The Elephant in the Room

Try as I might to steel myself against dismay at the encouragement that prejudice, and xenophobia receives at a government level I find I do slip into temporary malaise more frequently these days.

I’m advanced enough in years to remember venturing out with my friends with buckets of soapy water to scrub Jack van Tongeren’s racist ‘Asians Out’ posters off bus stop shelters, and walls and the enormous community support that was given the Vietnamese ‘boat people’. Television stations, and newspapers (even the West Australian!) were keen to publish our efforts, and most of the so called ‘bleeding hearts’ I knew were Christians. How drastically things can change in 25 years.

Now refugees are burdened with a double dose of suspicion built on secrecy and disinformation, and the pre-existing bias and fear of association with mental illness. It’s no mistake hard right-wing proponents label anyone with compassionate leanings ‘the loony left’. Dismissing the ideas, needs, and desires of an individual or group by inferring mental ill health, or moral depravity where the code is defined by them alone has been a stock in trade tool used by manipulators of public opinion to declare compassionate action, and disregard for oppressive rules that make no sense for years.

Kings have been dethroned for it such as Ludwig II of Bavaria. The psychiatrist employed by his power hungry family, Bernhard von Gudden, declared him to be mad because, amongst other things, he preferred to dine outside in all manner of weather. He did not meet with King Ludwig during the evaluation, nor did he attempt to interview impartial sources. Such is the power of using even the suggestion of mental ill health as an instrument of fear and exclusion.

Educating the public that mental ill health can be instigated by traumatic experience, and that this trauma can be visited on anyone in small but significant increments of progressive disempowerment and hopelessness is a tall order. The average Australian who has no experience of the loss of liberty, and the shame visited on these people through unreasonably harsh conditions, and control overreach of the lives of incarcerated refugees can have little hope of seeing it as a big deal or understanding the consequences.

I implore all those who know differently to let your voice be heard.


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