It’s never a good idea to defend Hitler. Sean Spicer, President Trump’s Press Secretary, in trying to demonise Syrian President Assad over the deadly gas attack near Homs, somehow found himself defending Hitler. How does anyone defend Hitler? Spicer even said that even Hitler never used chemical weapons on his own people. It was a bad move. It was very bad. It was inexcusable, ignorant and displayed a profound ignorance of history. Spicer was wrong and later apologised but tried to explain himself by saying that Hitler only used the chemical weapons in the concentration camps and “not on his own people”.
Just who were these German Jews then? What does it matter if they were not Germans but Poles or others? How is it that it is somehow okay to do unspeakable acts against other people as long as we can define them as the other, not us. Are crimes against humanity not crimes if they are committed on other people, say people from other countries? People who are not like us.
In ‘The Age’ last week Rosemary Brennan-Herrera wrote a letter to her students explaining her resignation from her teaching position at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre after three years. She writes, “I don’t understand how such a place became normal in the Australian psyche. We are, as a nation, less admirable than we were. Nothing I saw as I walked from compound to compound equates to what I know of my country. What I saw was gratuitously cruel, insensitive and punishing. It was mortifying. It is Orwellian; Australians know we are not like that, even as we are.
No policy justifies what you have had to go through; nothing justifies it. You have borne so much that is illogical and spiteful. You have lost so much, that you can never get back. Our politicians have overreached themselves; they have chased votes into unacceptable territory…It will end; it must end and you will have your lives back, your children back, your studies back and your professions back.
What is happening on Manus Island and other detention centres is only possible if we can continue to portray the detainees as the others, not our own people. In some way we cannot name, deep down, we think they are not “our people.” Those fleeing the persecution, those enduring the horrors of famine, those who seek a better life, they are not our people.
We have just celebrated Easter and our Jewish brothers and sisters have just observed the feast of the Passover. Jewish people celebrate the story of their exodus from slavery and their identity as the people of God.
Christians remember the story of the betrayal of Jesus, his crucifixion, death and resurrection. We are called to reflect on the nature of our own complicity in the darker parts of the human story. We sing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
We are also called to remember that Jesus died for all. We went through a little exercise in church the other week, trying to unpack what we mean when we write “All are welcome” at the end of each announcement of this or that event in the life of our church. It was a lot of fun and a bit confronting as we considered just who all included. All means all. There is no them. There is only us.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister