Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

July 2007 # 4

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Back to Editorials 2007

Repackaging Cigarettes and Politicians

The human body, the carrier of the soul, heart and mind is, to my way of thinking, the most important site of conflict on earth. It is the site upon which a judge, jury and executioner all perform their roles. Roles that if carried out according to humane, just and moral principles, allow us to live without fear and to enjoy freedom, hope and liberty. 

I’m writing this thinking of two bodies, those of David Hicks (David Hicks who?) and Mohamed Haneef. These two men embody the political battle being fought out in order to win our ‘hearts and minds’ as the ruling classes struggle among themselves to gain the ‘right’ to rule us. 

Hicks, after suffering at the hands of the US military and contract interrogators, was finally broken by them and admitted to so called ‘crimes’ which were specifically written into the US law books to ensure his guilt. Our government supported this process even though every reasonable legal expert condemned it as unjust, unfair and of dubious legal standing. Haneef now suffers the indignity of being subject to a presumption of guilt promoted by the innuendo and rhetoric spewing out of the mouths of politicians and policemen. Having nothing to hold him on, a judge recommends his release on bail. This is not good enough for a government falling to pieces on top of its own lies and deceit and in response, the highest office in the land decides to step in over the top of the judiciary and implement its own ‘justice’ in the name of ‘national security’. 

In the bodies of these two men we find a range of signifiers that are deployed by the powerful to raise questions, pose dilemmas and which provide a suitable basis on which to enact their unjust and inhumane causes. Now, with the Howard government and a complicit and weak opposition supporting their every move, Haneef has become the latest site of political deception and skulduggery. 

The body of Mohamed Haneef has not been as clearly seen as that of David Hicks’. With Hicks we had images of him holding a bazooka and rifle. We had photos of him as a boy and young man with a grin on his face. He was blond, cute and innocent. Quite often he was described as a typical Aussie bloke who, his father said, got into something he should not have. Mohamed Haneef on the other hand, is represented in the media either through a grainy photo, an artist sketch or a blurred image in a telephoto lens. However, we have seen pictures of his wife and child. What makes this family stand out is their skin colour. In short, it was hard for the government to prevent a societal backlash against their treatment of Hicks because he was white, working class and pretty much like the rest of us. In the case of Haneef and his family, they are ‘black’ – Indian – and therefore ‘others’. It is these ‘others’ the Howard government has spent the last seven years vilifying, racialising and telling us that ‘we don’t want people like that here’. 

By all accounts Haneef has been an upstanding ‘temporary’ resident. He has been a diligent and hard worker. He has kept out of trouble and was applying himself to his chosen profession. It would seem, from the reports, that he was trying to achieve the dream of raising his family out of their current circumstances and provide a better life for them. The media images of his wife and newborn child half a world away may raise questions about the government and police treatment of him and by extension, his family. 

In the response to the potential for the images of his young family to stir up maternalistic feelings towards this ‘supporter of terrorism’, we find that the so called “leaked” interview transcript is now being claimed to have some almost ‘magical’ power in the case. I heard Mick Keelty on the radio trying to explain what this “leak” may mean. In his efforts, on the ABC’s “World Today” program, he came across as someone desperate to paint not only Haneef as criminal, but also his legal team and anyone else who has had an association with him. It would seem that locking the body up is not enough nowadays. Those who ‘handle’ the body must also be expunged from the public gaze. 

The Howard government has the scent of blood in its collective nostrils. Like the hounds so cruelly sent to chase the fox to death, Howard, the complicit Labor party and the mainstream media, are chasing the body of Haneef and will not be satisfied until it is drained of all will, hope and life (figuratively speaking, I hope). 

Haneef’s body has now surpassed that of David Hicks’ as the most public body in Australia. Given the deficits that this body supposedly represents, the political spin doctors on both sides are now advising their clients to avoid any references that might cause sympathy or empathy with it. Let’s not forget the directive that came out of the advisor’s offices during the so called “children overboard affair” recommending that any language that might humanise the victims of our government’s policies should be avoided. 

Stripped of dignity, the presumption of innocence, with the all of the mainstream political and media structures looming above you, I ask, if you were in Mohamed Haneef’s position, what would you do? Or better still, if you were in Kevin Rudd’s shoes what you do? We know what Rudd is doing, putting on his best John Howard ‘lite’ persona and not touching this issue with the figurative barge pole. Some leader he will make … not. 

Haneef is now in a situation beyond his own comprehension. Indeed it would seem the government is rewriting the rules so that he, or anyone else the government feels it necessary to arraign, is now beyond the reach of justice. The government is moving into dangerous territory. Wasn’t it the Howard government that wanted to invade Iraq to free the people from a tyrant with no regard for the rule of law? Wasn’t it the Howard government that supported the illegal detention of David Hicks arguing that it was a process of law that he had to undergo? Wasn’t it the Howard government who signed off on the AWB contracts that fed $300 million dollars straight into Saddam’s coffers? 

These are important questions to answer because in attempting to address them we find we begin to understand the importance of bodies. Haneef was never photographed playing with guns like the top Executives of AWB were. Haneef was never on the police radar until a tenuous link was made. Haneef was living according to the laws of our land, something our rulers are not content to allow him to do. 

Our bodies are the most important sites of conflict on the planet. It is with them we signal our belonging to certain groups, faiths, movements, oppositions and battles. In them and on them we carry the scars of our life journey and with them we gain access or are denied access to justice, peace and human kindness. 

Mohamed Haneef and David Hicks, two different men whose bodies now signify two different conflicts, are no less people than we are. Their bodies, like ours, however, are expendable in the power plays that dominate politics and money. What I also find interesting about the case of Mohamed Haneef was its timing. Just as we were being inundated with images of the black bodies of our Indigenous brothers and sisters and they were bearing the brunt of Howard’s racism, a switch to a body that is not indigenous seems timely. After all, it did become apparent that Howard’s latest plot to further disenfranchise our black population had more than a hint of racism attached. The distraction of Haneef provided a timely refocus on someone else who is a little removed from our ‘home’. 

The body we have expresses all that goes on inside us. It is the connection our spiritual and moral being has with the physical world. It is the interface between the eternal and the temporal. Perhaps the question for us when reflecting on Mohamed Haneef and David Hicks’ story is, “will my body or others like it, one day fall victim to a government that disregards the rule of law and puts itself above all moral, legal and humane principles as judge, jury and executioner?”

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