In the days before the mass shootings in Christchurch I was visiting Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018. I was recording a story about how those survivors and their allies built a global movement against gun violence. I met students, teachers and supporters.
These American students knew all about Australia’s gun laws. “How did you get such strong laws?” they would ask. And I would tell them about the Port Arthur massacre and how our conservative prime minister acted. “We haven’t had a gun massacre since,” I proclaimed. Days later, I felt shame at my hubris – an Australian has been charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
We have so much to learn from Parkland. And it’s not simply how they built a remarkable social movement. Some lessons become visible only when you actually see the place.
Parkland is a suburb close to the Everglades, 30 minutes from the beach and an hour north of Miami. It is a wealthy, majority-white neighbourhood. But the thing that overwhelmed me when I was driving around is that it is a gated community.
The entire suburb is broken up into large blocks, and at the centre of each block is a single entrance for cars. The road has a security hut, large barriers stretching across and there is a large gate. You need a PIN code to go inside.
When you go through, the homes and streets are beautiful. Green grass, and every home has one of those white mailboxes with a red flag that turns up when the mail arrives.
These gated communities tell you something. Parents choose to live behind walls to create a nice way to live and keep their family safe.
But in Parkland all that security didn’t keep them safe. Darkness found a new way in – and everyone is still feeling the murderous pain.
The limits of security and walls offer a profound lesson for us in Australia as we work out how to respond to the terrorism in Christchurch. Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to lock up our places of worship – particularly mosques. He wants police with guns and security checks. It’s like he wants to build religious gated communities.
This approach is consistent with his other policies – use the navy to stop boats, use cages to stop refugees. Our prime minister has only one register – security.
But if Parkland showed anything, it’s that gated communities don’t stop violence. The violence just moves and shifts. An aggressive security response might make you “feel” safer, but it doesn’t make you safe.
At the same time, security heightens the tension. And it does nothing to deal with the causes of the violence.
So how do we respond to the causes of the violence? In Parkland, the main issue was access to guns. The March for Our Lives students called this out quickly. They gained traction because they bravely and forcefully condemned the National Rifle Association for creating the context for mass shootings – easy access to guns.
Our context is different. The issue in Christchurch was about guns, yes, but equally it was about motive. As Australians, one of our citizens “radicalised” themselves to such a point that they massacred other people. How did this happen?
White supremacy. OK, but how do we unpack white supremacy? Who emboldened this? Who made it OK to demonise Muslims – to say they don’t belong?
But it’s more than that. Murdoch news media have been running a crusade against Muslims for years. The Coalition has brutalised Muslims and refugees for votes since September 11 2001. And the Labor Party has given bipartisan support to the offshore detention of predominantly Muslim refugees.
But knowing who prosecutes hate is not enough. Hate can’t drive out hate. As Martin Luther King junior said, only love can do that.
How do we bring love into our work to stop race being used as a divisive power? I wish I had the answer. But I do know that building love is something that can happen everywhere all the time – not just at vigils or special services.
Can we build a movement that would amplify love at work, in our community, in our schools, where we have intentional conversations to talk about what Christchurch meant and why the Muslim community was targeted?
The Muslim community are in pain. We – especially white people like me and some of you – have to do the heavy lifting on this one. We can take the lead on doing something about white supremacy and dividing people by race and religion.
Imagine if we could take the pain of this moment and turn it into a real reckoning for our country. For as long as white people have stood in Australia we have caused harm to others. But too often we shrug off responsibility through phrases like “the most successful multicultural country in the world”. Or we get scared off the conversation by phrases like the “history wars”.
Yes, the shock jocks will berate and the trolls will yell. But let’s have them yell at white people taking on white supremacy instead of Muslim and other leaders of colour.
It’s time to act. The election is one place – we need to vote for leaders who stand with Muslims because “they are us”.
But this is more than just electoral politics. It’s about a movement committed to connection, understanding, listening, respect and love. And that’s love as a verb, love as action.
A year after the mass shooting, Parkland is still a torn community. Many are still deeply active in social movements pushing for gun law reform. And many others are still healing.
In Parkland the lesson is that they were forever changed, not because of the hate that was inflicted, but because of the love they cultivated in response.
