When I regularly read the Sydney Morning Herald, I always braced myself before getting to the opinion pages for the onslaught of whatever columnist was ready to spin about the wonders of John Howard and the evils of Kevin Rudd / Julia Gillard / Bob Brown / even Malcolm Turnbull. Miranda Devine and Paul Sheehan lining up, making bald claims, most of them unsubstantiated or supported by very carefully selected evidence. Now Devine has gone, there’s really only Sheehan to bark the crazy stuff. And today’s article about the SBS program “Go Back to Where You Came From” was a doozy.
Even before the show started on Tuesday night I was predicting the froth laden comments that would come from talkback radio hosts the next morning – “encouraging terrorists”, “wanting our borders to be free” “taxpayer funded propaganda”, et cetera. Sheehan doesn’t disappoint. I sometimes wonder if he is angling for a gig at 2GB – or, in the current environment, 2UE.
Sheehan starts with making the claim that the “taxpayer funded” program is based on a falsity. That “falsity” is called “enforced empathy” and in this comment, Sheehan refers to the one participant on the showwhose views have not substantially changed – Darren Hassan. The same Darren Hassan who is also an “aspiring Liberal politician”, a point Sheehan conveniently leaves out of his piece. Sheehan goes onto to say that what the show is doing is “lying” to its audience, and worse still, making that audience go on “an empathy forced march” – inferring that this show is doing to its audience the same thing armies do to prisoners. It’s a strong and pretty toxic inference.
Sheehan goes on to bake the show’s creators for staging the boat sinking on the first episode, saying it was “only for the gullible”. It could be fair to say that the trick was a little silly, and was ripped directly from reality TV shows. It did, however, make a clear point to the audience and the participants about the dangers in a form with which we are all familiar – the simulation. Sometimes these points need to be made on television. It also needs to be said that the producers could hardly put the participants in real danger, in terms of public liability. The producers have taken extra special care into that every step of the way – the participants look very protected, even if they didn’t feel that way. Sheehan doesn’t allow the producers the same leeway he would probably afford the producers of other reality shows. But that’s because he has his axe to grind.
Sheehan next does a favourite trick – including a line like this “The narrator told us that only ”1 per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled by the UN”. Again, a highly misleading statistic.” And leaving it there. Not expanding on it, not explaining it, not putting up statistics that “correct” it. Just making the statement that the stat is “highly misleading”. I wonder how many cadet journalists would be allowed to get away with that.
The next line sounds almost reasonable –
“Because this debate is not about empathy. It is not about numbers. It is not about race. It is about principle: control the borders. The biggest beneficiaries of strict border control would be legitimate asylum seekers.”
He then goes on to claim that
“The Gillard Labor government could fall on this issue alone, given how badly it has been handled for almost four years”.
But just what does this phrase mean – “control the borders”? The fact we have refugees in detention and that the boats are stopped before they get to the mainland is proof that our borders are, indeed, controlled. And the supposed “bad” handling of the issue is also not expanded on, except in terms of cost escalations, which have as much to do with as escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the defeat of Tamils in Sri Lanka has it has with a supposed “failure” by the government.
Talking of catchphrases, Sheehan, quite ironically, uses material from the show to demonstrate that Australians are opposed to asylum seekers and immigration. He does this by quoting questions asked by the participants before they went on their journey.
“The bedrock opposition of Australians to the empathy argument is quickly evident from the questions asked by some of the participants in Go Back to where You Came from”
It’s a bit of a Captain Obvious statement – the point of the start of the program is to show that these attitudes are held by most of the participants. Ones not unlike those composed by Sheehan. The program then goes and corrects those misrepresentations. But of course, Sheehan dismisses any learning they do in the program has been written off as “an empathy forced walk” involving
“the guide, Dr David Corlett, who is immersed in the refugee industry, is highly political, and in 2003 wrote a Quarterly Essay, ”Sending Them Home”, with Robert Manne. This is the producers’ idea of dispassionate objectivity”.
I’m not entirely sure what the “refugee industry” is – this is something else Sheehan does not address. It’s probably something akin to the “climate change industry” that Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and Viscount Monckton are always referring to. As if there is a multitude of people seeking to make a buck out of refugees and climate change. What is clear, though, is that Sheehan thinks by just mentioning Robert Manne, his audience will go “ah, well, yes, this is just some leftie propaganda because a guy in it worked with Manne 8 years ago”. Perhaps they will. But this does raise the point of the past and what people have done in theirs. This question certainly applies to Sheehan.
It is curious that at one stage in the piece (which I bolded earlier) Sheehan says “it’s not about race”. If this came from anyone else, I would be inclined to believe that he was making a genuine statement about his intentions behind writing this piece. But this is Paul Sheehan, who has form when it comes to matters race and matters religion. He has written regularly about Islam and Muslim people and the dangers they have been said to pose. Especially in Lakemba. There was this article about Lebanese Muslim youth, where he claims that a “disconnected, violent, racist, criminal subculture has grown within Sydney’s Muslim community”, a conclusion based on incidents over an eight year period. If he wrote an article about any area of Sydney, he could say the same thing about any racial group. After all, many violent incidents involving youths and young adults happen at Penrith Panthers. But Penrith doesn’t have so many Lebanese Muslims. We are still waiting for our article about the youths here.
Sheehan makes the comment at the start of his article about the SBS program that the “falsity” of the program is based on:
“that if you believe in stopping the small number of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, you are lacking in empathy, lacking in compassion, and probably anti-Muslim”
There is no probably about Sheehan being anti-Muslim. He has often liked to write about Sheik Hilaly, using his statements as a representative of all Muslims. The same article also provides a fairly astonishing justification of the Cronulla riots –
“Even though there was plenty of media sensationalism in the days before the event, interviews with dozens of people in Cronulla have shown that it was the inadequacy of the police response to incessant sexual aggression by young Muslim men that fuelled a build-up in community resentment”.
So, according to the Sheehan perspective, it was some kind of apparent “incessant” sexual aggression by unnamed Muslim men that caused them, not alcohol fuelled Anglo-Saxons.
Then there was this more recent piece that addressed a shift in voting amongst the Egyptian Coptic Christian group in Sydney from the ALP to the Liberal Party:
“These communities are tilting away from Labor, perceiving it as the party of appeasement of Muslim belligerence, and the party that has turned Australia’s refugee program into a Muslim immigration program, while Christian communities are bludgeoned in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon”.
Bald, outrageous generalised comments with no supporting evidence. He also makes another reference to the now powerless (and certainly not mainstream) Hilaly:
“Australia’s most contentious mainstream Muslim cleric, Sheikh Taj el-Din al Hilaly, the former grand mufti of Australia, is an import from Egypt. He was installed as a permanent resident by the Keating Labor government, over the objections of the security service. His Labor connections are well known and self-advertised.
The Labor Party, locked into a political alliance with Muslim leaders in western Sydney, has said little of consequence about the problem of religious cleansing of Christians by Muslims. It has done even less”.
“Religious cleansing” – another phrase not explained. But that seems to be the Sheehan way.
In terms of his response to Go Back to Where You Came From, Sheehan makes no comment about the appalling treatment of asylum seekers in Malaysia or the other massive problems with refugee processing that the show reveals is telling. He says nothing about the cascade of facts that are presented – just casting doubt on one. Sheehan’s agenda in this piece is clear, based on his past writings. It is to discredit any attempt to present a view that might allow more asylum seekers – especially Muslim ones – into Australia. And call anyone who is motivated towards positive action on the issue as “gullible”. If we all were so gullible, however, perhaps we would want to rush out and buy more Unique Water by the boxload.