I had been asleep on my mate’s couch for about 4 hours when his son ran downstairs to tell us that we were going to leave. Not for school, but Europe. We were leaving the EU. It was possible that I was still drunk but the TV was telling me the same story. I left the UK the next day returning to Australia to find genuine concern for the wellbeing of my country which had apparently become overwhelmingly racist and stupid.
One thing I noticed was my instinct to disagree with people who weren’t British or living in the UK but were judging us. I found myself disagreeing with them first and then trying to justify why. This was despite me voting for the UK to remain in the EU.
It’s well known that only you can slag your own mother off, and writ larger, this was the same sentiment I was feeling when reading foreigners bemoan the UK as racist. I didn’t feel they had the knowledge or even the right to be saying such things, whilst actually they possibly do on both counts. Even if I could have agreed with them, hearing how other people saw us annoyed me.
I could feed this annoyance by listening to incomplete analysis of what had happened – forgetting that I just don’t notice the incomplete UK coverage of foreign news because of my own ignorance. However, annoyance turned to laughter when I heard a (sage) radio host and three (wise) political commentators discuss how political and social institutions in Australia had prevented politicians like Trump, Le Pen, Farage and (Boris) Johnson becoming popular there. Shortly after that, I attended an event with a former foreign minister and current political journalist who talked about global politics and Australia in a similar vein.
I was laughing because this discussion was happening at the same time as the votes for Pauline Hanson‘s anti-muslim party were being counted that would give them four senators. It takes a special lack of self-awareness to triumphantly proclaim Australia’s escape from the anti-immigrant politics of Trump and Europe (supposedly) when the rest of the world looks at Australia’s detention of refugees in offshore centres with horror.
The current Government has leaders acting in ways that would cause many foreign observers to wonder about the humanitarians credentials of Australian politicians. The Immigration Minister (Peter Dutton) recently complained of “many” refugee and asylum seekers being illiterate and innumerate, basing this on his department’s research that about 1/5th of people were. He then accused them, despite their alleged illiteracy and innumeracy, of stealing jobs from Australians.
Dutton followed this up with assertions that 2000 incidents containing sexual abuse and violent attacks were false allegations and that people were setting themselves on fire, not in protest at their treatment or because of anguish, but in a misguided attempt to get to Australia. The deputy prime minister showed his own brand of logic by thinking that banning live animal exports to Indonesia caused more asylum seekers to come to Australia by boat. One of Pauline Hanson’s recently elected senators declared that he believes the UN is conspiring to form a world government and is using climate change to do so.
The one thing that makes me pause is the fear that I am making the same mistakes as those who characterised the UK as racist and stupid after the referendum. I write this blog about a country of which I have limited understanding and, indeed, I write these blogs in an attempt to form some kind of understanding. The gaps between blogs are periods of enduring ignorance. When I read blogs that I’ve written previously, I often think that I would have written them differently now that I know more.
When I hit the publish button, I fear retribution for having misunderstood or misinterpreted something so obvious to Australians. I could be an idiot foreigner who thinks he knows the country so well when in actual fact, I’m just scratching at the surface. Or even if I have spoken some form of truth, what would people think of me choosing to come to live here and then spend my time taking it apart and criticizing it? What if I hit a raw nerve that engenders that same feeling amongst friends that I felt when my home country was criticised by foreigners?
It seems to me that the same distaste that we feel when foreigners criticise us is maybe linked to the same emotions that prompt us to keep foreigners out. Foreigners don’t have a right to be here and they don’t have a right to criticise us. I have a right to be here because I happened to pop out here; your mother was somewhere else when you popped out. I can work or not, whilst you have to work to avoid being a burden, whilst making sure you don’t steal any jobs from other people who popped out here. I can say what I want whereas you say nothing.
The shame is that how others see us, even when not entirely right, can sometimes reveal a little bit of truth.