The “You couldn’t make this stuff up” column.

Posted: February 9, 2016 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al, Religion
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We have decided, Dear Reader, to have a regular-cum-occasional posting that collects together those snippets of news that fall into the “Wait … what?” basket. You know, those items where you simply shake your head in disbelief at how incredibly inappropriate, silly, bizarre, insulting or head-scratching the world can be.

Usually about poliphiltics. But by no means exclusively.

Today we have the retirement from the Australian Parliament of  dear old Phil Ruddock. The current “Father of the House”, which means the silly old bugger has been there longer than anyone else having racked up 42 years at the grindstone – way past any realistic use by date – Ruddock’s unemotional delivery has become so dead pan over the years it’s sometimes necessary for interviewers to stick a pin in his thumb to see if he’s still alive.

Mr Ruddock was previously attorney-general, Indigenous affairs minister and immigration minister, and when announcing his retirement nominated counter-terrorism and family law changes as his key achievements.

He has campaigned against the death penalty and chaired the human rights sub-committee of Parliament’s joint foreign affairs committee. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Mr Ruddock would now be Australia’s first Special Envoy for Human Rights, with a hardly-defined brief to trot around the world, as she puts it, to “focus on advancing Australia’s human rights priorities of good governance, freedom of expression, gender equality, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and national human rights institutions. Mr Ruddock will actively promote Australia’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018–20 term. He will represent Australia at international human rights events and advocate our HRC candidacy in selected countries.”

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Widespread rumours that Ruddock is actually the evil Emperor from Star Wars are very unkind and will get no credence in this column.

Hmmm. Once renowned as a “wet” Liberal and vocal on human rights issues, Ruddock nevertheless morphed into a very different creature in Government. Astute followers of Australian politics will note that following the Coalition’s rise to government at the 1996 election, Ruddock was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. In this role, he administered the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and presided over the Howard government’s tough policies on asylum seekers. During his time in office, the previous Keating Labor Government’s practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers was continued and extended. Under his watch, asylum seekers, including children, were locked behind razor wire in Australia’s deserts. Even a daughter, Kirsty, publicly turned against him over the mandatory detention of children, which continues to this day.

In 2001 Ruddock was also appointed to the role of Minister for Indigenous Affairs. By this time he had become a high-profile figure enjoying considerable support within the Liberal Party, while being strongly opposed by left-wing activists and some human rights advocates. His “Pacific Solution” – which prevented asylum seekers receiving legal access to Australia – was condemned by Human Rights Watch as contravening international law, as being a human rights violation: Oxfam and the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) agreed with this viewpoint. At one point he was one of the few senior ministers (besides the prime minister) to have needed personal security details. Some of his decisions were highly controversial in Australian politics, and led to Amnesty International’s public attempt to distance the organisation from him (he had once headed the Amnesty International group in Parliament) by asking him to remove his lapel badge.

In 2003, Ruddock became Attorney-General in a cabinet reshuffle. On 27 May 2004, Ruddock introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible court rulings allowing same-sex marriages or civil unions. It has prevented same-sex marriage in Australia ever since.

Now, Ruddock will represent Australia’s human rights concerns overseas. We do not wish to be mean: we have no doubt he deserved some sort of sinecure for his long service. That it should be this one seems simply astonishing.

fashion_designer_1bbhvs2-1bbhvsbMeanwhile, mesmerised by imagined and real threats – often more imagined than real – the world continues on its overly terrified, for which read biased, way.

Waris Ahluwalia, who is a ubiquitous presence in the fashion world, was reportedly banned from a flight for wearing a turban.

The model and designer behind House of Waris posted a selfie to Instagram on Monday morning holding up his boarding pass with “SSSS” – which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection – circled on the ticket.

“This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban,” he wrote in the caption. He also included the hashtags #FearisanOpportunitytoEducate, #humanrights, #dignity, and #lovenotfear.

Ahluwalia, who appeared in a recent Gap advertising campaign (including posters which were subject to racist graffiti), and is a regular on the New York City party circuit, initially complied with the supplemental security measures before boarding his flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport, including having an agent swab his hands and the bottoms of his feet to test for explosives.

But when asked by an airline worker to remove his black turban, an accessory in his signature style he is never seen without, he refused. “That is not something that I would do in public,” the Grand Budapest Hotel actor told the New York Daily News. “That’s akin to asking someone to take off their clothes.”

After abstaining from removing his turban without being brought to a private screening area, he supposedly was told, “You will not be flying Aero Mexico. You will need to book another flight.”

On his Instagram post, commenters aired their frustration with Ahluwalia’s mistreatment. “This is outrageous. Sikhism is not even related in any way to terrorist extremists,” Angie wrote.

“What a sad day, a beautiful faith of love and peace is treated in such a horrible way.”

Kirthan Aujlay added, “Absolutely disgusted by this. How much longer are Sikh men going to be targeted by bigots?”

Many also shared similar experiences and praised Ahluwalia for publicising the discriminatory incident.

In our view the fact that many Muslims are profile-stopped because of some Muslim extremists is bad enough, but perhaps understandable given world tensions, if regrettable. But these idiots don’t even seem to understand that a Sikh is a unique northern Indian religion that is related to Hinduism. (In previous unprovoked attacks on Sikhs in America – aimed at terrorising Muslims – people have been killed.)

Mind you, not all social media comment was supportive. On Facebook, Sukhi Sagoo offered a counter argument: “Regardless of whether you are a Sikh or you wear any kind of headdress, I think for security reasons and for the safety of fellow passengers it’s not a bad thing to cooperate with the authorities. As long as it’s done in a private room and not in a public place. If you have nothing to hide, then why not cooperate?” Mahtab Singh Shergill also said that a hijab for Muslim women is just as precious yet they, in general, cooperate with security checks (the same can be said for nuns). “You need to understand that it’s their job to make sure that the flight is secure and retaliation can cause serious doubts,” he wrote. “They don’t make every Sikh they see remove the turban; if he was asked he shouldn’t have denied.”

The actor and designer was still at the airport more than 12 hours later. Mr. Ahluwalia, who has a record of anti-racist activism, said he planned to remain there as lawyers from the Sikh Coalition and Aeroméxico discussed the matter by telephone. He said he had no immediate plans to board another flight.

Sikh men wear the turban as a symbol of commitment to equality and social justice. Gurjot Kaur, a senior staff lawyer with the Sikh Coalition, said that the episode in Mexico City highlighted similar problems that men with beards, people with religious headwear and women in Islamic head coverings often encounter at airport security, where they are often unfairly associated with terrorism.

“It does play to the larger issue of profiling,” she said.

Ms. Kaur said the coalition had asked Aeroméxico’s lawyer for a public apology for Mr. Ahluwalia and a commitment for security personnel to undergo diversity training. She said she was speaking with the airline’s lawyer, John Barr. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Ahluwalia said he was in Mexico to attend an art fair as a guest of L’Officiel magazine. He said he did not encounter similar scrutiny at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he boarded his Aeroméxico flight in New York last Tuesday.

Mr. Ahluwalia said it was not the first time that his turban had caused consternation. He said he had been questioned about the turban at airports in the United States and abroad but had never been denied access to a flight.

At some airports, however, he said he has had to “rub the turban,” while trying to hold a straight face, for security officials “and then put my hand in front of them, and they swab my hands.”

Anyhow, in response, Waris, who has a runway show as part of New York Fashion Week this week, sent an additional social media note to his fans. “Dear NYC fashion week. I may be a little late as @aeromexico won’t let me fly with a turban. Don’t start the show without me.”

More nonsense soon.

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