Reflections about Anzac Day: respect the dead, heal the wounded, end all imperialist wars

April 25, 2015 marked exactly one hundred years of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (Anzac) offensive against the forces of the Ottoman Turkish empire at Gallipoli. There were many moving, and emotional commemorative activities on the day, as Australians like myself remembered those who fell in what was an ultimately disastrous campaign. Anglo-French military leaders had figured on opening a new front, intending on capturing the Dardanelles, defeating the German-allied Ottoman empire, and assisting the Imperial Russian ally in the East.

The amphibious assault, involving thousands of British and French troops, also witnessed the participation of soldiers from the former colonial possessions of the British and French empires. Thousands of Indian troops, a Sikh brigade, fought alongside the Anzac soldiers for the duration of the Gallipoli campaign. Let us not forget the 10 000 French soldiers who died fighting the Ottoman Turkish army, even though the French (along with the British) had colonial ambitions for the territories controlled by the Ottomans. The campaign by the Western Allies was not humanitarian in nature – political and economic calculations motivated the desire to defeat the Ottoman Turkish forces, and subsequently partition the Middle East into easily controllable portions (the Sykes-Picot Agreement was negotiated in secret).

The invading forces were multinational in composition, however, in Australia it is the Anzacs that understandably receive the most attention. Obviously we must remember our own compatriots that have lost their lives in battle. Hopefully, this compassion will be extended to the thousands of indigenous Australians who served in the Australian military. Even though the First Nations of Australia were not even considered citizens at the time, indigenous people signed up to the military and served with distinction in World War One. They participated in various campaigns of that war, including Gallipoli.

The Ottoman Turkish forces were also multiethnic, consisting of Arabs, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities. The soldiers confronted by the Anzacs at Gallipoli were not only Turkish, but Arabs, conscripted from the various Arabic-speaking territories under the control of the Turkish Sultan.

Every year in Australia, there is a national discussion about how the Gallipoli campaign forged our national identity, graduated us to the world of independent nations and provided a foundational sense of national assertiveness. All that may contain an element of truth, but it is a very distorted picture that obscures a number of important lessons about Australia’s role in the international system.

After all, Gallipoli was not the first time that Australians served as auxiliary troops for the British empire. Back in 1885, volunteers from New South Wales (at the time still technically a colony of the English) served in the British-led campaign to violently suppress an anti-British, indigenous and Islamist-inspired uprising in the Sudan. Australians fought alongside the imperialist states in 1900-01 in China to help defeat an indigenous and nationalist uprising against foreign domination by the Chinese Boxer rebellion.

Serving an imperial master

The importance of Anzac day lies not in remembering the fallen, buttressing our notions of mateship, sacrifice and courage – as important as those are. Anzac day has become another stepping stone in Australia’s role as an unthinking, subservient junior partner to imperialist empire-building. Professor Tim Anderson, an academic and solidarity activist at the University of Sydney, wrote an article “The ANZAC Myth, a cult of imperial dependence”. He states that:

It is no accident that, one hundred years after the disastrous Gallipoli operation, Australian troops are again being sent to the Middle East. While in 1915 the ‘First Australian Imperial Force’ was used by the British Empire to attack the Ottoman Empire, in 2015 the ‘Australian Defence Forces’ are being used as part of an extended North American operation to control the entire Middle East.

These decisions to follow the British empire are not just a relic of a long-gone age of our history. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the momentous decision by then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies to voluntarily commit Australian troops to America’s war on Vietnam. This decision firmly tied Australia to the mast of US imperialist empire-building. No longer were we just an ally; now we were a junior mercenary advancing the war aims of the rising power in the North. Nicholas Ferns, PhD candidate in history at Monash University stated in his article on this subject that Menzies’ commitment is the forgotten skeleton in the closet:

This forgetfulness suggests a great deal not only about the current national “besottedness” with Gallipoli, but also concerning our collective unwillingness to confront less honourable aspects of our diplomatic and military history. With some notable exceptions, the nation’s populist commentators and the war pathos industry have used Gallipoli as a vehicle for national self-aggrandisement, despite the efforts of some academic historians to push for a more considered approach.

The sordid aspects of our military history

The present author’s late father was born and raised in Egypt. He knew the about the Anzacs very well, years before he migrated to Australia. He learned about the Anzacs not in the context of the Gallipoli commemorations however. Back in 1919, the Anzac troops were in Egypt, but not as tourists or cultural vacationers. They had their orders from the British commanders – violently suppress the nationalist uprising that was convulsing Egyptian society at the time. They gained a reputation as racist overseers, carrying out acts of violence against the population they viewed as ‘darkies’ and ‘niggers’. Looting, arson and assault were the trademark methods of the Anzac forces as they assisted the English in putting down the 1919 Egyptian revolution.

