If comparing Eric Abetz to the Nazis is "unAustralian", what is comparing refugees to terrorists?
In the author’s note at the conclusion of his gorgeous book of Jewish refugee stories Cafe Scheherazade, Melbourne author Arnold Zable humanises the refugee experience, writing:
Whenever I hear of another outbreak of conflict somewhere on the globe, whenever I see images of columns of refugees snaking across war-ravaged landscapes, my thoughts turn back to the tales of survivors, living in Melbourne, many of whom I have known since my childhood.Many of these refugees almost didn’t make it. Public opinion in Australia during the late 1940s viewed these desperate men and women, many victims of Nazi death camps, in much the same way as the Andrew Bolts and Rita Panahis and Piers Akermans of today regard asylum seekers from modern conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etc — as queue jumpers, potential terrorists, people unable to integrate, people who represent a threat to our way of life and our security.
You wouldn’t expect Senator Eric Abetz to join in this chorus of guilt by association. As the child of German migrants, Abetz knows what it’s like to be tarred with the same brush as the kind of war criminals and mass murderers who make Islamic State look like apprentices. Unlike most Muslim migrants of today and Jewish migrants of yesteryear, Abetz has a direct link to the Nazi regime. His great-uncle Otto Abetz was German ambassador to the Vichy regime and was responsible for sending untold number of French and North African Jews to their deaths.
Otto Abetz served time as a war criminal after being convicted in 1949. His grand-nephews Eric and Peter became Liberal Party politicians. Peter, a West Australian MP, believes his great-uncle did some good things as ambassador, most notably saving Paris from Allied bombing. Eric, on the other hand, dissociates himself completely from the war criminal whose death in a car accident took place in the year Eric was born.
Eric Abetz is sensitive about this issue. He said in 2008:
I think most reasonable Australians would regard any attempt to slur me by association with such a distant relative as completely unfair and, if I might say so, unAustralian.But now Abetz is happy to endorse the slurs of his staffer and ACT Young Liberal president Josh Manuatu for a piece penned for the (less readable Australian edition of) The Spectator. The article argues that Channel Nine Today host Sonia Kruger was “right” to argue Muslim migrants should be banned, and that Australia should “carefully consider” her proposal.
Why? Because Muslims and Middle Easterners (including, presumably, Egyptian Copts, Lebanese Maronites and Israeli Jews) treat women and gay people very badly. Which I guess means Muslim migration needs to be reviewed or curtailed or basically … er … banned?
I have to agree with the fact that there are lots of cases where women aren’t treated nicely in Muslim societies. But some Australian women aren’t treated very nicely by their husbands and partners. An Australian woman has a much greater chance of being terrorised by her male partner than by IS.
But I wonder how nice the Nazis were to women and gays. Should we be worried about Germans with Nazi backgrounds migrating to Australia?
Will Manuatu write a similar piece stating persons of Nazi heritage or direct links not be allowed into Australia? Will Abetz endorse such an article?
Abetz says he isn’t proud of his family background, and he isn’t happy when his Nazi great-uncle is raised. Which raises the question: has he ever wondered how I and my family must feel when we are judged by Abetz and his staffer to the Nazified nutcases we know and hate as IS?
I don’t know much about my ancestors. I’ve been told my family are direct descendants of the last poet laureate of the Mughal Empire, Mirza Ghalib, whose poetry is celebrated in India and Pakistan even today.
Abetz came to Australia when he was three years old. I was a mere five months old when I arrived here with my family in 1970. My father had taken up a role as a junior academic. He worked hard and was last year awarded an Order of Australia.
I’m extraordinarily proud of my father. I doubt I could achieve as much as he has, notwithstanding all the benefits of being brought up here, not having to leave loved ones behind.
In primary school, I was incessantly bullied, labelled a “boong” and an “Abbo”. My father taught me to fight them back, to give as good as you get, to not just stand there and take it. With that in mind, my question to Abetz is this: just how unAustralian is it to compare migrants who, among other things, happen to have Muslim heritage to terrorists who relish murdering them and their families? Should my family be compared to IS or the Pakistani Taliban? Should I?
With all due respect, Senator Abetz. I won’t be lectured to by the grand-nephew of a convicted Nazi war criminal about my alleged links to terrorism.
First published in Crikey on 26 July 2016.