Notes from the Human Rights conference

I was recently lucky enough to be in Melbourne for the first half of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law 2016 Human Rights conference. I learnt so much and thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the wisdom shared by speakers Professor Anne Aly, Stan Grant and Mariam Veiszadeh.

Below is a summary of my notes from the day, as well as links to watch the replay recordings of each talk.

Professor Anne Aly on ‘Radicalisation, Terrorism and Human Rights’

Human Rights conference Anne Aly

Photo source: Castan Centre for Human Rights Law featuring Anne Aly

I was excited when I first saw that Anne Aly would be speaking at the Human Rights conference. Not only because she inspired me as the first Muslim woman voted into Federal Parliament, but because she was talking on the topic of terrorism, a subject that I felt compelled to learn more about. And oh my, I sure learnt a lot!

Learn first hand from Anne by watching a replay of her keynote below. Alternatively you can listen to an audio only version here or read the transcript here.

For those who don’t have 40 minutes – you can read my attempt at taking notes below.

  • It is challenging to find a common universal definition of the term ‘terrorism’. It is so subjective – impacted by both moral and political judgments.
  • Terrorism is not new and has been part of the human condition for centuries.
  • The prime objectives of counter terrorism are to stop the violence of terrorists and to protect the safety and security of citizens. The end goal of any effective approach to counter terrorism should be to seek an end to violence.
  • Counter terrorism can often fail and end up part of the cycle of violence. There are cases of this throughout history – particularly where a government took action through collective punishment and reprisals against entire groups of citizens.
  • Terrorism is not a static phenomenon. It shifts according to global events and trends – including globalisation and the technological revolution. Our response to terrorism must therefore also be agile and adaptive to respond effectively to violence.
  • Following the 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent focus of the ‘war on terror’, the conditions for a ‘hard’ power response where instigated. Following the 2011 demise of Osama Bin Laden, scholars argued that the war on terror had not been successful in eradicating the threat of international terrorism. The hard power approach had succeeded in taking out the operational and tactical capacity of Al Qaeda Central – but destroying the training camps did not successfully eradicate their affiliates and ideology. Employing a military response against an enemy whose regenerative capacity relies on it’s ability to use ‘soft’ strategies of influence and mobilisations was questioned.
  • The ‘war on terror’ was reconstructed as a ‘war on Islam’ by radicalists – becoming a powerful mechanism for attracting recruits and sympathisers. This became a central pillar on the narrative to unite disaffected Muslims to justify armed conflict.
  • In 2010, Obama strategically changed the terminology to a ‘war on Al Qaeda’ and not Islam. Despite this change of language being important, it came too late. More than a shift in language was required to undo a decade of damage from the military campaign.
  • Counter-terrorism should not be reduced to a dilemma of competing rights. It is not a choice of protecting the rights of citizens to safety and security versus the rights of freedom of belief, expression and religion. We should be protecting citizens of all rights.
  • Hard measures aim to decimate terrorist capabilities through military, offensive and punitive actions. Hard power is implemented by government and is purposeful in its application and finite in its effect. 
  • Soft measures aim to address the root causes of terrorism at a societal level. Soft power can be both purposeful and non-purposeful and infinite in its effect. Unlike hard measures, they are harder to quantify and take longer periods of time to identify measurable results. It is implemented by the non government sector.
  • Soft measures can be used in hard ways and vice versa.
  • Both hard and soft measures hold equal importance for the protection of human rights. Smart counter terrorism borrows from both hard and soft measures. An effective balance between the two is needed. It is important to get the balance right. Governments must also think simultaneously about the limitations of hard and soft strategies, as well as how they could impact on eachother.
  • A smart approach to soft power in counter terrorism is tied to ‘social cohesion’. The OECD looks at social cohesion through three lenses: 1) social inclusion (the degree to which all citizens participate); 2) social capital (a sense of social belonging and trust of institutions); and 3) social mobility (equal opportunity). By integrating these three lenses with hard power, smart counter terrorism will be more effective.
  • Although there are examples of good practice around the world and some countries are aspiring to an integrated balance of soft and hard power measures, no country has got it perfectly right yet. Australia is therefore in a good position as a country that has not yet experienced a significant terrorist attack – to learn from and pull together good practice in other countries and tweak it accordingly. 
  • Media personalities and some politicians keep saying “we’re not allowed to talk about this” when it comes to Islamophobic discussions (e.g., a recent TV personality suggesting that we ban Muslims from entering the country)  – but all you ever hear is “we’re not allowed to talk about this”. They keep talking about the thing that they’re apparently not allowed to talk about! The people who aren’t talking about it are Muslims who don’t have a platform to actually talk about it. Discussion therefore remains around competing rights (e.g., right of freedom of expression over right of freedom of religion) and “not being able to talk about it” – when it needs to go deeper than this and pursue everybody’s rights (e.g, right of freedom of expression AND right of freedom of religion) which would be more constructive. 
  • Anne went into politics because she had a busy year in her academic career and realised that despite the policy development and dialogues she’d been having, that nothing would change without political will. This influenced her decision to accept a move into politics – to try and make some difference there.  