This is one of the less honourable aspects of our military history that has not been properly explored. This underlying squalid record does not correspond to the publicly marketed perceptions of courage, mateship and sacrifice that the Anzacs are portrayed as typifying. Philip Dwyer, a professor of history at the University of Newcastle, wrote an article entitled “Anzacs behaving badly: Scott McIntyre and contested history”. In it, he wrote of the behaviour of the Anzacs, acting more like an army of occupation rather than a friendly force in a country subjugated by British rule:

On Good Friday 1915, things got out of hand. Around 2,500 Anzacs rioted in the Wazza district of Cairo, sacking and setting fire to brothels, terrifying the locals, and clashing with military police who tried to intervene. These were no angels. Between 12% and 15% of the AIF had contracted venereal disease.

The battle of the Wazza, as it was dubbed, was not the only riot that took place. Others followed. Drinking and whoring, leaving bills unpaid, threatening, bullying and beating locals because they were “niggers”, and generally behaving in ways that we now condemn our sportsmen for behaving was standard fair for these boys who had money, were far away from home, and had no one to control them.

This is not to besmirch the reputation of each and every Anzac soldier as a violent psychopath – by no means. It is meant to expose a pattern of behaviour that directly contradicts the officially sanctioned nationalist gloating about war and militarism that surrounds every Anzac day. Australia’s involvement in military campaigns overseas cannot be reduced to simplistic assertions about national identity. What is less well known is the record of those Anzacs (and Australian civilians) who opposed war and militaristic adventures at the time.

Anzacs who opposed the war

Pip Hinman is an activist with the Socialist Alliance in Sydney. She wrote a moving, informative article for Green Left Weekly called “Lest we forget why Anzac Day glorifies war”. She wrote of her relative, great-uncle Arthur G Hinman, who joined the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion and fought at Gallipoli. He expressed his opposition to the entire Gallipoli operation, and voiced his concerns to his commanders. However, he followed his orders like a loyal soldier, landing at the peninsula with his outfit, digging trenches and performing his duties – he was killed in action at the age of 24.

The voices of those returned servicemen and women, horrified by the slaughterhouse of World War One, have been drowned out by the almost cult-like obedience demanded in remembering Anzac day. Resistance to the promotion of militarism was widespread throughout the societies affected by World War One, and Australia was no exception. Opposition on the home front has been amply documented, and consisted of strikes, demonstrations, political campaigns against the proposed introduction of conscription, and public debates about the nature of the war and the capitalist system.

The last surviving Gallipoli veteran until his death in 2002, was Alec Campbell. Upon his death, he was accorded a nationally televised state funeral, with dignitaries paying their respects for Campbell’s war service and undoubted heroism. He was a soldier for less than a year, but it was to be a transformative experience. Upon his return to Australia, he became an opponent of the war, a trade union organiser and socialist. Regarding war as a futile activity, he spoke out in favour of peaceful resolution of conflicts.

In fact, he did want to serve in a war again, after his return from Gallipoli, but not for the Australian military. He intended to fight for the anti-fascist and socialist side in the Spanish Civil war, as he quite correctly regarded the fascist counter-revolution of General Franco to be a mortal threat to the workers of that country. In 1999, Gallipoli veteran Alec Campbell, having served King and Country, voted in favour of Australia becoming a republic when the country went to the polls on that question.

Hugo Throssell, another Gallipoli veteran, declared that “The war has made me a socialist”. Winner of a Victoria Cross for bravery at Gallipoli, he spent the rest of his life scarred by his experiences. There was no term for it at the time, but today we would identify it as post-traumatic stress disorder. He wrote that “I have never recovered from my 1914-18 experiences”. Lacking any prospects for the future, he committed suicide in 1933.

The war that defined Australia as a nation

There is a war that shaped our identity and psyche as a nation, but it was not Gallipoli. It is the frontier wars, the wars of conquest waged by the English colonial authorities against the First Nations of Australia that defined the kind of country we became. Amy McQuire wrote a thoughtful, compelling article for New Matilda magazine that examines the frontier warfare, the silence that has until recently accompanied this subject, and the slow painstaking work by historians to examine its impact. The lack of acknowledgement of the black deaths in these successive frontier wars points to our failure to truly come to terms with the origins of the Australian state. While we commemorate those who died at Gallipoli, we must also face the fact that it is the First Nations of Australia that have paid the highest price in the formation our national identity.

