Friday, June 24, 2011
The Midrash teaches: One person (Adam) was created as the common ancestor of all people, for the sake of the peace of the human race, so that one should not be able to say to a neighbour, "My ancestor was better than yours.” I was reminded of this midrash constantly as I watched the powerful reality show “Go back to where you came from” on SBS for the past three nights.
The show took six ordinary Australians who agreed to challenge their preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers by embarking on a confronting 25-day journey. Tracing in reverse the journeys that refugees have taken to reach Australia, they travelled to some of the most dangerous and desperate corners of the world, with no idea what is in store for them along the way.
Deprived of their wallets, phones and passports, they board a leaky refugee boat, are rescued mid-ocean, experience immigration raids in Malaysia, live in a Kenyan refugee camp and visit slums in Jordan before ultimately making it to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, protected by UN Peacekeepers and the US military. For some of them it’s their first time abroad. For all of them, it’s an epic journey and the most challenging experience of their lives.
With the all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the show is one of the post powerful rebuttals to the dehumanising language used about asylum seekers all too often in this country.
Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers is largely decided by the opinions of participants in focus groups around marginal seats in Western Sydney. After watching Go Back To Where You Came From for the past three nights, I believe that if our government truly wanted to lead rather than follow the Australian people on this issue, they could easily educate many of us to find the best within ourselves by humanising, rather than demonising refugees who come here by boat.
Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister of Canada said in a speech at the Oxford Chabad Society, "The greatness of a society can be measured by its treatment and care of the most vulnerable and powerless." The most powerless people in the world today are the millions of refugees waiting in camps around the world. As a wealthy country, Australia can do far more to alleviate the plight of these people. Three good places to start would be to increase our level of foreign aid to 0.7% of GNI, support the implementation of the millennium development goals, and increase the number of asylum seekers given visas to this country each year.
On a broader level as a Jewish community, I also think that we would greatly benefit by remembering that all people, whether they be Greenies, Settlers, Palestinians, Chabadniks, Homosexuals, Reformers, Peaceniks, Zionists or Bundists, are created in the Image of God.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book To Heal a Fractured World, suggests that Judaism is a religion of sacred discontent. He sees Abraham, Moses, Amos and Isaiah as messengers of sacred discontent, of dissatisfaction with the status quo. He writes, "In Judaism, faith is not acceptance but protest, against the world that is, in the name of the world that is not yet but ought to be...There are cultures that relieve humankind of responsibility, lifting us beyond the world of pain to bliss...they teach us to accept the world as it is and us as we are. They bring peace of mind and that is no small thing. Judaism is not peace of mind...I remain in awe at the challenge God has set us: ...to build, to change, to 'mend' the world until it becomes a place worthy of the divine presence because we have learned to honour the image of God that is humankind."
The final part of this documentary will be screened on Tuesday 28th June at 8:30 on SBS.