‘A Weeping Prophet’

Gordon Preece, Director of Ethos and the University of Divinity Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy, once dedicated a whole edition of Zadok Perspectives to the ‘Tale Of Two Prophets’ in Australia. One was Tim Costello, Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia, whom he described as an ‘Isaiah’ figure, adept in ‘speaking truth to power’. The other was me, whom he described as a ‘Jeremiah’ figure, ‘a weeping, often angry, prophet.’[1] I don’t get as angry as much as I used to when I was younger, but the older I get the more I weep.

I weep over the twentieth century.

I am a child of the twentieth century. The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in history. More people were slaughtered in twentieth century than in all other centuries that preceded it put together. And, as a child of the twentieth century, I weep when I face the terrible violence visited upon millions of innocent men, women and children.

At the beginning of the twentieth century was the Armenian Genocide. In 2002 I visited the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan with my good friend, Armen Gakavian, whose own family were forced to flee the slaughter. There we were reminded that the total number of Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians killed has been estimated at between one and one and a half million – including one half of the entire Armenian population!

Towards the end of the twentieth century was the Cambodian Genocide. The Khmer Rouge killed between one and a half to three million people. In 2009 I visited the Cambodian Genocide Museum, based at Tuol Sleng, the site of a former school, which was used as the Security Prison 21 (S-21), the most notorious of 150 torture centres round the country. Torture, forced labour and mass executions led to the deaths of an estimated one quarter of the total Cambodian population!

At the heart of the twentieth century was the Jewish genocide. In this Holocaust – ‘the worst single atrocity that our world has ever known’ – Jewish men, women and children were systematically tagged with yellow stars, then dragged out, beaten up, and shot, or rounded up like animals, thrown onto cattle trucks, and herded into concentration camps, where the ‘productive’ were put to work in slave battalions, and ‘unproductive’ put to death in gas chambers. Six million Jews, representing about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe at that time, were killed. Over one million of those Jews who were killed, were killed in Auschwitz.

The sky was crying as I silently walked in and around and about the buildings in Auschwitz. I saw pages filled with the personal names of each of the individual six million Jews who were massacred in the Holocaust; I saw partitions filled with photos of the faces of old/young, strong/weak, dignified/terrified brothers and sisters – Jews, Poles, Russians, Romani and Sinti, religious leaders, political dissidents, prisoners of war, people with disabilities, and marginalised gays – who were all killed in Auschwitz; I saw the wall where these dear people were shot; I saw the gallows where these dear people were hanged; I saw the chambers where these dear people were gassed; and I saw the piles of shoes, clothes, glasses and prosthetics that these dear people left behind as monu-ments to their memory. And, like Jeremiah, ‘I wish(ed) my head were a well of water and my eyes fountains of tears, so I could weep day and night for casualties among (these) dear, dear people.’ (Jer.9:1 The Message)

I also weep over the twenty-first century.

I remember writing an article for The Westender, my local newspaper, on February 26th 2014, lamenting the fact that it seemed to me, ‘We Are Entering A New Dark Age’. At the time I wrote, ‘lately, more than ever, I have been having a recurring nightmare – that the world is moving slowly but surely towards what I call ‘A New Dark Age’. And, when I wake up every morning, I see every reason to believe this nightmare is becoming a terrible reality.’

Jacques Attali, a professor of economics at the Polytechnique in Paris, and president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, wrote in 2003, that: ‘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 else-where. 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. (Renewed) 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.’[2]

As I looked around, I could see clear signs that a ‘New Dark Age’ had begun.

Some of the features of the emerging neo-feudalism that I observed included:

The emergence of powerful, unelected and/or unaccountable leaders.

These ‘lords’ offer protection in return for subservience and services.

People are given a choice – they are either ‘for’ or ‘against’ these ‘lords’.

Those people who are ‘for’ these ‘lords’ live their lives as their ‘vassals’.

‘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’.

Those people who are ‘against’ these ‘lords’ are branded as ‘infidels’.

The ‘lords’ wipe out ‘infidels’ either by leaving them to starve ‘outside

their gates’- in times of hunger – or by slaughtering them in ‘crusades’.

There are no universal basic human rights. The only ‘right’ is ‘might.

‘Civilisation’ is the private preserve of these ‘lords’ and their ‘vassals’.

And they justify this iniquitous ‘civilisation’ in the name of religion!

Australian sociologist, Ghassan Hage. shares my view. He 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.’ [3] ‘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…’[4] ‘There are no universal rights – only the privilege of the elite.’[5]

He says, ‘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.’[6] ‘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.)’[7]

We have begun 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 Mike Gore, the developer of Sanctuary Cove, put it: ‘to keep the cockroaches out!’

The Australian government under John Howard has turned 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 includes ‘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 a series of 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’.[8]

Seeing these signs of ‘A New Dark Age’ coming to pass in my country, on June 17th 2015, I joined with forty Christian leaders from around the country, who felt equally concerned; we converged on Canberra, occupied Parliament House, and publicly grieved over the injustice done in our name. After all ‘prophets are not lonely voices against the establishment but are representative voices that give social expression to engaged social constituencies.’[9]

Before being physically removed by security, we joined hands in a circle and sang an updated Australian version of a traditional African American lament.

‘Were you there when the kids were locked away?

Were you there when the kids were locked away?’

Oh, Oh, Oh Oh,

Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when the kids were locked away?’

Like Jeremiah, ‘I wish(ed) my head were a well of water and my eyes fountains of tears, so I could weep day and night for casualties (we have caused) among (these) dear, dear people.’ (Jer. 9:1 The Message)

And I sat down and wrote ‘Sorry’.

I was told that we were the good guys – a long time ago.

I was told that we fought the good fight – from go to woe.

I was told that we wrote the guidelines – to give a fair go.

I was told that we’d always do right – by friend and foe.

Sorry, Aussies, I don’t think that no more!

Sorry, Aussies, I think we’re against what we say we’re for!

I was told we’d sort out inequity – not let it go.

I was told we’d strive for equality – for young and old.

Sorry, Murries, I don’t think that no more!

Sorry, Murries, I think we’re against what we say we’re for!

I was told we’d vote for a demagogue – to hit the road.

I was told we’d welcome the underdog – bring ’em home

Sorry, Refugees, I don’t think that no more!

Sorry, Refugees I think we’re against what we say we’re for!

I was told we’d protect the innocent – from brutal terror.

I was told we’d care for civilians – in event of war.

Sorry, Iraqis, I don’t think that no more!

Sorry, Iraqis, I think we’re against what we say we’re for!

Sorry. So Sorry. Sorry, I’m Sorry

Sorry (mp3) (sheet music)

Dave Andrews

 

[1] Gordon Preece, Editorial in Zadok Perspectives No 66 Autumn 2000 Zadok Institute Hawthorn p4

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

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

[4] Ghassan Hage Against Paranoid Nationalism Annandale Pluto Press 2003 p18

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

[6] Ghassan Hage Against Paranoid Nationalism Annandale Pluto Press 2003 p140

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

[8] Jeff Sparrow The Guardian 18th February 2014

[9] Waltter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. Revised Kindle Edition Loc. 58

 

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