In 1885, while New South Wales volunteers were serving in the Sudan as noted above, there was a very real war being waged in Queensland against the First Nations of that area by the English colonial overlords. Pastoral expansion was achieved at the expense of the indigenous people. As Paddy Gibson notes in his article “Frontier Wars: the wars that really forged the nation”:

Massacres of Aboriginal people to clear them from land continued in Australia into the 1920s. In Queensland alone it is estimated 25,000 Aboriginal people were killed by the Native Police and a similar number by punitive parties of squatters and their supporters.

Whereas an estimated 250,000 Aboriginal people lived in Queensland prior to colonisation, there were only 20,000 left alive by the time Australian troops set sail for Gallipoli in 1915.

Honestly acknowledging the history and consequences of a genocidal campaign has particular resonance for the present author. Indeed, April 1915 was not just the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, but also the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Being a descendant of genocide survivors, the centenary is a pivotal occasion to persist with the ongoing campaign for recognition and for the perpetrators of that crime to admit their culpability. The Turkish authorities still refuse to face up to their guilt and deny that such a genocide took place. The first case of mass ethnic cleansing of the twentieth century, the inconvenient genocide, in the words of Geoffrey Robertson QC, has yet to take its place as a seminal event of World War One, just as crucial as any of the military campaigns that took place during that conflict.

November 11 1918

The end of World War One on November 11 1918 is the occasion to commemorate all those who fell in that conflict. Australians, English, Turkish, German, Armenian, Russian, Indian – all nationalities that were affected, either directly or indirectly, must be remembered for their heroism, sacrifice and resilience in the face of tremendous difficulties. While it was dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’, sadly World War One was anything but the end of organised slaughter. The imperialist powers, never giving up their quest for colonial expansion, set their sights on redesigning the defeated territories into commodities that could be governed by the victors.

In Sydney, the cenotaph that stands at Martin Place is one of the oldest war memorials in Australia, unveiled on Anzac Day 1927. It is a constant reminder of Australia’s war dead. It is fitting to ask why they died at Gallipoli, serving the interests of an imperial overlord. Why does Australia spend 28 billion dollars a year on armaments and the military, serving as a deputy sheriff, a junior partner for the United States? Australia is intimately bound up with the American financial-military establishment, providing comprehensive cooperation in matters of spying and intelligence-gathering. How many more shattered Anzacs will it take, families and survivors that cope with the psychological trauma of wars, before we stop serving as an auxiliary force for the imperialist system?

Saudi Arabia – the silent partner of the United States

In January 2015, the former King of Saudi Arabia, 90-year-old Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, passed away. He had been king since 2005, and was replaced by his half-brother, Prince Salman, a youthful 79 year-old. Upon Abdullah’s passing, tributes for the dead king poured out from the capitals of London, Paris, Washington and other imperialist states. There is nothing particularly unusual about this – various heads of state cancelled their plans and rushed to Riyadh in a fawning display to ensure the continued cooperation of the Saudi hereditary monarchy. Smooth continuity in the political process is something strongly desired by the imperialist powers.

It is interesting to note that Salman, the new Saudi King, is reportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s – visitors to Riyadh have noted that Salman demonstrates incoherence after a short period of conversation. Given the singular importance of the reigning monarch in theSaudi political structure, one wonders what happens when the king becomes incapacitated.

Hypocrisy of political leaders

What is the relevance of all this for Australia? When the former King Abdullah passed on, Australian government buildings and offices were instructed to lower their flags to half-mast, as a mark for respect for the recently departed Saudi King. The Sydney Morning Herald explained that:

A directive issued by the Commonwealth Flag Officer on Friday afternoon noted Abdullah’s death.

“As a mark of mourning and respect and in accordance with protocol, the Australian National Flag should be flown at half-mast all day on Saturday 24 January 2015 Australia-wide from all buildings and establishments occupied by Australian Government departments and affiliated agencies,” the statement said.

In Sydney, flags atop the Harbour Bridge were flying at half-mast. A spokesman for Premier Mike Baird said this was because the NSW Government follows Commonwealth protocol.

Both Federal and State governments in Australia payed their respects to the repressive hereditary monarchy of Saudi Arabia. And Australia was not alone in this sentiment. US President Barack Obama, US Vice President Joe Biden, French President François Hollande, Britain’s Prince Charles, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan, British Prime Minister David Cameron – the list of world leaders expressing effusive praise for the departed Saudi monarch is long and extensive. The list of dignitaries lining up to offer their condolences does not stop there – current managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, surprised many by stating her opinion of the late Abdullah:

He was a great leader. He implemented lots of reforms, at home, and in a very discreet way, he was a great advocate for women. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country, but I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer.

