’Stateless’, an Australian Television Drama about Refugee Detention

’The Trojan Women,’ a play was Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.

This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).

The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.

In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.

’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).

How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”

We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.

Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.

The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”

One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.

Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.

The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.

The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.

Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.

The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.

Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.

What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.

Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’

Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.

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A Reflection on Zionism’s Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine

For Americans, Stan Goff perfectly summarized the situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem today, and in Palestine generally for the last 54 years:

“Establishment Democrats support ethnic cleansing… There is no Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict.’ It’s the decades-long military occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. I know I sound like a broken record, but my [social media] feed keeps filling up with this weasel worded bullshit that assigns some utterly bullshit equivalency between occupier and occupied. No reasonable and honest person who is even superficially familiar with this issue can describe Israel as anything but an Apartheid state. An Apartheid state that is sustained and protected in its racist aggressions by the United States government with your taxes. Democrats and Republicans. Heretofore I will unfollow anyone who posts this kind of sly ‘moral equivalency’ trash. And no, it is not fucking ‘complicated’; it’s ignorance or cowardice, and it is objectively lending support to this lawless fascist state. That is all.”

The American “political class” runs a white supremacy state; to them, a threat to white supremacy anywhere is a threat to white supremacy everywhere. Hence the knee-jerk fealty to ethnic cleansing in Palestine by Zionists.

This is as it has always been and remains regarding “others” in the territory of the United States and the Western Hemisphere, with: the Amerindians, Blacks (long held in slavery, and ever discriminated against), Mexicans (the American West north of the Rio Grande is Occupied Mexico), and many other designated apart-from-white people.

With the growth since the 19th century of the fossil-fueled industrial power of American white supremacy came the global reach of its campaign of conquest: the Caribbean (1898, and 1959+), Central and South America (from Smedley Butler to Kennedy-Johnson, and Reagan, et al.), Southeast Asia (Vietnam+), South Africa (Kissinger, Reagan, the 1980s for Angola, Namibia, the U.S. support for South African apartheid — I knew a “jackal”: a retired unacknowledged U.S. mercenary-assassin who worked for S.A. in those years).

The World is “the enemy” of American white supremacy, just as Palestine is “the enemy” of Zionism. And Zionists have paid their way into being “honorary white people” — an apt Goffism characterizing our apart-from-white-Christian domestic compradores serving our domestic white supremacy settler colonialism — who are part of that American white supremacy establishment; and have financially metastasized themselves into the careerism of that narcissistic and intrinsically racist political class.

“Indeed I tremble for my country when [I] reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!” — Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia).

But he still kept his slaves to the bitter end, banking on God’s justice continuing to sleep. And such is the attitude of the anguished self-absolved collectively guiltless perpetrators of today, and which drives their hypocritical equivocations and torturously convoluted hyperbole in defense of continuing with the slow-motion genocide in Palestine (as in Xinjiang, as in…) of the “others” to be dispossessed and discarded as fast as the marketplace of world public moral consciousness will bear.

For me it all begs the question: when do we reach the point where we deserve our own destruction?

The phrase “never again” should have been emblazoned on human memory many times in the past, for example searingly by Guernica in 1937, but tragically it never seems to fully catch hold as a guiding principle for human beings.

To my mind, one significant impetus to the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939 was the failure of the Democracies including the United States to defend the Spanish Republic and stamp out fascism in Spain during 1936-1939. The retreat into nationalist comfort (as today with vaccine nationalism) and ‘the Democracies’ not-so-covert anti-socialist collaboration with the fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany during the 1930s, doomed them to be sucked into the genocidal maelström of 1939-1945. And we are yet not free of that poison. [1]

While “collective guilt” of the German people for the crimes of the Nazis was officially disavowed by the triumphant United Nations, after 8 May 1945, in the vital interests of pacifying, stabilizing and rebuilding Germany and the rest of devastated Europe without a resurgence of fascism — which itself was first sparked by the draconian punishment of Germany after World War I — it nevertheless was a moral truth. That the German people of the 1930s and 1940s (with the exception of an incredibly brave and noble minority) overwhelmingly supported the Nazi regime, is plain fact. [2]

But such collective guilt cannot be assigned to the children of those times, who have strived so vigorously to create a socially enlightened postwar Germany, a nation that is far more forthright in acting to compensate for the wrongs of its past than the United States has ever been about its Amerindian Genocide or its Black Slavery and Jim Crow (which latter was so instructive to the Nazis fashioning their race laws of 1933).

But such collective guilt can be assigned today to the self-styled Jeffersonians who are the adult perpetrators, enablers, and equivalents of 1930s “good Germans” in Israel and America (and China, etc.) acquiescing to the slo-mo genocides of the moment, like the vividly repulsive violent expropriations in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, and the aerial bombings in Gaza (84 years after the bombing of Guernica).

Can we be so sure that “God’s justice” will conveniently continue to sleep for us, as the Jeffersonian white supremacists hoped in the 18th and 19th centuries, and our American exceptionalists and Zionists hope today? Can we be so sure that our white supremacist equivocations today will escape retribution as was visited upon the European and American democracies, and on perfidious Russian Communism [3], after their failures to support the obvious moral imperatives of defending designated outcast “others” from persecution: European Jews (1933), Ethiopia (1935), Spain (1936), China (1937), Czechoslovakia (1938), and Poland (1939)?

