Jack Ross, ed.: brief 31 - Kultur (November 2004)
brief goes political …
It is not just that the government's case is so ludicrously thin. After Iraq, it is difficult to take any government seriously that builds its case on secret intelligence. But Clark's government has gone way beyond this. It is attacking, in effect, some of the cornerstones of democratic civilisation. It appealed against the Court of Appeal's unanimous ruling that Zaoui's human rights should be taken into account during the review of his security status. In doing so, the government joins the ranks of the barbarians. …
So the Sunday Star-Times (Editorial – 17 October 2004). It seems we’re all on the same page at last. I watched that TV documentary (Enemy of the State: broadcast on Wednesday 13 October on TV1), and I must say that the noble faces of Ahmed Zaoui’s family and friends, pleading for his life while steadfastly refusing to blame New Zealand for its pusillanimity, made a strong impression on me. They were moving because they made no attempt to be. I’ve also read the recently published book on the case (I Almost Forgot About the Moon: The Disinformation Camapaign against Ahmed Zaoui, by Selwyn Manning, Yasmine Ryan and Katie Small (Multimedia Investments, September, 2004): RRP $NZ15). I can’t claim to have been any great mover in the cause otherwise. I read at Riemke Ensing’s Amnesty event, and have attended a few meetings: Riemke herself, Deborah Manning and a host of others take the prize there. However, I did go to visit Mr. Zaoui in prison last month in order to discuss his inclusion in this issue of brief, and he struck me as about a million miles removed from a terrorist.
How nice he is, or whether or not I consider him to be innocent (which in fact I do) isn’t the point, of course. The point is that if he cannot be proved to be guilty, and can be shown to be a legitimate refugee, then he should be set free. Isn’t that what Habeus Corpus and all those other little conventions that constitute the rule of law mean? I’m afraid that when I look at Ahmed Zaoui, I see myself – in some not-too-impossibly-distant future where believing in the things I believe in, publishing artefacts like the magazine you hold in your hands, associating with the kind of degenerates who write for a magazine like this, are all considered crimes. They probably are already. What’s more, I see myself in some jail cell unable to find out anything about the nature of the secret evidence that motivated my incarceration. (I was going to write “caused my conviction” – but then I remembered that people don’t have to be tried or convicted in order to be imprisoned nowadays). Wasn’t that what the storming of the Bastille was about? Imprisonment on secret evidence? Who dares prate on nowadays about the Nazis or the Gulag archipelago when we have Guantanamo Bay to wince at?
So, yes, I’m sorry – brief has gone political. I’m certainly not requiring you to agree with me on these matters, but I don’t think it’s healthy to ignore them even in so rarefied a publication as this. Literature should lead by example, sure – churning out propaganda is not quite what I had in mind. But one notable feature of the Zaoui case has been how powerful the Arts can be in moving people to act.
It’s fair enough to be concerned about Zaoui’s admitted convictions for terrorism, and his alleged links with Al Quaeda and the Algerian GIA. There are strong reasons for disputing both, but let’s say you think he should be kept inside for safety’s sake. Just what kind of imprisonment are we talking here? Fresh air, walks in the yard, cultivating your own flower garden? No, we’re talking ten and a half months of solitary confinement at Paremoremo. After that, transfer to the Auckland Remand centre. Martin Edmond has sent me some interesting notes about the outfit that runs that place:
The Labour Government recently announced it would not renew the licence of the only privately run prison now operating in this country, Auckland Central Remand Prison. Interestingly, there were some protests at this decision, because the prison in question has a reputation for sensitivity to cultural issues involving prisoners. This is perhaps surprising, because elsewhere in the world, subsidiaries of the GEO Group (Global Expertise in Outsourcing), as Wackenhut Corrections was recently renamed, have an appalling reputation.
George Wackenhut is a former FBI agent who made a career out of surveillance of political dissidents; by 1966 he maintained files on over four million people. Today, the GEO Group runs a global network (55 countries) of prisons, refugee detention camps, suburban shopping centres, banks, nuclear power plants, missile bases, 20 US embassies and, in the US, hires out its prisoners as unpaid labour for other companies.
