In the past year, I have lived in three very different places.
First, there was almost three weeks as a non-paying guest receiving asylum in an Indonesian Pondok Pesantren (madrassah). This learning institution gave me asylum under Islamic law after I explained to them my reasons that I went to Indonesia to renounce Australian citizenship under Indonesian law. My long standing commitment to studying the 99 Islamic names of God, asmaulhusna, from a western perspective is probably the biggest reason that I received this rare privilege. Or perhaps I should call it a rare recognition of my fundamental human rights.
Then in the second week of August last year, I was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in an Immigration Detention Centre in Indonesia for three months.
Thirdly, after being deported to Australia against my will, I have been living in Premier Daniel Andrews’ Police State Of Victoria.
What follows is a comparison of life in these three places.
In the Pondok (madrassah) I had the most freedom, and was in the most democratic and civilised environment of all three places. The Islamic lifestyle is one of clean living and devotion to God. The People talked softly and modestly and were always friendly.
I could come and go whenever I liked, and on the rare occasions, when a door was locked but I wanted to enter, someone would invariably unlock it for me.
The religious tolerance was extraordinary. In an institution dedicated to the very devout Islamic practice, I was totally accepted even though I was not a Muslim and not engaging in all Islamic rituals. This is because Islamic people in Indonesia have a very widespread and deep tolerance for their own principle La Ikraha Fiddin. (There is no compulsion in religion.)
I learnt a lot among those students about good calm living and made a little film about the liberation and enrichment which can be gained by prayer.
The Islamic environment was democratic because all the people there had freely consented to be there and were proud to be there. In any democratic organisation governing by the consent of the governed is essential.
The immigration detention centre was obviously very different. I was there because immigration officials believed I had broken Indonesian law. I disagreed with them and still do. The head of the madrassah and the very devout mayor of the large city in which it was located both agreed that from the religious point of view I had the right to seek “aman” (meaning safety) in Indonesia.
I was not in the detention centre by consent but my basic needs were met. There were lots of great people there. I got enough exercise and the food was nutritious and I was always delivered three meals a day. The ventilation of my cell was great. It was never too hot or too cold. I had all the sterile drinking water and washing water and toiletries I needed. I received the medical care I needed.
I was able to communicate with a senior guy in America’s National Coalition For Men who wrote a letter to the head of the Detention Centre explaining why he thought my actions were justified. For two months I was able to engage online in artistic collaborations with Australians of which I remain proud.
There was a good balance between privacy and social interaction.
I also became much more accurate at kicking a soccer ball.
Compared to those two Indonesian places Daniel Andrews’ Victoria just doesn’t measure up. In this sad state all of the worst traditions of Terra Nullius are fully maintained. (It has to be said that there are a few great people here who have ensured that my experience here these last 8 and a half months has not been as bad as I feared it would be.)
This is a state where too many people live in fear.
Thats not surprising. If anyone was silly enough to go and sit on a park bench here in Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, that person would risk being fined $1,600.
Widespread fear now means that the economy is being trashed to fight a disease which is well under control by global standards.
Daniel Andrews has had the most draconian lockdown laws in Australia but this severity has given him the least success in getting the sort of community effort going where a virus can be controlled.
Freedom works, Daniel Andrews. Your Police State tactics don’t.
Democracy dies when the governing political party uses scandalous branch stacking the way it’s been used in Daniel Andrews’ branch of the Australian Labor Party and that party stays in power.
Being civilised is impossible when the government treats outdoor activities like golf and fishing in wide open spaces as dangerous.
Australian Rules Football is sometimes said to be the religion of Melbourne. AFL footy was born in Victoria and none of the best clubs are playing here anymore. The grand final appears more likely to be played in Brisbane or Perth than in its normal home of Melbourne.
For any government in the world, getting the balance right between the economy and the Corona-virus pandemic is going to be hard.
Daniel Andrews and his political party proved to me in 2016 and 2017 that they don’t respect people like me or our rights or needs.
Nothing has changed.
Compared with being in Victoria, life in the Pondok in Indonesia was very very good.
I miss you, Gus.
Geoff Fox 23rd July 2020, Melbourne, Victoria, Terra Nullius
(“Gus” is an affectionate honorific title frequently used to address Islamic leaders in the Indonesian island of Java.)