Stan Grant on ‘The way forward for Indigenous reconciliation’

Human Rights conference - Stan Grant

Photo source: Castan Centre for Human Rights Law featuring Stan Grant

I was looking forward to absorbing Stan Grant’s speech after having read his book Talking To My County on the plane to Melbourne and previously being deeply moved by a speech of his that went viral on racism in Australia..

His keynote at the Human Rights conference and responses to questions afterwards was unsurprisingly informative and moving. You can watch Stan Grant’s full keynote (and responses to audience questions) below. Alternatively, you can listen to the audio only version here.

If you don’t have 40 minutes to listen to his talk, please read my not-as-grand notes below.

  • Stan met a local elder of the Gunai people whilst at a talk at Lake Gippsland and discovered that their songlines joined, connecting their ancestry, and finding that they were related. This is an ancient history for his people, an expression of their sovereignty, a way of binding them to each other, and identifying who they are and where they’re from – linked by their stories, traditions and blood. This is, was, and always will be Aboriginal land.
  • Stan questioned how we can reconcile 10s of 1000s of years of occupation, culture, law, trade, art and politics with an Australia that has long denied Aboriginal rights and has still not truly reckoned with a past whereby Aboriginal people were subjected to an exterminating war, violence and massacres.
  • He recently felt the weight of our history when he stood in the National Archives of Australia in Canberra and held the Australian Constitution and the 1967 amendment that allowed the Commonwealth to make laws relating to Indigenous people and count them in the population. It was a victory only half won – as there is still a struggle that remains for the rights inherent of the First Peoples.
  • In the room across the hall from where Stan held the Constitution, he found the Larrakia petition and immediately felt that he belonged. The petition by the Larrakia people of the Northern Territory held over 1000 signatures from Aboriginal people across Australia and was given to the Queen in 1972. It states that the Aboriginal people had their land taken by British Settlers who did not sign a treaty to acquire it. Without their land they are refugees in the country of their ancestors. The petition called for treaties like those of the Maori of New Zealand and the Native Americans. This still has not occurred.
  • Stan counted just 30 steps between his people in the Larrakia petition and the Australian nation in the Constitution. Aboriginal heroes have fought to build a bridge between that gap – to create a more complete Australia. 
  • The place of Aboriginal people in history has never been comfortable, they have been invisible. Indigenous leaders have stated that there are two paths for Australia from here. One is the path of listening and not hearing. The other is the path of listening and hearing.
  • Australia is the only Commonwealth nation not to have signed a treaty with First Peoples. Canada, US, and New Zealand have acknowledged fundamental rights – but we have not. Victoria has started a process that may lead to a treaty with Indigenous people. As a member of the Reconciliation Council, Stan is hopeful that the treaty in Victoria will happen – and that the Commonwealth government will begin the process also.
  • A treaty and recognition of what happened to Aboriginal people are not mutually exclusive – they might even inform each other.
  • The philosopher Hegel spoke of people not “being at home in the world”. For Indigenous people, they have to contemplate the reality of feeling they are not at home in their world, estranged in the land of their ancestors.
  • Being at home in the world is not just resigning to, accepting, or accommodating injustice. John Law discusses reconciliation through public reason, of people not just tolerating, but being able to endorse the institutions and practices of society. For some, this is not possible and they find themselves in an ‘inbetweenness’ or state of hopelessness.
  • This hopelessness leads to people withdrawing from political processes that they feel have abandoned them and also experiencing a range of social implications (for example, significantly high levels of socio-economic disadvantage, prison rates, and youth suicides). Indigenous children under the age of 14 are 9 times more likely to take their own lives.
  • It is peculiar that we cannot acknowledge our history and recognise what we did to the Aboriginal people. We commemorate, mourn, and pay respect to our fallen soldiers (e.g., on Anzac day) – but we do not commemorate or pay respect to the fallen Aboriginal people (e.g., those who were murdered at Poisoned Waterhole Creek and Murder Island) and are instead told it is in the past and to move on.
  • Terra Nullius is not just a legal doctrine. Even though Terra Nullius was overthrown upon the Mabo decision, it still shapes and impacts on the psyche of the nation (e.g., still not seeing the First Peoples, informing the ‘great Australian silence’, not talking of the invasion, current debate over making room for people of other religions and cultures). 

