The Tampa and the World Trade Centre
Australian National University
crisis: the new voyage of the damned. The falling towers of 11 September:
was this the ultimate aestheticisation of politics? The perpetrators
knew America and the world would be watching on CNN and BBC World
as the second plane flew into the building and we would already
have images in our minds of multiple science fiction and disaster
movies already existing (from Fritz Lang's Metropolis onwards)
and some about to be shown. Science fiction has no future. Modernist
architectural hubris, to bestride the known world, is dead. New
York will revert to an art deco city. The American hero has become
a facies hippocratica, a death's head. The Bruce Willis of Die
Hard will be derided. Only the Bruce Willis of Pulp Fiction
Sitting at ANU's Calypso, where
I go for my morning coffee, I said to my son: For the first time
in my life I feel no hope.
He said, remember Kafka. We both laughed. Ned was reminding me of
the anecdote Benjamin in Illuminations (1992: 113) tells
of Kafka, who had once said that there was "plenty of hope,
an infinite amount of hope but not for us".
Then we stared thoughtfully ahead, nursing our double-shot lattes.
Coffee: in the fifteenth century coffee was brought from Ethiopia
to the Yemen, then spread throughout the Arab and Islamic world
by Sufi traders; coffee and coffee houses would change the habitus
of Middle Eastern cities, then cities in Europe and throughout the
When I got to my office I looked up the essay again. Benjamin says
that for Kafka there may be hope for a group of very strange figures
who recur throughout Kafka's work, and are enigmatically referred
to as the "assistants", those who have escaped the family
circle. In Indian mythology, there are the gandharvas, celestial
creatures, beings in an unfinished state. Kafka's assistants, says
Benjamin, are of that kind, neither members of, nor strangers to,
any of the other groups of odd figures, but, rather, messengers
from one to the other: "It is for them and their kind, the
unfinished and the bunglers, that there is hope." (1992: 113)
David Marr, writing in the Sydney
Morning Herald (20 Sept. 2001) on the appeal in the Federal
Court after which a majority declared legal the seizure of the boat
people on the Tampa, setting aside the previous decision of Justice
North, reports the dissenting view of Chief Justice Black in the
following way: "As far as he could see, the Crown hadn't tried
to expell without legislative authority since England's ports were
barred to Jews in the 1770s. Australia had the Migration Act, a
comprehensive law to protect our borders. That was all we had and
all we needed." So (am I getting this completely wrong?) if
the Migration Act were not sufficient, Australia could call on what
the Crown did in the 1770s as justification?
In his dissenting
judgement Chief Justice Black (2001) refers to the tenth volume
of Sir William Holdsworth's A History of English Law (1938:
396-7) where Professor Holdsworth suggests that the Crown's pregorative
power to exclude or expel aliens was increasingly questioned from
the sixteenth century onwards. Holdsworth notes that the last occasion
on which it appears that a prerogative power to expel or exclude
non-citizens was used was in 1771, when the Crown directed that
Jews "unable to pay the usual freight" should, unless
they had a passport from an ambassador, be excluded from British
What the world and not
least those who protest against inequalities and injustices
needs is re-immersion in Gandhi and Martin Luther King's teachings
on non-violence not as an occasional strategy or tactic but as a
philosophy of being, a quality of sensibility, an art of existence,
Interestingly, quite a few letters to the Sydney Morning Herald
in these weeks of crisis have drawn urgent attention to sayings
of Gandhi ("An eye for an eye just leaves the world blind")
and Martin Luther King on the necessity of non-violence. Think too
of the 1965 Australian Freedom Ride.
Edward Said has made an anguished appeal for Palestinians to think
of different methods of protest and suggested Gandhian passive resistance
as an alternative to a violence that always brings upon them greater
And doesn't non-violence and passive resistance have gender implications?
permitting greater female participation, questioning aggressive
A letter writer to the Sydney
Morning Herald (24 Sept.) felt moved to quote Nietzsche: "Whoever
fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not
become a monster." This is from fragment 146 of Beyond Good
and Evil (1886). The fragment goes on: "And when you gaze
long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Nearby is
fragment 156: "Madness is something rare in individuals
but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule."
In Joyce's Ulysses Mr Leopold
Paula Bloom, on 16 June 1904, under threat of expulsion by the nationalist
Irish citizens in Barney Kiernan's pub, declares his utopian pacifism,
that history, with its recourse to "force", its "insult
and hatred", is of "no use", that it is the very
reverse of what is really life, which is love, the "opposite
of hatred". Not, one might think, the philosophy of the future
Will all the world's Arabs and Muslims now experience destruction,
persecution, and atrocity because of the extreme violence of a few
acting on behalf of all, from whom this violent few never asked
nor received permission?
At the end of The Fateful
Triangle (1983), Chomsky feared that Israel would be the cause
of the next world war.
A very courageous group has formed in the US called Not in My Name,
of Jews who refuse Zionism: but so tiny a group. The great French
scholar of the Middle East Maxime Rodinson felt that Zionism would
only fail when the "Jewish masses" came over to the opinion
that it was wrong, recognising that it was and is a disastrous imposition
of European concepts of settler-colonialism onto the Middle East
and an insult to the Arab world. (Rodinson 1973: 95, 1983: 116)
Spinoza in his undoubtedly elitist 1670 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
suggested that in a democratic society the tyrannical majority,
incapable of reason, needed guidance in the form of institutions
that embodied reason. Spinoza felt that the disputatious theologians
of his own time in their various Christian sects fomented hatred
and mob violence. His friends the De Witt brothers were torn to
pieces by a (bourgeois) mob. He himself, alleged to be an atheist,
once had to persuade a mob to disperse that had appeared outside
his home. (Spinoza 1989: 49-56, 78, 161, 262; Docker 2001: 91-99)
In Australia today the equivalent of sectarian theologians creating
a society of hatred and inciting possible mob violence against strangers
and those perceived as internal enemies are our present political
leaders of both major parties, rightwing journalist-commentators
in the broadsheets, and talk back radio entertainers.
Australia's journalists, the majority of them, the ones who seem
effortlessly to command regular columns and enormous amounts of
word space, are perhaps the greatest danger to democracy today,
and certainly to a public sphere that hopefully can transcend brutal
positivism; their hatred of academics and intellectuals is pathological.
The inferiority of Australian journalists, compared to knowledgeable
British journalists like Robert Fisk, has once again been alarmingly
revealed: their ignorant assertiveness, their arrogant mediocrity.
Could Australia become fascist? In Moses and Monotheism Freud
said that where athletic development becomes the ideal of the people,
brutality and the inclination to violence are usually found. (1967:
The great Polish-Jewish jurist
Raphaël Lemkin (1944: 79) in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe
invented the term genocide. "Genocide has two main phases:
one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group;
the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor."
Lemkin linked the second phase to colonisation: "This imposition
may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed
to remain, or upon the territory alone, after the removal of the
population and the colonization of the area by the colonizer's own
nationals." For Lemkin, genocide does not necessarily though
it certainly may work by direct killing (in World War Two, he observed,
the technique of mass killing was employed mainly against Jews,
Poles, Slovenes, and Russians). Genocide involves destruction of
the honour, dignity, reputation, and integrity of a people.
In A Little Matter of Genocide the Native American historian
Ward Churchill, drawing on Lemkin's 1944 definition, suggests that
liberal-democratic settler-colonies like the United States, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand and Israel are inherently genocidal, since
wholesale displacement, reduction in numbers, and forced assimilation
of indigenous peoples are a requirement of their existence. (1997:
84, 415-422 )
Settler-colonies around the globe, which present themselves as the
bearers of civilization, of Enlightenment liberalism, of modernity,
are established in the violence of inherent genocide, its heartlessness
In Moses and Monotheism
Freud argues that with its appearance in the world with the Pharaoh
Akhenaten and his follower Moses the belief in one God gave birth
to "religious intolerance, which was foreign to antiquity long
before this and for long after". Monotheism lived by exclusion,
repudiation, negation of that which it considered religiously wrong,
beginning with polytheism itself. Akhenaten showed the way by prohibiting
the names of the gods he didn't like, closing the polytheistic temples,
forbidding services, and seizing ecclesiastical property. (1967:
18-35, 41, 57, 82) Freud is not particularly concerned, since his
civilization creation story involves pain, renunciation and trauma
as necessary for future advances.
The Egyptologist Jan Assmann in his Moses the Egyptian suggests
that monotheism was and continues to be disastrous for humanity
and history. (1997: 1-12, 168-170, 211) Akhenaten introduced into
the ancient world the monotheistic presumption of true and false
religion. This "murderous distinction" worked its destructive
way forward in terms of ever more distinctions and sub-distinctions,
between Jews and Gentiles, Old and New Testaments, Christians and
pagans, Muslims and unbelievers, Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists
Disaster without end: now the 'West' contra 'Islam'.
Assmann says that the way Akhenaten's monotheism was introduced
into Egypt was traumatic for the polytheistic Egyptians: the terror
in being severed from ritual contact with a protective nurturing
When the monotheistic European invaders arrived with supreme presumption
in the Americas and Australia, didn't they visit such originary
trauma on its peoples?
In Exodus 23: 9 God tells the
Israelites: "thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know
the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of
Egypt". Such is beautiful and moving. Yet here and in Exodus
as a whole there is a legacy: 'Egypt' becomes demonised in Judeo-Christian
Eliot's "Gerontion" we read early in the poem of "the
jew" who "squats on the window sill" of the house
where the old man lives; "the jew", who has moved between
Antwerp, Brussels, London, has become the "owner" of the
Mr Eliot, the stranger from America, now at home in England, now
wishes to excoriate the stranger.
Greene: unlikely prophet. The Quiet American (1955): predictive
allegory of the Vietnam War and Cold War decades (still continuing,
since the Taliban were funded by the CIA); of intellectuals and
power; of America and the world.
