About 50 years ago, writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the end of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. A Nazi leader, Eichmann was regarded as one of the architects of the Final Solution. Eichmann was charged with 15 counts of crimes against the Jewish people, war crimes, crimes against humanity and membership of a hostile organisation. Specifically, the charges accused Eichmann of being responsible for the enslavement, starvation, persecution, transportation and murder of millions of Jews. In covering the trial and coming to terms with the scale of the atrocity, Arendt coined a new phrase “the banality of evil”. Arendt was not implying that evil had become ordinary, on the contrary she considered Eichmann’s crimes to be exceptional, if not unprecedented, rather she observed a level of non-thinking bound up in the implementation of policy, the kind of non-thinking that divorces the necessity to think reflectively about one’s own actions and how they are bound with the life and thinking of others.
Thousands of Syrian refugees queue for food at the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus – 31 January 2014
Banality is non-thinking itself and policy implemented in this way is banal in that it is carried out in a daily way, systematically. Practices become accepted, routinised and implemented and rarely are they adequately exposed to questions of morality or political resistance. Eichmann in his defence claimed that in implementing the Final Solution, he was acting from obedience, out of a sense of duty, he claimed he was “no longer the master of his own deeds” and he “was unable to change anything“. He was acting out of blind obedience (Butler, J, 2011).
The Australian Government has adopted a policy to manage the arrival of asylum seekers by boat that is viewed as abhorrent on the world stage, indeed the UN has slammed Australia’s asylum seeker policy following the recent riot on Manus Island. The policy is built on the rationality of deterrence, of horror, whereby Australia offers to asylum seekers an untenable option, such that the preference of the asylum seeker is to continue to endure the already untenable. The violence at Manus Island, the death of asylum seeker Reza Berati reinforces this narrative, in this regard, it is not inconvenient. Indeed, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s response:
“It was a very, very serious riot. The interesting thing is that, despite the seriousness of the riot, there was very little damage unlike an earlier riot in Nauru, unlike an earlier riot at Villawood. There was very little damage and by the next morning the centre was operating, people were being fed, housed and clothed. Now, obviously you would rather not have riots, but if there are riots they have to be dealt with and this one was dealt with.”
A man is dead and more than 70 injured, but business as usual.
On Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, Abbott goes on to say:
“The point I want to make about Scott Morrison is he’s an absolutely outstanding minister. He’s doing a great job for our country. You don’t want a wimp running border protection, you want someone who is strong, who is decent and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent”.
Reflecting on Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament, I cannot reconcile this policy, his application of this policy and his espoused values:
“From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way, including diminishing their personal responsibility for their own well being; and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and the moral integrity of marriage and the family. We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil. Desmond Tutu put it this way:
… we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.
These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous: strong in our values and our freedoms, strong in our family and community life, strong in our sense of nationhood and in the institutions that protect and preserve our democracy; prosperous in our enterprise and the careful stewardship of our opportunities, our natural environment and our resources; and, above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice”.
It is worth asking the question. In applying this policy, is Mr Morrison thinking reflectively about his actions and how they are bound to the life and thinking of those who desperately seek our shores? Has his sense of duty, his commitment to a job well done and the accolade of being an “outstanding minister” compromised his ability to apply his own moral values and think critically about the policy, its process and impacts?
Scott Morrison said “we must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil“. I agree Mr Morrison, never more so than when evil manifests through banality.
Linking up Grace from With Some Grace for #FYBF