I can no longer stomach our abhorrent asylum seeker policy, and it is not just the government’s fault, it’s ours too. For to not act, is to act.
Enough is enough. I can’t stand it anymore. It has to stop. I realise it is morally dodgy to advocate for an end to somebody else’s suffering because you can’t stomach it any longer, but who cares? I can’t watch another asylum seeker setting himself alight, sewing his lips together or languishing indefinitely on some god-forsaken island. I simply can’t do it anymore. I know Waleed Aly said that “as far as we’re concerned, their misery does not exist” and that “their stories simply wash over us,” but I disagree. Basically, I’ve only got one aim in life: to die with a clean conscience. Now I hope I don’t get hit by a bus tomorrow, because there is an enormous stain there, and it makes me sick.
I am no longer interested in the political blame game; who came up with which policy and why and who is responsible. I don’t want to hear the reasons, the excuses, the rules and regulations that prevent action. They are people, and they suffer on my watch, because I stand by and do nothing. We know how it works. There is even a name for it: the bystander effect. It has been researched within an inch of its life: the more people are watching somebody in trouble, the less likely it is that anybody will do something to help. We also know that we do even less if we feel that the person in trouble is not “one of us.” Is that it? Do we turn away because asylum seekers are not part of our tribe? Why? Because they are not white, because they come from somewhere else, because their desperation is so obvious? What does that make us; what does it make me? I know what Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s comment would be. In fact, he made it very clear before he was executed, at age 39, after he was implicated in the 1943 assassination plot on Hitler. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Isn’t that our moral imperative? If we want to be human beings, that is?
And I don’t understand it, either. We are so good at acting. When somebody is bitten by a shark, there is always another surfer or swimmer who comes to their aid. We’ve got a volunteer surf lifesaving organisation, where people give up their time to help people in need. And remember, a few years ago, when we saw on the news that a little 2-year old girl was hit by a van and then run over by a truck in China? Eighteen people ignored her, some even walked around the blood, but did nothing. She died, and we were horrified. We would never do that, we told ourselves. And now we are. Why? Men vow not to stand by when they see other men hit their wives. We tell our children to be kind to others and help them if they are struggling. But here we are and we do nothing. We try to disassociate, feel embarrassed, tell ourselves that it is the responsibility of others, of the government, to do something. But we are the government, we are the others. And more than that, we need to keep our own morality intact. By not helping out, I am not only damaging them, but myself as well. My own soul, my own humanity.
In Quebec in Canada, it is a legal obligation to assist a person whose life is in danger. The same goes for Brazil and Germany. Is that what it takes? Help me out here. And help me to help. Because now I’ve seen it, I cannot un-see it. It is there.
When I was a child, I remember asking my elders what they did in the war. And I remember judging them harshly when they stood by and did nothing. In my eyes, that made them at least partially responsible. How come, I would ask, that you all knew that the Jews were being taken away and killed, and you went about your normal business? Did you not have a heart, did you not feel anything? They told me it was a matter of courage. That helping meant taking the risk of being killed yourself. Although I understood, in admitting that, they also lost their moral authority, as far as I was concerned.
To not act is to act. Here, now, we don’t even have this argument to hide behind. Nothing bad will happen to us when we do something.
Yet we don’t.
And I can’t stand it anymore.