Mem’s peace file
This peace file is not intended for children since too much of it is about the sadness of wars, and their causes and effects. My peace file is for adults, in particular those who believe in true democracy and real, fearless freedom of speech.
Mem Fox on David Hicks 12: 12: 06
Photo by Neville Cichon
This article appeared in The Sunday Mail in Adelaide, Australia, on Sunday December 17th, 2006. It arose out of a speech I gave at the Adelaide rally on December 9th marking the fifth year of David Hicks’s incarceration at Guantanamo Bay without a single charge ever having been laid against him. The Adelaide rally was one of many rallies on the same day in capital cities around Australia. Among other speakers was David’s father, Terry Hicks, who spoke so simply and strongly and briefly that our hearts broke with rage and pity.
Before you read the speech I need to point out (in case it hasn’t been obvious before, which would be surprising) that I am not anti-American. Far from it. But I certainly am anti the current American administration on the Iraq issue and on its violiation of human rights at Guantanamo Bay. In US terms I am a left-wing Democrat. In Australia I am Labor. In England I am more of a Liberal Democrat. And so on. Now you can read my speech…
On the David Hicks question let me make it clear from the outset that I neither support nor condone the actions of any contemptible idiot who thinks terrorism is a great way to solve the problems of the world.
But that’s not the point. No matter how misguided David Hicks might be, no matter what he has done or who he is, the way he is being treated is a legal and moral disgrace which shames us Aussies and the current American administration.
The Americans have described David Hicks as ‘the worst of the worst’. On what basis? So far he hasn’t been charged with a single crime. That’s the whole point. That’s exactly why no one can go around saying about David Hicks: ‘Oh, that bastard terrorist, why should we care about him?’ He hasn’t even been charged yet, let alone found guilty.
But he has been incarcerated in a hell hole known as Guantanamo Bay, one of the most inhumane prisons in the world, for five years, either locked in an open wire cage in all weathers, or more recently in solitary confinement, without being brought to trial. That’s not the way it’s done in Australia, nor in any civilised country, including America itself. It’s as far from a legal fair go as you can get. Remember: So far he hasn’t been charged with a single crime.
America’s so-called democracy has shown itself to be the worst of the worst in not having laid charges against David Hicks, a shameful 5th anniversary which we are marking this month. And Australia, to our collective shame, has been the worst of the worst nations in not coming to the aid of the only one of its citizens still to be imprisoned in the ‘Gitmo Hotel’.
Forget how bad David Hicks looks. Look at us! What does it say about us that we won’t allow human rights to apply to David Hicks when they are, right now, being accorded to Saddam Hussein himself?
What does it say about us that we won’t accord the same rights to David Hicks that are given to rapists, drug pushers and murderers in South Australia? Are they ever left languishing in jail for five years before they’re charged? Are they ever confined in wire cages in all weathers and without privacy? Are they ever allowed only one book a week? Are they every tortured or sleep-deprived in spite of their own allegedly horrible crimes? Are they ever so confined that they don’t see the sky or sunlight for months on end? No, never. We don’t do this because we’re not animals: we understand that civilised people treat prisoners in a civilised, legal manner.
If David Hicks were an animal he might have been better off: the RSPCA would have had strong things to say about his maltreatment. We don’t treat dogs as badly as this human being is treated. We’re civilised.
So where’s all that legal goody-two-shoes stuff gone in the case of David Hicks? Out the window. David Hicks has been shockingly let down by the so-called democratic Americans who have jailed him. Remember: So far he hasn’t been charged with a single crime.
Good grief, aren’t we supposed to be trying to bring democracy to the rest of the world? Frankly, what kind of example are we setting? Who’d want this kind of democracy if they knew how David Hicks was being treated by two so-called democratic nations? Who’d want this kind of democracy if they knew how undemocratic it had become? Who’d want an this kind of democracy if they knew how cruel it had become, and how truly medieval? Who’d want this kind of democracy if they knew that a writ like habeas corpus—which has protected prisoners and brought them quickly to trial since the 12th century—had been tossed into the ‘too-soft’ basket?
And to think the Australian government hasn’t lifted a finger to help David Hicks. They should be sweating with shame. After all, the Indians, the French, and the British among others, asked for their Guantanamo prisoners to be returned home—and they were returned. The Americans themselves took their own Guantanamo prisoners back home so they wouldn’t be tried in military courts that have no standing whatsoever in international law. The whole world knows trials in such a court will be a farce.
