ON HUMANITY

From Richard Flannagan's sad and beautiful speech at the Perth Writer's Festival (as published here in The Guardian)... In the prison of these days when to praise freedom is to be derided as not showing affection for the nation; when those whose job it is to find truth are warned by the powerful to praise power, not question it; when in the desert of our politics, to show compassion for our fellow humans is to threaten our national borders with invasion; when, if forbidden by politics, by public discourse, by the ranters and ravers of the opinion pages, the fat-fed dogs of talk radio, to speak of kindness and goodness as touchstones of civilisation, perhaps we can do worse than seek to reaffirm ourselves in love stories.

For crammed into love stories are not just assignations, betrayals, setbacks and occasional ecstasy; not only hate and pain and horror, to say nothing of death and forgetting; but a better idea of us, a larger idea of our humanity.

Crowded into love stories between the discovery of ourselves in others and of others in ourselves, we glimpse something else, a boat, and on the boat, jammed between the polytarp thrown over the shivering, the sunburnt and the silent, caught between the briny largeness of the sea and the sky, terrifying and hopeful, breathing in the nauseating oily drifts of diesel fumes, stands a tall 23-year-old Iranian called Reza Barati who dares dream that freedom and safety will soon be his as the boat approaches the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

But the sky darkens, the idea cannot hold, the ocean shimmers and transforms into something terrible, and all that remains of that dream for Reza Barati is a white plastic chair he now holds up in front of him, seeking to ward off the inexplicable blows of machetes and bullets and boots – a white plastic chair, all that a rich nation that prides itself on a fair go, on its largeness of spirit, has left for Reza Barati to defend his life against those who have now come to kill him.

In this desert of silence that now passes for our public life, a silence only broken by personal vilification of anyone who posits an idea opposed to power, it is no longer wise for a public figure to express concern about a society that sees some human beings as no longer human; a society that has turned its back on those who came to us for asylum – that is, for freedom, and for safety. And so, with our tongues torn we are expected to agree with the silence, with the lies, and with the murder of Reza Barati.