Monday, July 23, 2007

When you just want to rush home and see your newborn baby

Why doesn't it seem so perfectly understandable that if you were an Indian doctor working in a Queensland hospital, and your wife had recently given birth to your first child by emergency caesarean far away in your home country, and you were anxious to see them as quickly as possible, to hold your first born child in your arms and whisper the Quranic sutras in his or her ears, as a good Muslim father must do, (and you're regretting that you weren't there to do so immediately, and you're wondering if your brother/cousin/father/brother-in-law did it correctly in your absence), and so you booked the first flight to India available the soonest you can arrange leave – and you settled for a one-way ticket.

Maybe it was the only option possible. Perhaps it was all you could afford at the time, and you would have to borrow money for the return flight. Maybe, just maybe, you were so sick of Queenslanders looking at you sideways and whispering worriedly to their relatives, or asking the nurse if they thought you could be trusted right in front of you – just because you are Asian – while you were giving them medical treatment. Perhaps you're just so sick of it that for a moment you entertained the idea of flying back to India, cradling your baby in your arms, and saying 'to hell with the money, Queensland is not worth it and I'm not going back'.

You know, I could see myself feeling like that. But we weren't expected to think like that. No, we were meant to see this a sign of guilt – of being a terrorist.

When Federal Police made a big thing about the fact that the Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef had booked a one-way ticket to India immediately after news of the failed bomb attacks at Glasgow airport and elsewhere in UK broke, we were all meant to be suspicious. When they told us he was related to one of the terror suspects arrested in UK, we were meant to nod our heads sagely and think that these Muslims are tight as thieves, tricky and can't be trusted – thank goodness the police got him in time. Then, when they said that Dr Haneef had supplied his 'terrorist' cousin with a SIM card before leaving UK, and it was found in the jeep used in the failed bomb attack, we were all meant to be convinced.

As the Federal Police come under increasing criticism over their handling of the case they put together against the 27-year-old Indian registrar at Gold Coast Hospital unravels, we're left wondering what its about.

There is already a lot out there about the inconsistencies in the case put together by the Federal Police against Dr Haneeef – what some would call the outright misrepresentation of the evidence (the infamous SIM card issue) by the Federal Police when they put forward their case in the court in Brisbane. (Robert Merkel at Lavartus Prodeo has a good grasp of the ins-and-outs of the tenuous links made by the police between Haneef and the terror suspects arrested for the failed bombing attempts in the UK)

As the saga of the Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef's detention, interrogation and subsequent charging and arrest unfolded, my unease that this was another case of the government making mileage from our fear of terrorism has grown. Perhaps it's because the case has been so badly botched by the Federal Police, and the spin so poorly handled by the Howard government, that I can't help but think that this man has been so badly treated for political gain.

At the heart of my suspicions is the beat-up about Muslims – again – and Indian doctors – again. Australia's Muslim communities already feel so under siege over the many associations between terrorists and all Muslims. Overseas-trained doctors, especially those from India, already face quite a bit of mistrust, fear and even outright discrimination from the Australian community after the infamous Dr Patel saga, where an overseas-trained doctor has been accused of terrible and deadly negligence at a Queensland hospital.

I think that this factor gets overlooked a lot. In what she called a "a dialogue of the deaf" in The Age today, Sushi Das has an excellent perspective on the Federal Police's failure to recognise cultural differences in their interrogation of Dr Haneef. They appeared deaf to the nuances of culture, religion, family, language, and accent when questioning him.

Perhaps this is not restricted to 'bonehead' policeman. Is the rest of white Australia prone to this as well?

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At July 23, 2007 7:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good summary, Mark

Just a couple of points:

1. When I first heard last week about the SIM card mix-up, I though to myself "the Government is getting off easy, all they have to do is say they have new information and they can back out of this gracefully". But then the Morgan Poll came out - a 4% swing to a Government that is oh so desperate for a swing. Morgan attributes the swing entirely to this issue (stupid red-necks vote, remember). So the Government ignores common sense and common decency to hold firm, while Labor is left with no (electoral) choice but to stay dumb.

2. On Friday I checked out the UK and India (English) media. Both the Hindu and the Times of India ran thoughtful and balanced commentaries. They already knew he was returning to India to see his baby, not by undertaking an analysis of any transcript, but because they had taken the radical step of actually listening to his wife! As for the UK media - where the bombings happened - it had moved on - no headlines on the bombings, at any rate. So it is only Australia, with its looming election, that has found so much to fuss about - and we now know that it is a beat-up.

At July 24, 2007 10:15 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Thanks, hammy. But perhaps the British media have moved on from the failed bombings because Scotland Yard 'got' their men, and because large swathes of the island is under water!

It amazes me to hear a country's Prime Minister state that the once in 150 year 'weather event' – ie widespread flooding! – was a result of climate change!

The BBC is even saying that this is the biggest domestic crisis that PM Brown has faced yet – presumably bigger than the failed bomb attempt!

So yes, this is Howard's beat-up, as it always was.

At July 24, 2007 10:51 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that you are surprised that a British Prime Minister is talking about climate change. After all, Maggie started the ball rolling when she wanted to kill-off the coal unions by moving to gas and nuclear. Anyway, there is certainly no advantage to Brown in dwelling on the bombings.

In Australia, on the other hand, Howard (to my surprise) has all but declared a truce on the the climate change vote. With Labor's proposals already announced, he could have attempted to trump it, but last weeks announcement was hardly a "competetive bid". So it would seem that particular debate is now finished.


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