We’re so embarrassing. What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with Howard, Downer and Ruddock? Haven’t they got the balls to ask for David Hicks to be returned to Australia? Have they been so emasculated by their grovelling attachment to George W. Bush that they can’t find their voices, their phones, their pens, or their principles? All it needs is one phone call: ‘Mate, we’ve changed our minds on legal grounds and we’d like David Hicks to be sent home to Australia.’ One phone call.
And yet they can’t do it. To our shame.
David Hicks may, or may not be guilty of terrorism. What is certain however, is that at the moment he has no safeguards in his citizenship, nor in his human rights.
If his legal rights are not supported by our government, how can you and I feel completely safe in our democracy? What would happen if we found ourselves in strife overseas (as Kay Danes and her husband did, in Laos some years ago) and the government turned a blind eye as we were being tortured? Could we believe it was happening to us, as Australians? This isn’t just about David Hicks today: it’s about all of us today, and for every tomorrow after that.
David Hicks must be either charged in a court worthy of its democratic name, or be brought home immediately, for his sake and for ours. The current ghastly situation cannot be allowed to continue.
You might also like to view this brilliant video clip Free David Hicks by Peter Coombe.
I have been a pacifist since infancy. I must have been fed pacifism and anti-racism with my mother’s milk. My second book, written when I was seventeen and of course never published, was anti-racist. Since then I have published two books for children on the same topics: war and racism. Here they are—and they’re both still in print.
Feather and Fools
© Mem Fox, illustrated by Nicholas Wilton,
Published by Harcourt, San Diego USA, 1996.
In a rambling garden, long ago and far away, there lived a pride of magnificent peacocks.
Nearby, in the rushes and reeds of a clear blue lake, dwelt a flock of elegant swans.
One day, a peacock, musing on the mysteries of life, said, ‘How strange that swans should swim. It is fortunate indeed that we do not, for we should surely drown.’
The other peacocks pecked and strutted, contemplating the meaning of this profound observation.
Again the first peacock spoke. ‘How strange that swans should fly. It is happy indeed that we do not, for we should surely look ridiculous.’
The other peacocks pecked and strutted again, contemplating the meaning of this second observation. Again the first peacock broke the silence. ‘I fear the swans,’ he said. ‘They have great strength. If they wished, they could turn us out of our gardens, or make us fly, or force us to swim.’
Here and there, peacock feathers rustled uneasily. ‘Alas!’ cried one. ‘No home! No happiness! No life!’ There followed anxious mutterings and a making of plans.
And so it came to pass that peacocks gathered a great quantity of feathers which they sharpened into arrows and concealed in the shadows of their gardens.
‘Now we can defend ourselves against the swans,’ said the first-and-most-foolish peacock, raising his voice that the swans might hear. We shall hurl these arrows at their throats and slaughter every one should they ever try to change our way of life.’
The swans, in fear, heard these fighting words and sharpened feathers of their own in even greater numbers and concealed them cleverly among the rushes and reeds.
Both sides, for safety’s sake, continued to add to their weapons, but in dismay each discovered that the more arrows they acquired, the more terrified they became.
At night, in the gardens and on the lake, no birds slept. Every sound made their hearts race. Every movement made them tremble.
One day a swan flew high over the peacocks, bearing in her beak a reed for nest-making. The peacocks in a panic mistook it for an arrow and gathering their forces bore swiftly down upon the lake. But the swans, seeing them coming, make ready. Soon cries filled the air and blood darkened the earth. A cloud of feathers rose into the sky and haunted the sun.
Of all the birds, not one remained alive. Silence hung over the gardens. And over the lake.
Then, in the shadows of the gardens, an egg hatched, and a small bird staggered out into the bloodstained stillness. Among the reeds beside the lake a second egg hatched, and another small bird teetered out into the ruins. They stumbled towards each other, alive with curiosity and trust.
‘You’re just like me,’ said the first. ‘You have feathers and two legs.’
‘You’re just like me,’ said the second. ‘You have a head and two eyes.’
‘Shall we be friends?’ asked the first.
‘Most certainly,’ replied the second.
So off they went together, in peace and unafraid, to face the day and share the world
© Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staub,
published by Harcourt, San Diego, USA, 1996;
and HodderHeadline, Sydney, Australia, 1996.
whoever you are,
wherever you are,
there are little ones
just like you,
all over the world.
different from yours,
and their homes may be
different from yours.
different from yours,
and their lands may be
different from yours.
different from yours,
and their words may be
very different from yours.
their hearts just like yours,
whoever they are,
wherever they are
all over the world.
and they laugh like you too.
