Howard released all children from detention.

‘The sight of (200 well-behaved, middle-class, middle-of-the-road, ostensibly respectable) Christians – including many priests, nuns and other clergy – being arrested as they take a nonviolent stand for compassion for people seeking asylum has cut through the public consciousness like few other things have.’

Sam McLean, former National Director, GetUp! says: ‘The public narrative on refuge in Australia has been dominated for the last five years by frames of fear and the idea that we must “be cruel to be kind”. Love Makes A Way is the only effort cutting through that at the moment. They are brave, but more than that, they’re smart, careful, and deliberate. They have consistently generated public attention, but the real art has been to do so in a way that is entirely on their message and their terms.’

With nonviolent love-in-action we have cut through the fear, the spin and the self-interest with a message of hope, empathy and compassion.[16]

  1. Declaring Churches As Sanctuaries For Refugees

On the 5th of February, 2016 I stood on the steps of St John’s Cathedral and spoke to a crowd of a thousand supporters proclaiming it a sanctuary. I said:

‘I would like to honour the traditional owners of this land past and present whose representatives have publically welcomed asylum seekers.

‘And I would like to honor the Very Reverend Dr. Peter Catt and the people of St John’s Cathedral for declaring their church a refuge for asylum seekers.

‘We are here today to take a stand for Sanctuary.

‘Sanctuary is when people of good faith, in times of turmoil, open up a sacred space to protect and support vulnerable people in their community.

‘Typically Sanctuary is declared when vulnerable people are in danger from the very authorities that are tasked by society to protect them from danger.

‘Provision of Sanctuary is the last resort, when all other efforts of negotiate-ion have failed, to be true to our convictions, and put people above politics

‘Sanctuary is an ancient tradition in many world religions. In the Christian tradition, Sanctuary has been declared to protect people of other religions from persecution by the Christian community; Sanctuary has been declared to protect runaway slaves, escaping from the brutal bondage that was legally sanctioned by society; and Sanctuary has been declared to protect refugees, fleeing from the trauma of war, seeking the safety of asylum, only to find the prospect of state-sanctioned abuse in indefinite detention.

‘Today we join with an order of nuns, (whom Philip Adams calls the last radicals left in Australia), four other cathedrals, forty-four Anglican, Catholic, Uniting, Baptist and Salvation Army churches, state and territory leaders from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory and other congregations around the world in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, in declaring Sanctuary for asylum seekers facing indefinite detention or deportation.

‘This is a symbolic action that takes a sacred place, like the Cathedral, and makes it a symbol of resistance against the inhuman treat of asylum seekers. But it is more than symbolic – it is strategic – and can be effective. In 2007, Iranian refugee Shahla Valadi was granted asylum in Norway after spending seven years in church sanctuary after the initial denial of asylum.

‘Today I call on you, to take a stand with me, for Sanctuary with the Very Reverend Doctor Peter Catt and the congregation of St John’s; to render them any assistance we can; and to join them in calmly-but-resolutely, nonviolently resisting any attempt by the Border Security Force to remove any asylum seeker who seeks the Sanctuary of this sacred place.

‘We say to our fellow Australians:

Let us rise up against systemic abuse in our name.

Let us rise up against state sanctioned brutality as policy.

Let us rise up against sovereignty at the expense of humanity.

Let this be a turning point in our history when, as a nation,

we choose no longer to take the road much traveled – that callous closed-minded road of calculating cruelty that leads only to despair;

but instead we choose to take the road less traveled – that kind open-hearted road of generous hospitality which is the only hope for any of us.


‘We say to those seeking asylum in Australia:

We will accept you.

We will respect you.

We will protect you.

In this sacred space,

we will embrace you, open our arms to make space for you,

we will wrap our arms around you, to comfort you and keep you safe.


We know it will hard. But we will do it.

For it is most important to do it, when it is most difficult to do.


‘We will…

  1. Not bring weapons
  2. Not use drugs or alcohol
  3. Not hide our identity behind hoods or masks
  4. Not resort to physical violence or verbal abuse
  5. Not misuse facilities or damage any property

‘Rather we will…

  1. Dress neatly and tidily
  2. Act in an exemplary manner
  3. Respect the sanctity of this sacred space
  4. Be strong but gentle, calm and constructive
  5. Use good manners and good humour at all times
  6. Adopt a dignified, friendly approach towards all
  7. Work cooperatively with the church leadership
  8. Render assistance to asylum seekers any way we can
  9. If arrested, treat the authorities politely and respectfully, but …
  10. Support nonviolent resistance of any attempt by the authorities to remove asylum seekers seeking the Sanctuary of this sacred place. ‘ 


In so doing we have reclaimed the word ‘sanctuary’ from Sanctuary Cove and reframed its meaning as ‘a place of refuge’ rather than ‘no place for refugees’.

This idea of sanctuary has captured the people’s imagination. Peter Catt says; ‘This sanctuary movement has grown so much we’re in the process of turning the whole of Australia into a sanctuary. The whole nation is on board.’ He says that not only church leaders, but also state premiers are now on board.

Peter Catt says ‘If people feel the need to get sanctuary, we can get them there. I think the fact that the movement has become so public and widely supported gives it a resilience that means we can do this and it will make it very hard for border force and the government to make a move on these people.’ So far none of the 267 facing deportation have been deported. [17]


[1] Ghassan Hage Against Paranoid Nationalism Annandale Pluto Press 2003 p48-52

[2] Walker, Peter; Taylor, Matthew, “Far right on rise in Europe, says report”. The Guardian. Online http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/06/far-right-rise-europe-report

[3] David Benner Surrender to Love Downers Grove IVP 2003 p40

[4] Wayne Muller Legacy Of The Heart New York Simon &Schuster 1992 p 18

[5] Jacques Attali Millenium Random House New York 1991 pp 74-78

[6] Zbigniew Brzezinski The Grand Chessboard, New York, Basic Books, 1997

[7] Ghassan Hage Against Paranoid Nationalism Pluto Press Annandale 2003 p20

[8] Ghassan Hage p18

[9] Ghassan Hage p20

[10] Ghassan Hage p20

[11] Ghassan Hage p140

[12] The Guardian 18/02/14

[13] Sydney Morning Herald 21/02/14

[14] John Ralston Saul The Unconscious Civilization Simon & Schuster New York 1995 p135-7

[15] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/authorities-brace-for-ugly-scenes-as-australian-patriots-plan-mosque-protests-20150813 giy69k.html?utm_campaign=echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook#ixzz3kMauVyzw

[16] http://lovemakesaway.org.au/lmaw-story/

[17] Melissa Davey ‘The whole nation is on board’: inside the sanctuary movement to protect asylum seekers https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/mar/13/the-whole-nation-is-on-board-inside-the-sanctuary-movement-to-protect-asylum-seekers

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