The Castan Centre also did a brief private Q&A with Stan Grant on the day which you can watch here. You can purchase a copy of his books Talking To My Country here and Tears of Strangers here.

Mariam Veiszadeh on ‘Islamophobia in Australia’

Human Rights conference - Mariam

Photo source: Castan Centre for Human Rights Law featuring Mariam Veiszadeh

I had to leave the Human Rights conference early, in order to go to the BYCA Inspiration Day at lunch time. Mariam Veiszadeh’s keynote was the final speech I listened to at this event and one that I’d previously known I had to see and hear. I had been following Mariam on social media for a while and was incredibly inspired by what she was doing in the world and troubled by the amount of abuse she had experienced online (Note: Google her name and read the number of articles about death threats, rape, and other threats of violence she has received).

I left the Human Rights conference with tears in my eyes, shaking hands, wobbly legs, and the already growing passion within me further ignited. Mariam’s speech was deeply moving and I suspect a small but impactful glimpse into her world. I highly recommend that you watch the replay yourself and fully experience what she shared. You can do so below.

Alternatively, you can read the full transcript of her talk here, or listen to the audio only version here.

If you don’t have a spare 40 minutes to watch or listen to the full keynote (please, please, please find the time for it – I promise it’ll be worth it), you’ll find some of the notes I took during her talk below (including those from the questions asked at the end of the session). Be warned – these notes do not reflect the full depth of Mariam’s story and message, so you will be truly missing out if you read them alone.