Their hurts are like yours,
and they cry like you too.
whoever they are,
wherever they are,
all over the world.
when you are older
and when you are grown,
you may be different,
and they may be different,
wherever you are,
wherever they are,
in this big wide world.
Joys are the same,
and love is the same.
Pain is the same,
and blood is the same.
and hearts are just the same -
wherever they are,
wherever you are,
wherever we are,
all over the world.
Reflections on the causes of the Iraq war
June 9th 2003
Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary for Defence in the US administration, now tells us (without a blush, or with one?) that weapons of mass destruction was chosen as the justification for the second Gulf war in Iraq for ‘bureaucratic reasons’ since they were the one thing everyone could agree upon as a valid excuse for the invasion of that country. It is now emerging that very the existence of those weapons was based on intelligence of dubious provenance, intelligence which was then puffed up to twice its size and highly politicized.
The Americans, the English and the Poles may want to sort out their own consciences in this matter, but as an Australian I want to be unequivocal about Australia’s role in the war: what in heaven’s name were we doing in Iraq when the evidence as to the presence of weapons of mass destruction was so flimsy and apparently un-pin-downable?
What blind madness in our leaders and what gullibility in ourselves allowed us to be associated with the ghastly maiming and killing of children and their parents (100,000 deaths!), the looting of museums and libraries, and the destruction of infrastructure such as security, electricity, water, rubbish removal, schools, hospitals and homes, on the basis of a cold and calculated ‘bureaucratic decision’ based on apparently flawed intelligence?
Are we sheep that we were so easily led to witness this slaughter? To support it? To applaud its laughably ’successful’ completion? Are we fools that we were, and continue to be so easily duped, and duped again, by those who have lied to us so blatantly in the past in matters such as the Tampa and ‘children overboard’ scandal? Are we so enfeebled that we are unable to raise our voices above the clatter of gag-like patriotism to say to Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defence Minister Robert Hill: ‘This is totally unacceptable. It’s an outrage. We require an immediate explanation.’?
We are not sheep. Neither are we fools. Nor are we feeble. But those of us to worked hard to prevent this war are so dismayed and exhausted by our failure to prevent the tragedy that we take no joy from the news that it might indeed have been based on lies and the desire for oil, as we had suspected. We are still so shocked by the realization that our views and ‘biggest ever’ peace marches were ignored (as if we had been rabble, with neither intelligence or information) that these latest revelations serve only to increase our stupor of despair. We are too numb to be out on the streets again.
The streets of Adelaide were packed solid with 100,000 citizens at the peace rally on February 16th this year. It was one of the largest peace gatherings in the world during that period, in terms of ratio of population to marchers on the streets. I spoke at that rally and find little happiness in the fact that most of my speech holds true today.
On the subject of chemical weapons I said: ‘Show me where they are. Take me to the place. Convince me!’ I’m still waiting to be convinced, months after the war is over.
And I’m still reminding people that it was the then American administration who condoned the use of chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980’s; and that Donald Rumsfeld was instrumental in selling Saddam Hussein those ‘axis-of-evil’ weapons; and that America still has the receipts. And that tens of millions of good-hearted Americans are angry about that, and are becoming even angrier more despairing as it appears more likely every day that this war was one of choice, not necessity.
The hypocrisy in Australia, which was sickening then, is even more sickening now. As recently as February this year our prime minister was telling us that we needed a war against Iraq because Saddam Hussein was in material breach of United Nations Resolution 1441. This justification has since been lost in the mists of time and war itself. Ariel Sharon is in blatant and material breach of dozens of United Nations resolutions every single day, but is anyone suggesting a war against Israel? Not that I’ve noticed. (Not that I’m advocating it: I am a pacifist.)
They told us back then that we needed regime change in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant. And indeed he was—the evidence of that is in no doubt whatsoeverÑbut if regime change were necessary anywhere in the world, it’s also needed in North Korea, Zimbabwe and Burma, but is anyone suggesting a war against their leaders to liberate their people? Not that I’ve noticed. (Not that I’m advocating it.)
War against Iraq, without justification, without the blessing of the United Nations has indeed, as I argued in my speech, increased the hatred of the fanatics of whose dearest wish is to wipe us all out: witness the recent terrorism in Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
If nothing else, it is to be hoped that current events will serve as an even sterner warning to Australians not to trust our political leaders since it must be clear by now that trying to ‘keep the bastards honest’ is a fool’s errand in a sad land.
Sunday 16th February 2003
This is the speech I delivered at the huge anti-war rally in Adelaide today.
