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Christos Tsiolkas on Australia's "toxic" approach to asylum seekers and refugees

Christos Tsiolkas - renowned author, writing the Forward to a new book on refugees - calls out Australia's conduct and Oz politics in relation to refugees and asylum seekers for what it is......"toxic".

"We read for pleasure and we read for knowledge. And there are some books we read because we must, for in not reading them we are in danger of not understanding our world and our own place in the world.
Over the last century such books have included The Diary of Anne Frank, Primo Levi’s If This is a Man, George Orwell’s 1984, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. There are others, of course there are, from every continent on this planet but I mention those five because they were crucial in creatively and purposefully giving voice to the obscene injustice and anti-humanity of totalitarianism. 
It is no accident that three of them have as their subject the Holocaust and the others that of the Stalinist purges and the murderous Soviet system of forced exile. Such books break free of their geographic, cultural and historic boundaries, and in doing so they smash the borders we humans erect to keep ourselves separate from one another. In forcing us to confront the evil we are capable of they also ask us to acknowledge our shared humanity.
I love literature, I love so many books, but I know that very few are necessary. That isn’t to somehow diminish the function of art and creativity. I’m not someone who believes criticism involves a ledger where you give a book a mark for utility. Some of the greatest works of art are purely pleasurable. But the books I mentioned above are both works of art and also works of witnessing. They are necessary.
In Australia in 2017, They Cannot Take the Sky is also necessary. For nearly two decades now, Australian politics has been corrupted by a toxic and destructive national debate about asylum seekers and refugees. Unfortunately, fought out as much across media – traditional and digital – as it has in our parliament, the issue of asylum has become inexorably entwined with our security and existential fears arising from the threats of international terrorism.
Our leaders, across the political spectrum, have failed in the democratic imperative to ensure a cogent and humane approach to the issue. In fanning the hysteria of partisanship they have betrayed our trust. That great leveller, history, will ultimately judge us on what kind of country we created for ourselves at the beginning of the 21st century. This isn’t the place for political analysis. All I want to suggest is that in all the screaming across the parliament floor or on social media, we forget that the asylum seeker and the refugee is a real person, with a real body and a real consciousness, that they are as human as we are."


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