The drought of Howard

Apologies for getting all biblical, but a stint visiting Ma and Pa Vealmince tends to put me in this frame of mind.

The elder Vealminces, ordinarily the most liberal, egalitarian folk, have of late turned to the right on issues of national security and hold some fairly un-PC views about Muslims. As a result they tend to support the Howard Government’s tough-on-immigration stance of keeping ‘undersirable’ people who ‘don’t share Australian values’ out of the country. If we let too many of ‘those people’ in, the argument goes, it will change the character of society.

Liberal lefty types like me argue this is one of Howard’s true evils: that in a time when he could have led his people to be more compassionate and generous, he instead appealed to their xenophobia and self interest.

I would not have thought it necessary to remind Ma and Pa Vealmince that people in Australia were arguing a lot of the same things in the late 40s when the issue was whether or not to let in a bunch of refugees from Europe, among them my grandparents and their infant children. It was feared they would change the character of society. Which they definitely did, and few people would argue for the worse.

But having put things in this context, the folks were – to their credit – chastened.

“That’s why we have the drought now,” Pa Vealmince concluded. “Because we have turned away from our values and become selfish and mean.”

It’s too much of a coincidence that the lack of rain and Howard’s reign have, er, coincided. Some people see this is a result of, or at least metaphor for, his government’s intransigence on global warming. Father, of course, just turned to the bible. A section of Deuteronomy XI, which Jewish people read every day in the morning and evening prayers, warns us (a rough translation):

Beware, lest your heart be seduced and you turn away and serve other gods and bow to them. Then the wrath of God will blaze against you. He will restrain the heaven so there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its crops. And you will quickly be banished from the good land God gives you.

Our hearts have been seduced by Howard and his vision of prosperity.

We have turned away from values of a country that was a haven for refugees from Europe in the 50s and from Asia in the 70s and that accepted them into its communities, even if they talked funny and ate strange food. We have replaced these values with mickey-mouse sound-bite principles like ‘mateship’ and ‘a fair go’ that we use to exclude those we dislike.

We have served other gods – money, status, celebrities, the ‘choice’ of private schools and hospitals, the ‘safety’ of more police and harsher laws, the ‘security’ of George W’s neoconservative fantasies and the war in Iraq.

We have bowed down to John Howard, our false messiah, who squandered every opportunity to lead this country to be true to itself and a positive example to the world. Instead he used fear, discord and dishonesty to gain power over us. Rather than heeding the essential message of religion – that we should devote ourselves to a better society and a higher cause – he cynically manipulated religion to divide and exclude. And we let him do it because the interest rates were low, the McMansion was worth a million and there was a new V8 or four-wheel drive in the driveway.

You may not believe in God, but it’s hard to deny what’s happening now is what it says in the book, word for word. We should start paying attention.

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