The federal government has announced it will establish a National Office for Child Safety and issue a formal apology as part of its response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In addition, every state and territory has committed to join the National Redress Scheme. Australia’s major churches and youth organisations have also joined the scheme.
The timing of the announcement meets a commitment of the Council of Australian Governments to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission’s final report by June 2018. However, the apology, the lead item of this announcement, will not be issued until October 22, 2018, to coincide with national children’s week.
The Royal Commission made 409 recommendations in total. Of these, 84 deal with redress, which the government is addressing in the National Redress Scheme, due to commence next month. Of the remaining 122 recommendations directed at the Australian government, 104 have been accepted and 18 remain under review. None has so far been rejected.
Survivors of abuse consistently state that they want recognition and redress for the past harms and injustices that were done to them.
One of the most disturbing elements in the history of child sexual abuse is our capacity, as a society, to be in denial. As I have written elsewhere, we have myriad techniques of keeping disturbing knowledge at bay: there are many ways of not knowing.
We can deny that something happened, we can deny that we understood what happened, and we can deny the legal and moral implications that follow an event. All of these forms of denial are seen in the history of child sexual abuse.
Thankfully, all of these forms of denial were combated by the Royal Commission. You could say it was a momentous exercise in recognition: it brought horrific abuses into public consciousness; it treated survivors of abuse with great dignity and respect; and, it made a comprehensive series of recommendations to deal with the legal and moral implications of the public recognition of this history of abuse.
Through its 57 public case studies, 8,013 private sessions, and over 68,000 calls, letters and emails received, the commission established beyond any doubt the reality and the gravity of Australia’s history of institutional abuse.
Recognising this history brings legal and moral implications for its redress. So far, the government has responded with uncharacteristic alacrity in accepting and implementing the key recommendations of the Royal Commission.
But justice for historic offences is not simple, and I await with interest the responses of child sex abuse survivor groups to the government’s announcement.
For most people, justice looks like punishment for the guilty. The Royal Commission has referred over 2,500 matters to police for investigation. In recent times, we have seen some prominent cases go to trial, including the most senior Roman Catholic yet to face charges of child sex crimes, Cardinal George Pell.
The National Redress Scheme is the flagship instrument of redress emerging in the wake of the Royal Commission. Legislation has passed the lower house and is now before the Senate. It proposes average payments to victims of $76,000, with maximum payments of $150,000.
These amounts are lower than amounts typically awarded in civil courts in Australia, and significantly lower than settlements awarded in some international jurisdictions.
However, the lower standards of evidence required to be awarded a settlement through the redress scheme, relative to standards in criminal or civil law, and being able to avoid cross-examination in court, may make this option more attractive for many survivors. The redress scheme provides access to counselling and psychological services, and provides an option for survivors to receive a direct personal response from the responsible institution.
Australian jurisdictions are also reforming laws to make it easier to sue churches and other institutions.
The establishment of a National Office for Child Safety, along with a raft of national standards and safety frameworks, is heartening.
The fact is, though, that most of the institutions in which the majority of the historic abuse unearthed by the Royal Commission occurred no longer exist. The institutions of “care” run by churches and the states – orphanages, missions, boarding schools – have largely been disbanded.
Ironically, most current child removal and child trauma can be found at a site for which we have already had an apology, but for which redress has been woefully inadequate. The 1997 Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generations opened up public inquiry into child abuse in Australia.
The comprehensiveness of the Child Abuse Royal Commission, and the government’s promised response, is heartening. But as the Stolen Generations apology painfully illustrates, apologies without action become empty, bitter words.
Let’s hope that the apology to victims of institutional abuse, to be delivered in October, is well crafted, and sincerely delivered. And that substantial redress is delivered.
The latest military strikes by the US, France and Britain in Syria highlight the Trump administration’s uncertainty on its role in the conflict. With a near triumphant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad firmly under the control of Moscow and Tehran, the strikes against military bases suspected of facilitating the chemical weapons attacks will be nothing more than a footnote in the wider battle for influence in the region.
Trump must look towards the future and focus on influencing the reconstruction of Syria.
Without an active United States, Turkey, Iran and Russia will push international aid agencies and influential Western donor governments onto the sidelines. Instead, they will take the lead in rebuilding Syria in their images, an outcome that will hurt the Syrian people and further destabilise the region.
