It is Sorry Day today, the day set aside for Australians to recognise the past wrongs done to the indigenous people of our land. In thinking about this day and its recognition of the wrongness of political decisions made, ostensibly for the “right” reasons on behalf of the nation, but which had devastating impacts on a certain group of people, people who were unable to fight for their rights at the time, I wonder how many non-indigenous Australians at the time knew or suspected that these policies and actions were wrong and harmful but did nothing about it.
There were no doubt people who truly believed they were making the right decisions, however would there not also have been many who questioned the brutal impact of removing children from their families, who shed private tears and shuddered at the thought of their own children being removed in such a way, but who did not speak out and remained silent whilst the country’s representatives carried out their mandate.
In the Garden of Beasts, Eric Larson’s compelling history of the rise of Nazi Germany tells a similar tale of a simmering pot of brutality, force and discrimination steadily growing over a period of many years, whilst those not targeted, both domestically and internationally, looked the other way. One wonders whether the course of history could have been changed, many lives saved and atrocities avoided, if only those who sensed their concerns with what was occurring were able to speak out against it. Of course one understands why in many cases this did not happen………… fear is a powerful enemy.
This brings to mind the present time, a time when yet again political decisions are being made, ostensibly for the “right” reasons on behalf of the nation, but which are having devastating impacts on a certain group of people, people who are unable to fight for their rights. In case you haven’t guessed, I am talking about Australia’s treatment of refugees, and again, I am wondering how many Australians know or suspect that these policies and actions are wrong and harmful, but are doing nothing about it.
When we believe, or have serious concerns that our government is not acting properly in regards to serious issues, we have a civic duty to speak out. The consequence of not doing so is that unspeakable wrongs can be committed in our name. In a democracy, a political machine is only as powerful as the people behind it. If a large part of the population chooses to abstain from participating or chooses to abstain from speaking out against decisions, that leaves the power in the hands of the few. As history has shown us, that is a dangerous proposition.
There is no doubt that Sorry Day belongs to the indigenous people of Australia as a recognition and apology for the wrongs done to their people. It should also however serve as a brutal reminder that evil can happen, not only by the hands of powerful dictators or machine gun wielding forces, but also by the slow hand of apathy and the turning of a blind eye to cruel political decisions made in the nation’s interest to minority groups which we see as “others”. In the spirit of Sorry Day, let us not take refuge in the comfort of silence and let us learn our lessons from history and speak out when we sense that something is wrong.
To see what you can do to speak out, get information updates or to contribute, go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre http://www.asrc.org.au/