In fact, “God’s justice” looms before us and without pity on even our children, in the forms of the climate crisis and the crisis of the destruction of Nature and habitability on Planet Earth. Today’s children have no share in the collective guilt of their parents and grandparents for creating and expanding that planetary crisis — by the decades-long fossil-fueled orgy of exclusionary industrialized capitalism in all its forms — yet those children are facing the brunt of these accelerating catastrophes. That bald fact is pointedly stated by Greta Thunberg, voicing the judgment by humanity’s robbed future on its greedy present that is also its future discredited past.

To extract ourselves from the climate crisis would require widespread cooperative altruistic action over the long term. None of those four qualities: “widespread,” “cooperative,” “altruistic,” “long-term,” have been exhibited simultaneously by human civilization in the past. The most accurate guesses about humanity’s future are likely to be arrived at by using the imagination without invoking any of those four qualities.

To salvage optimism in these times it is necessary to realize that there are no physical barriers nor prohibitive scientific “laws” preventing humanity from exhibiting “widespread cooperative altruistic action over the long term,” even starting tomorrow, to effectively and justly stop the slo-mo genocides underway now and the crisis of accelerating bio-inhospitality, and to compensate for the wrongs of the past. Such optimism, though logically limited by “realistic” thinking, is essential for heartening and motivating the people seeking to expand the scope of those collective altruistic actions. Greta and her generation deserve our best efforts — for life.

Even without possessing any political power or impressive wealth, we ‘ordinary, everyday adult people’ can individually add our mite to such good collective action by disavowing collaborationist lies (say it: the Israeli occupation of Palestine is apartheid, and ethnic cleansing), by speaking the truth plainly and without fear (“You say that you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future”) [4], by being honest witnesses (#SayHerName, Breonna Taylor and at least 103 others) [5], and by not allowing our words to be self-censored nor our attitudes to be submissively polite so as to cloak the repulsive moral nakedness of “our” political leaders, emperors and parasites.

[My thanks to Kathryn Morse, Stan Goff, and Louis Proyect.]

Notes:

[1]
“The Silence of Others” is an intense (especially for me) documentary about the efforts of the survivors of torture and persecution by Franco’s fascistic dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), to gain justice.

The Spanish state, with many Francoists still ensconced in positions of authority and power, and shielded by the Amnesty law of 1977, resist tooth and nail all judicial efforts to provide such justice for the victims of these crimes, via the internationally recognized (and very little adhered to) judicial principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and there being no statute of limitations for prosecuting them.

My father (a Spaniard born in Cuba) had an uncle, a violinist in a symphony, jailed by the Franco regime after the Civil War (he had regained his liberty by the late 1960s).

The Spanish Civil War continues to cast a long, long shadow on the character of Spaniards, and on the character of humanity. And there are too many new reflections of that cancerous fascism flickering on today around the world.

The Silence of Others
https://thesilenceofothers.com/

[2]
The Accountant of Auschwitz
http://www.accountantofauschwitz.com/

Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
https://www.netflix.com/title/81070008

Benjamin Ferencz
https://benferencz.org/

[3]
The Nazi-Soviet Pact: A Betrayal of Communists by Communists
[An excerpt from Bini Adamczak’s book “Yesterday’s Tomorrow: On the Loneliness of Communist Specters and the Reconstruction of the Future.”]
https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/the-nazi-soviet-pact-a-betrayal-of-communists-by-communists/

Intense. In the 1980s I read about the prisoner exchanges in 1939 of escaped German communists (antifascists) — and veterans of the Republican (socialist) side in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War — pulled out of asylum in Russia and given back to the Gestapo, and escaped Russian anticommunists (czarists and fascists) pulled out of asylum in Germany and given back to the NKVD. According to books by Michael Voslensky (Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class), Roy Medvedev (Let History Judge) and other similar authors whom I have now forgotten: the NKVD took the Communist Party membership cards away from their communist now-prisoners, and then with a Gestapo officer present verified the identity of each individual to check them off a Gestapo ‘shopping list,’ while similarly verifying the identity of an anticommunist prisoner being given to the NKVD in exchange. Then both the Gestapo and the NKVD led their repatriated prisoners away for executions in private.

The reason that Communist Party membership cards were removed by the NKVD, excommunicating those individuals from the CP, was so that the Gestapo would not be shooting “communists”: those in good standing with the Stalinist party of that time.

Very large gears turn in the machinery of power, indeed, and are lubricated with the blood of many lives whose identities have been erased from memory.

In the 2000s I met a woman who is a Spaniard born in Arkhangelsk (in West Arctic Russia), as her parents were Spanish communists who escaped Franco’s fascist Spain on the defeat of the Spanish Republicans in 1939. Her daughter and my youngest were friends in a girls chorus in San Francisco. She said that Stalin wanted the Spanish Communists as far from Europe (western, southern, central) as possible. She is a survivor (and very Russian), and obviously did not believe in any ideology. She made it real for me, without having to say very much.

All of this literature about the largely unnamed and long forgotten victims of betrayed better futures, is also about the historical achievements of the successful practitioners of the Arthashastra, The Prince, The Pentagon Papers, and the more recent derivatives of such manuals of “statecraft.”

[4]
Greta Thunberg speaks
https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/18804443.Greta_Thunberg

[5]
SayHerName
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SayHerName

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