It is hard to find parallels in history with the extent of destruction in Syria.
Not since Dresden has devastation been so extensive. The four-year siege of Sarajevo, where regular bombardment from the surrounding mountains ravaged the city and reduced many areas to rubble, is a comparable yardstick repeated across Syria in Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Hama.
And then there is the human cost. More than 6 million people are internally displaced. Another 5 million are living as refugees.
Each person fled a home, a job and a community that will have to be re-established. This won’t be easy, given those who have migrated to Europe are estimated to represent between one-third and one-half of all Syrians with university-level education.
Even if it is theoretically possible to overcome these challenges, the most basic level of reconstruction has been estimated at US$100 billion, and possibly as high as US$350 billion. This far exceeds the estimated US$60 billion reconstruction cost of rebuilding Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
Some reconstruction experts have advocated sidelining Assad’s Syria, and only providing support to rump areas under the control of US allies. NGOs are advocating conditioning international support on a political solution being agreed, respect for human rights, and protection of an independent civil society.
The Western-led international aid community faces a conundrum as it sits on the sidelines watching others prepare for the post-conflict reconstruction. Should the international aid community adapt and compromise or stand firm with their demands and principles?
Without the West driving the development agenda, Syrian authorities will eschew aid focused on human rights, gender equality, market liberalisation, and democracy. They will have little patience for the Western allegory of aid as salvation, in which the original sin of colonialism drives an effort to save people from poverty by recreating their societies in our image.
Instead, akin to Chinese aid to African countries, major infrastructure projects that serve government interests will top the agenda at the expense of assistance to the other pillars of successful modern countries.
These projects will be funded, managed and implemented on a quid-pro-quo basis. Syrian elites and foreign governments will secure most of the benefits.
For an aid industry weaned on Western donors and their gender mainstreaming, community consultation, and pro-poor development, adjusting to taking direction from a Syrian government dismissive of the Western conscience and liberal democratic values will pose a substantial challenge. It will lead to serious ethical questions being asked.
Such questions will revolve around whether:
aid agencies participate in donor co-ordination led by an illiberal Russia, an ostracised Iran, or an Islamist Turkey;
collaboration with the Assad government irrevocably compromises NGOs’ work; and
aid agencies can contribute to sustainable development if they are prevented from strengthening civil society.
There is no right answer to these questions. Some will take the pragmatic path; others, the high road.
For many aid workers – particularly those associated with advocacy NGOs – staying true to their worldview will mean being sidelined. They will be forced to operate in neighbouring countries, as Syrian authorities refuse to tolerate what they will perceive as social engineering disguised as humanitarian assistance.
This will leave UN agencies flying the flag of the development consensus in word only; they will be bereft of many of their implementing partners. Without these partners, they too will have to reconsider their modus operandi: partner with local sectarian NGOs with questionable affiliations, or undertake more direct implementation.
Under these circumstances, new approaches to implementing humanitarian and development programs will be need to be sought.
One opportunity is to harness Syria’s rich tradition of religious institutions playing a leading role in society. But even such a pivot will pose a conundrum: engaging with these groups will require the international aid community to reconsider its secular agenda.
How the international aid community responds to these challenges will shape outcomes not only in Syria but for future humanitarian crises.
Trying to force the Western development agenda onto Syrians will be counterproductive, leading to the strengthening of non-Western aid organisations that operate outside the decades-old development consensus.
With new-found experience and cashed-up from the largest reconstruction effort since the second world war, these agencies will begin to set the agenda not only for Syria, but in other countries whose leadership will prefer respectful collaboration over what’s seen as Western condescension.
Alternatively, Western aid organisations can acknowledge this emerging dynamic and find ways to work with the regime, its sponsors in Russia and Turkey, and the young, emerging aid organisations.
This will require compromising some of the ideals that have been at the heart of the sector and adopting new ways of working. But doing so will lead in the long run to a wider buy-in to the development consensus by the next generation of global aid actors.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its followers are taking revenge against Christians throughout Egypt in response to the military crackdown. The link below is to an article that looks at the latest news.
The link below is to an article that reports on new defensive measures being adopted by the USA in response to the aggressive rhetoric of North Korea.
The link below is to an article that looks at the latest persecution news out of Nigeria and the response in the United Kingdom.
For more visit: