Picking up my copy of the Times of India this morning, I was rather taken aback to see the nasty leering visage of one John Winston Howard staring back at me from the top left corner of the front page. Apparently readers of the esteemed literary institution that is FHM magazine have voted him “Most Embarrassing Australian”. The fact that this makes the front page in India goes to show that news is very slow over the new year, but still, it got me thinking about patriotic embarrassment.
I guess that FHM readers are embarrassed by Johnny because he’s short, bald, talks like a helium-laden homunculus and isn’t particularly good at cricket – I can’t imagine that the finer points of economic and immigration policy are of much interest to participants in a poll that also included separate votes on “Best Boobs (Real)” and “Best Boobs (Fake)”, along with polling on “King Hit of the Year”.
FHM readers aside, though, what is it that really gets our goat about Johnny? Is it the breathtakingly cynical doublespeak adoption of terms like “mateship” and “a fair go” in a political discourse of scaremongering and selfishness? Is it the even more cynical pork-barrelling of budget funds to buy off the electorate in election years? Is it… ah fuck, I won’t get started, not at 30 rupees an hour. But suffice it to say that what I’ve seen here in Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj is enough to make me cringe at the mere thought of the vile little fucker who runs our country.
Dharamsala is, as I’ve mentioned before, the home to the Dalai Lama – he ended up here after a week-long trek through the Himalayas after China thoughtfully liberated Tibet from the clutches of autonomy and freedom by invading it. More appositely, it’s also a permanent home to around 10,0000 Tibetan refugees who’ve fled here since 1959. There are plenty more such refugees outside of Dharamsala – I believe some 80,000 are scattered throughout northern India, although I’m not enturely sure of the exact numbers.
Anyway, the point is that when the Dalai Lama arrived in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru effectively offered him the chance to set up camp in Dharamsala and make a home for himself and his people. Since then, India has welcomed Tibetan refugees with open arms – I’ve seen virtually no resentment anywhere of the Tibetans, and the fact that Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj are more Tibetan than Indian these days doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
So, yes, you can probably see where this is going. Compare and contrast this with the Howard government’s appalling treatment of refugees, and it’s yet another illustration of just how selfish, small-minded and downright immoral our government is. India, a nation of nearly 1 billion people, home to a large proportion of the world’s poor, unable to feed its own people, is more than happy to welcome refugees from an oppressed nation. Australia, a nation of 20 million people, among the most affluent in the world, throws a handful of people into indefinite detention for having the gall to jump a non-existent “queue”.
Sure, the Indian Government’s motives may not be entirely altruistic – supporting the Tibetans is probably a nice way to step on China’s toes. But still, no-one can argue with the results, and no Australian who visits Dharamsala and sees the thriving Tibetan community here should feel anything but ashamed of the fact that Howard still holds sway in Canberra. Myself included.