Lagarde’s comments fly in the face of reality. As the Workers World documented in an article about the Saudi issue, the Riyadh regime is an absolutist tyranny maintained by a brutal police state, where no political opposition is tolerated, where the enormous oil wealth of the country is monopolised by the ruling Saud royal family, and the majority of people live in poverty:

Executions by decapitation in public squares are held on average once every four days. Capital crimes include adultery, homosexuality and political opposition to the regime. Public stonings are also a common form of execution. Other punishments include eye gouging, limb amputation, tooth extraction, surgical paralysis and public lashings.

The Workers World article “Saudi oil and U.S. hypocrisy”, goes on to examine the plight of women in that country, and the deep, important connections that the Saudi regime maintains with US military and corporate interests. Military manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Boeing obtain billions of dollars in contracts. In 2013, Saudi Arabia had the fourth largest military budget in the world, according to Al Jazeera. In fact, in 2014, the regime became the world’s top importer of weapons, increasing its defence trade to 64.4 billion dollars.

Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum and gas company responsible for the exploration, drilling and export of Saudi oil, structured all of the country’s oil assets into one nationalised conglomerate monopolised by the Saud royal family. US oil multinationals sustain a mutually profitable relation with Aramco, where the activities of Aramco are designed to maximise profits for American oil giants – an American dream in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s main export is the Wahhabi ideology

Saudi Arabia exports not only oil and armaments, lucrative as those industries are. Another export for which the Riyadh regime is less well known, but which is no less important, is its ideology, Wahhabism. A revivalist movement within Sunni Islam, Wahhabism is named after its founder, the eighteenth century preacher from Arabia Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. The enormous wealth generated by the oil industry enabled the Saudi regime to promote its soft-power ideological export, spreading Wahhabism firstly throughout the other Muslim-majority countries, and secondly disseminating Wahhabi doctrines in the non-Muslim states. Wahhabism intends to influence the character of mainstream Islam, implanting itself educationally and culturally in the Muslim-majority states.

Understanding the role of Saudi Arabia as a military and ideological conduit is necessary to get to grips with another major issue of our times, the rise and influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The latter group has obtained media attention, at times achieving saturation coverage of its battles, ideology and activities. Reams of material, documentaries, news reports, and analyses have been produced examining the origins, rise and influence of ISIL.

However, there is one important aspect that is constantly omitted – as Alastair Crooke, writer and historian stated in the Huffington Post, “You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.” That is the title of his article which thoroughly examines the role of Wahhabist doctrine in the formation of the Saudi state and its continuing influence. Comprehending the Saudi state’s doctrinal and political foundations are crucial in understanding the emergence of fundamentalist groups like ISIL today.

Crooke’s Huffington Post article, standing on its own merits, should be read in conjunction with an excellent essay by Karen Armstrong for the New Statesman magazine called “Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism”. The ISIL group, while claiming to be Islamic, actually has its ideological roots in Wahhabism, the official doctrine of the Saudi state. While Armstrong’s essay has some serious flaws, her work, along with Crooke’s essay, form a necessary rudder to assist in navigating our way through the origins and permutations of the Saudi kingdom.

Alastair Crooke and Karen Armstrong both note that inside Saudi Arabia, the ruling elite is simultaneously applauding the actions of ISIL, but also express anxieties about its growing strength and resolve. ISIL, basing itself on the Sunni fundamentalist vision of Wahhabism, is celebrated for its fiery dedication to the Sunni cause, and pushing Shia influences onto the defensive. Saudi Arabia is the staunch enemy of Shia Iran, and countering its influence in the Arab world is one of the main objectives of the Saudi elite. Sections of the Saudi royal family have extended generous funding and military support to ISIL, particularly in the early stages of the latter’s emergence.

However, there are Saudi voices expressing deep anxieties about the spread of radical Salafi doctrine, and no less than the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia himself, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, strongly condemned ISIL and its violent activities as the number one enemy of Islam. Memories of the violent uprising by Wahhabi-inspired militants of the 1920s, convinced that the Saud royal family was too close to the West, still remain fresh in the minds of the Saudi monarchy. For its part, ISIL loudly denounces the rulers of Saudi Arabia as weaklings and apostates who deserve annihilation.

What is Wahhabism, and how has the Saudi state contributed to its spread around the Islamic world? Why is the Saudi elite divided over the issue of ISIL? How has the petro-dollar been used to finance the cultural export of Salafism?