Peace Speech: Parliament House, Feb 16th 2003
Ladies and gentlemen, just look at us! There are tens of thousands of us. We’re here in great numbers, for one great purpose: to stop a slaughter in Iraq. We are fearful. We are furious. And we’re here to roar from the rooftops—together with over one hundred million like-minded Americans—and many more millions around the world, that we do not belong to the ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ We belong to the ‘Coalition of the Un-willing!’ We want nothing to do with this war! We want only to stop this war!
Saddam Hussein is villainous leader who rules Iraq with terror as his tactic. I’m not arguing the rights and wrongs of Saddam Hussein. There is no argument. But I am questioning the right of foreign nations to invade Iraq and wage war without any invitation from the Iraqis themselves.
People say: But Saddam has to be stopped. He has chemical weapons. I say: Show me where they are! Take me to the place! Convince me! And anyway, who else has chemical weapons? Weapons of mass destruction, ladies and gentlemen? Who condoned their use in Iran in the 1980’s? Surprise, surprise: America itself! And if Saddam Hussein does have chemical weapons, where did he get them? Who sold him those him those weapons in the 1980’s, those axis-of-evil weapons? Why! Surprise, surprise: Donald Rumsfeld himself! America still has the receipts!
The hypocrisy is sickening. They say we need a war against Iraq because Saddam Hussein is in material breach of United Nations Resolution 1441. Give me a break! Ariel Sharon is in blatant and material breach of 64 United Nations resolutions every single day, but is anyone suggesting a war against Israel? Not that I’ve noticed! Not that I’m advocating it.
They tell us we need regime change in Iraq because Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant. And so he is, ladies and gentlemen, but he’s also sitting tight on big fat Iraqi oil wells, and we all know what that means! If regime change were necessary anywhere in the world, it’s in North Korea and Zimbabwe, but is anyone suggesting a war against them to liberate their people? Not that I’ve noticed! Not that I’m advocating it.
The planned attack on Baghdad will cause obscene carnage. The Coalition of Killers claims that as few civilians as possible will be killed. What does ‘as few as possible’ mean? One child mutilated and left lying in the street? A thousand schoolgirls dead? Five hundred thousand men and women, like you and me, annihilated? We won’t see the blood on the walls. We won’t see body parts scattered across the streets. Oh no! Our television networks will protect us from that! We won’t see the frantic fathers and mothers, dazed and panic-stricken, looking for children they will never find. We won’t hear the screaming. We won’t be told about the water being cut off for months and polluted for years. We won’t be told that Iraqis are breathing poisoned air that will make them ill for generations to come.
Don’t the Iraqis have human rights in all this? What’s the point of ignoring human rights in order to restore human rights? What’s the point of killing people to save them from being killed? This is will be murder on a grand scale—a war against a country that has not threatened an attack on the United Sates or on England, let alone on little old us. Have we ever been seriously frightened of Iraq invading Australia? NO! Are we seriously frightened of the unprincipled, illegal actions of the current out-of-control American administration? YES! Are we seriously frightened of the insane actions of our own sycophantic government? YES! YES! YES!
Who is listening to us? Who is listening to the Iraqis? How can their voices be heard above the ugly cries of war mongers, hungry for oil? We have to speak on behalf of the Iraqis. We have to say: ‘NO WAR!’ loudly enough to be heard in Canberra, London, and Washington: NO WAR! NO WAR! NO WAR!’
War against Iraq, without justification, without the blessing of the United Nations—and even with that blessing—will increase the hatred of the fanatics whose dearest wish is to wipe us all out. (And by the way: where in hell is Osama bin Laden, really, and what’s he up to these days?) A war against Iraq will increase terrorism a hundred-fold. Look at London this week! Doesn’t our Prime Minister understand the ramifications of a war with Iraq? Doesn’t he know we don’t want an increase in terrorism? Write to him tonight, a real letter, with a real stamp, and real anger, and tell him we don’t want a war. And while we’re here, let’s tell him now: NO WAR! NO WAR! NO WAR!
As a writer of stories I ask myself what story we would like to tell to our children. How about a story of two kingdoms who so fear and hate each other that they’re about to wipe each other out? Instead of killing each other, they have a stunningly intelligent and creative idea: they sit down together. They say to each other: ‘Life is precious. Let us avoid death. After all, we are brothers. Why do you fear us? How can we stop you from hating us? How can we make peace? Shake my hand. Come, let’s talk.’
This story is the alternative to war. This is the story we want our children to hear. This is the story we want the world to hear. And in particular, today, ladies and gentlemen, with one voice, this is the story we want John Howard to hear: NO WAR! NO WAR! NO WAR! Thank you.