(information from http://www.resistance.org.au/resources_corp_3.shtml)
Martin acknowledges that some of these details may be out-of-date, but they hardly sound like the sort of people we’d like to see tweaking the NZ prison system, do they? He continues:
Wackenhut’s antipodean arm, Australasian Correctional Management, which operates Auckland Central Remand Centre, used to run all six of Australia’s detention centres, as well as the six Australian prisons which it continues to operate; it was recently reported to have received a contract from the Australian Government to set up and operate three more refugee camps, though this hasn’t been confirmed. It also operates private prisons in South Africa, the United Kingdom and across the United States as well. All of these facilities make substantial profits.
ACM no doubt tried exceedingly hard to impress the NZ Government with the way in which it runs the ACRC, because it wants to operate more prisons here. It seems a good move to keep organisations like ACM out of this country, which already has a comparatively high rate of imprisonment: simply because incarceration, for whatever reason, of human beings for the purposes of making money is an obscenity. The fact that Helen Clark’s government, like John Howard’s, maintains a token presence in Iraq; that it continues to detain Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui; and will not, out of electoral timidity, take a clear stand on the racism of the resurgent National Party, is slightly offset by its decision to say goodbye to ACM.
NB The renaming of Wackenhut as GEO Corp. seems part of a ploy to disguise the extent of its activities. Go to http://www.wcc-corrections.com/index.html for their corporate profile.
That was originally going to be the subject of this editorial, by the way – the terrible dangers of resurgent racism, as embodied in that Don Brash speech at Orewa which caused National’s unprecedented surge in the polls. I even downloaded the speech to talk about it clause by clause. It all seems a bit overtaken by events now, though. Strange all this difference should be / ‘Twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee … The brutish and cynical opportunism of Labour has rather taken my breath away. I used to be an admirer of Helen Clark. Hell-Clark I’m forced to call her now. To hear her going on about New Zealand’s human rights record to people overseas makes me want to puke.
So what’s to be done? Is Collin the Animal going to come to our rescue? Is Jimmy Stewart going to stand up in the Senate and turn our darkness into day? (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, for those of you who missed that one). Well, maybe not, but perhaps we can learn something from that sort of tosh even so: Better to die on your feet than live on your knees! “Get up, stand up … Stand up for your rights!” Maybe we can’t change the world, but there’s absolutely no excuse for standing by while people are being imprisoned, indefinitely, without trial, in cruel and inhumane conditions, in our own back yard. It makes me sick.
There’s no profit in exaggeration, admittedly. It may be harder and harder to tell the difference between the goodies and the baddies, but there still is a (slight) difference between legitimate governments and terrorists. “What difference?” I hear you protest … The governments we see around us today are (if anything) more violent, intransigent, bloodthirsty, cynical, opportunistic and downright evil than their opponents. Not that those opponents are any great shakes either (witness the gunmen in that Russian school siege – people, to be sure, brutalised by a thousand acts of official oppression in their own towns and villages, but still brutal and intransigent thugs). The sole difference I can see is that we still have the right to stand up and denounce the things our governments do. Or even if we no longer exactly have the right (after that spate of insane homeland defence legislation sneaked through in most Western countries – including our own – after 9/11), at least we have the precedent of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela … hell, Malcolm X. Right now we need a few more people like that: people who will not sit down and shut up, people who will not take a statesmanlike view, people who are not realistic about politics, people who are not cynical, world-weary, compassion-fatigued, and all the other pathetic excuses we use for not doing what we know to be right.
Do as you would be done by – Love your neighbour as yourself – We must love one another or die … what else have we got in the long run? Trying to imprison, or kill, or simply ignore all those we’ve done wrong to is sowing the wind to reap the whirlwind. If I use enough clichés will you begin to understand what I’m on about? Who am I to preach, lazy and venal as I am? But I’m not afraid to call it the way I see it, even so.