  • Mariam is the original founder and President of the Islamophobia Register Australia. Her relationship with Islamophobia has taken many forms – from being an advocate against it, to becoming a victim of it, and everything in between.
  • If you have not walked the path of someone who’s experienced Islamophobia, than your understanding of their circumstances is secondary. You cannot deny what you have not experienced.
  • The Islamophobia Register Australia has teamed up with a group of academics to analyse the data they have collated. It is hoped that the full findings report will be released in a few months. It will include quantitative and qualitative data analysis on trends, demographics of perpetrators and victims, distribution of events, mapping of Islamophoia hot spots, and correlations between the frequency of the reports of Islamophobia and the socio-political climate at the time.
  • All extreme parties (both the radicalised and the Islamophobes) cling on to the false hope that their words and actions are assisting in reducing endemic and institutionalised Islamophobia and global injustices, or radicalisation, terrorism, and perceived Muslim threats. In reality, their words and action do the opposite and actually fuel each other’s causes.
  • Political ideologies prey on disaffection – disaffection that leads people to resonate with the baseless words of politicians and become prey for brain washing and radicalisation.
  • We need to work together to bring the disaffected and disillusioned on both ends of the spectrum back into the fold. Ignoring, demonising and ridiculing them will have devastating concequences.
  • Academic research for the full findings report is painting a grim picture of Islamophobia where victims are experiencing both verbal and/or physical abuse in everyday locations (e.g., shopping centres, public transport). In a 12 month period between September 2014 and 2015, there was an average of 5.4 reported incidents per week.
  • There are noticeable spikes in reported incidents following events like the Anti-Terror raids, Federal Parliament’s proposal to ban the ‘burqa’ from Parliament, the Martin Place Siege, the Reclaim Australia rallies, and Tony Abbott’s national security statement where he said that he’d “heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’” and that he “wished more Muslim leaders would say it and mean it”.
  • There are an alarming number of incidents where mothers and young children are involved. There is no research that examines the impact that Islamophobia has on children who witness the women in their lives being verbally and physically abused.
  • Islamophobia has become largely normalised and is frequently presenting in both public and private places. This has been contributed to by institutional, social, legal, political, government policy, and media factors.
  • Approximately 500,000+ votes went to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in the recent election, making it the biggest national Senate vote after the Coalition, Labor and Greens. One Nation’s key policies were explicitly anti-Muslim. For example, One Nation want to ban Muslims from entering Australia because of a perceived terrorist threat – despite research showing that when you plot the percentage of Muslims in a country with the number of terrorist attacks in that country, there is no obvious connection or trend.
  • The website Fact Check One Nation was recently launched as a way of countering One Nation policies with facts, starting with their positions on Islam. This is just one aspect of approaching Islamophobia – by appealing to reason.
  • Research shows that feeling dehumanised by one group can lead you dehumanise that group in return. This can then increase support for using aggressive action against them and mutual aggression continues.
  • A process of dehuminsation is arguably taking place when media personalities like Sonia Kruger on the Today Show casually call for the banning of Muslims entering the country, when newspapers like The Australian publish comments calling for the internment of Muslims (i.e., throwing all Muslims into detention camps), when political parties like One Nation get elected on their anti-Muslim policy platforms, when political figures like Pauline Hanson compare Muslims to pit bull terriers, where facts and statistics are ignored, when people like Mariam who speak out about Islamophobia receive threats of death, violence and rape.
  • We must call out the fabrications and hate speech respectfully by not demonising them or stooping to their level. Not all 500,000 + people who voted for One Nation are bigots.
  • We must reach out to one another with a genuine intent to listen to each other – to listen with an intent to understand and not with an intent to reply.
  • It is not up to just one person (e.g. Mariam!) to solve this issue – it is a global problem and the onus is on all of us. We can all speak out and up in private conversations (e.g., at the dinner table or around the BBQ) – in a way that goes beyond tokenism, but compassionately draws upon facts. You cannot always reason with those who are strongly motivated by fear and emotion – but you can reason with those who are misinformed by having these conversations and bringing their attention to the facts. You can help in this way.
  • We must stop putting Muslims in categories (e.g., moderate, progressive, radical, extreme, etc). This framing implies that all ‘categories’ are truly practicing Islam.
  • Showing the emotional and personal concequences of Islamophobia is important (e.g., when Mariam became visibly upset and tearful during her speech) and helps humanise those who are experiencing it and may have otherwised been dehumanised.

The Castan Centre also did a brief private Q&A with Mariam on the day here. You can find Mariam via Twitter, Facebook or her website.

Let’s unite and create change,

Naomi x

PS. Oh and how can I forget! The Castan Centre also launched their 2016 Human Rights Report at the event. It assesses the most pressing and important human rights issues we are currently facing – including what got better and what got worse. You can find it here.

Please note that if you use any of the links in this blog post to buy this book, I may receive a small commission from Booktopia.

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