In the novel the young idealistic naïve American Alden Pyle,
educated in Enlightenment ideals of liberty, working for American
intelligence, will attempt to bring democracy to Vietnam. A third
force of local Vietnamese, displacing the French colonizers, will
be funded and entrusted to carry forward the mission of freedom
to this part of the world. With Pyle's knowledge, the third force,
brutal and predatory, explodes a bomb in a busy Saigon street, killing
and maiming passers-by and bystanders.
Pyle's beliefs and self-belief never waver. Fowler, the English
journalist, dislikes him intensely. Where, Fowler wonders, is the
graininess of sensibility imparted by the entertaining of doubt,
self-doubt, self-irony, uncertainty, self-loathing, fear of fate,
fear of failure, awareness that self-delusion is inevitable, knowledge
that any action will have unintended consequences, acknowledgement
of intricacies and complexities in any society to which one has
just come? In Fowler's view, all such never enter the simple determined
undeterrable soul of Alden Pyle the American hero, always admirable
in his own eyes.
In The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters
(1999: 359), Frances Stonor Saunders tells us that because of The
Quiet American Greene was hated by America's clandestine community
of Cold Warriors.
Little Matter of Genocide Ward Churchill writes that the US
is, conspicuously, "an outlaw state", refusing to sign
international treaties and conventions. As of 1990, Churchill says,
more than a hundred United Nations member states had tendered valid
ratifications of the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide (working from
Lemkin's 1944 definition): a significant exception was the United
States, despite a pretence of ratification made at the behest of
the Reagan administration in 1988, forty years after its promulgation.
United States refuses to ratify important elements of evolving international
law concerned with human rights and crimes against humanity, including
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The argument
of the US is, says Churchill, that to accept such international
covenants and conventions would impair US sovereignty by recognising
laws standing at a higher level than America's own. (1997: 364-5,
371, 379-80, 387-88)
Early in 2001 I took up a month's residency at an American-funded
research centre. In one general discussion, a young English human
rights lawyer talked of imminent plans to create an international
court to try crimes against humanity. The senior American scholar
there passionately broke in: the Pentagon, he sharply averred, would
never accept that any American soldier could be tried by an international
court; America would never ratify such a court. Well, then, said
the young lawyer, the rest of the world would have to go ahead without
On 11 September 2001 an outlaw state was attacked by outlaws.
Australia, under the Howard-Beazley Doctrine of expulsion of refugees,
is rapidly becoming an outlaw state, despised and ridiculed amongst
is a conspicuous outlaw state. With American approval, it refuses
to act on important UN resolutions concerning the human rights of
the Palestinians, not least concerning the right of return of the
700,000 Palestinians made refugees in 1948-49.
Israel is an ethnically absolutist state, indeed it calls itself
the Jewish State. It is not a modern multi-ethnic, multi-racial,
multi-religious society. It despises its neighbours as enemies of
God and they in turn, knowing they are despised, despise Israel.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 29-30 September 2001 carried
an article by Robert Fisk observing that the Palestinians would
like Ariel Sharon tried for crimes against humanity: "Palestinians
would like to see Sharon picked up for the Sabra and Chatila massacre,
a terrorist slaughter carried out by Israel's Lebanese allies
trained by the Israeli army in 1982."
These same Lebanese allies, who perpetrated atrocities against their
own people, have been without any fuss or outrage permitted by the
Liberal Government to migrate to Australia after the ending of the
illegal Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
Ariel Sharon is a war criminal and mass murderer - Chomsky in
The Fateful Triangle (1983: 383) refers, for example, to October
1953 when Unit 101 commanded by Sharon massacred some seventy men,
women and children in the Jordanian village of Qibya - with ultimate
responsibility for the hideous Sabra and Chatila killings; a war
criminal and mass murderer now Israel's prime minister, loyally
supported by the Diaspora who will accept anything done in their
"I have a dream": a world where Ariel Sharon and Osama
bin Laden stand side by side in the dock of justice, tried in an
international court for their crimes against humanity.
Docker is an Australian cultural theorist. He is currently Visiting
Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National
University, Canberra. His published work includes In A Critical
Condition, The Nervous Nineties, and Postmodernism
and Popular Culture. His most recent book is 1492: The Poetics
of Diaspora (London: Continuum, 2001). Email: John.Docker@anu.edu.au
essay was first published by Arena
Magazine and is reprinted here with the kind permission of its editors.
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Western Monotheism (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.).
Benjamin, Walter (1992) Illuminations, edited and introd.
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Black, Justice (2001) judgement in Federal Court
Ruddock v Vadarlis, FCA 1329, at:
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Docker, John (2001) 1492: The Poetics of
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Freud, Sigmund (1967) Moses and Monotheism (Vintage, New
Holdsworth, Sir William (1938) A History of English Law, Vol.
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of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress
(Columbia University Press, New York).
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Rodinson, Maxime (1983) Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence
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© borderlands e-journal 2002