These questions form the subject of the next article.

John Pilger’s Utopia – uncovering the heart of darkness in the ‘lucky country’

Pilger’s latest documentary about the ongoing plight of the first Australian nations is confronting, powerful and disturbing. Every Australian should watch it.

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The fiercest critic of my writings and constant reader of this blog is comrade Sonia. She frequently berates me for not writing about the country of my birth, Australia. She contends that I spend too much energy and attention on international issues, and not nearly enough time on important issues at home. Well, after much careful thought, comrade Sonia is absolutely right. This one is for you.

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Back in the 1970s when I was in school, we participated in school activities and ceremonies commemorating Anzac day. While we did not attend school on the actual public holiday, the following school day involved lessons about the Anzacs. Part of the commemorations required getting all of the senior students to salute the Australian flag. We lined up alongside the flagpole, watching the fluttering Union Jack being raised, and we dutifully saluted as it was hoisted in silence. The school assembly would listen to readings of stories about the Anzacs, the Australian soldiers who served in overseas wars, usually at the service of an imperialist power, as cannon-fodder, fighting and dying under the flag that we saluted.

Little did we know that there was another war, a war that was never explained to us, but a type of warfare directly relevant to our experience as Australians. It was a war conducted on our continent, the consequences of which are still with us today. This war is ongoing; the tactics may have changed, but the effects are just as deleterious.

Some forty years later, I watched a screening of Utopia, the latest documentary by veteran Australian journalist John Pilger. This is the fourth time that Pilger has explored the issue of the first Australian nations, documenting the genocide, dispossession and brutality of the English war of conquest and its continuing effects. Utopia is a powerful, searing indictment not only of the British invasion and subsequent dispossession of the indigenous nations, but the ongoing denial of that war and the continuation of that occupation by other means. The fact that indigenous Australians still suffer lower life expectancy than non-indigenous Australians, die from vaccine-preventable diseases in greater numbers, and live in squalid, decrepit conditions in outback Australia is not only documented by Pilger, but also stands as an indictment of the wilful ignorance of these conditions by the wider Australian community.

Pilger cleverly takes episodes from the lives of Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, to demonstrate his case that widespread ignorance and racism still pervade the wider white Australian community. A revealing segment in the documentary is when Pilger, on the misnamed ‘Australia Day’ in 2013, walks through the streets of Circular Quay in Sydney, asking random people why they are celebrating on a day which should rightly be remembered as the beginning of an invasion. The vox pops-style street questioning is a tactic at which Pilger is brilliant. He asks one man, his face dutifully painted with Union Jack flags and wearing appropriate ‘Aussie’ flag t-shirt, why he is celebrating this Australia Day. Stunned, the man belligerently asks why Pilger is bothering with such a question. As Pilger explains that actually 225 years ago on this day, the invasion and dispossession of the indigenous people began, the man sneers, turns away and dismisses Pilger with the phrase ‘see ya later mate’. He reserves one last parting shot for Pilger; out of the side of his mouth he arrogantly spat out the words ‘you’re full of shit…’, and with that the conversation ended. White Australia still has difficulty facing up to the reality of how Australian capitalism was built, and how it is continuing to suppress the first Australian nations.

Utopia is a community that Pilger visits. It is located some 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. Indigenous families live here in ramshackle buildings, with no running water inside, no transport, no regular health service and no electricity. Infectious diseases are rife due to the unsanitary conditions, and the health care workers allocated to this community are doing their best with the limited funding and equipment they have. The kitchens, toilets and bathrooms, if they can be called that, are malfunctioning and unhygienic. It is not uncommon for families to sleep outdoors with mattresses on the ground. Cockroaches and pest infestations are regular occurrences, with cases of cockroaches crawling into the ears of adults and children.

This is the economic and social chasm that divides non-indigenous Australians from the first nations. As a contrast to the impoverished, Dickensian conditions of the indigenous people, Pilger takes a trip to Palm Beach, located in the northern suburbs of Sydney. He interviews a hotelier at that beach, whose hotel has rooms overlooking the waterfront. She proudly explains to Pilger that during peak times, she has a brisk business, charging 30 000 dollars per week for the choicest rooms. Yes, 30 000 dollars per week.

Pilger takes aim at the false pretenses and devastating consequences of the Howard-era 2007 NT intervention, a campaign to reassert and extend the authority of the Australian capitalist state, and its business interests, over land that belongs to indigenous communities. After a media campaign composed of lurid, sensationalised – and completely false – allegations of pedophile rings forcing indigenous children into sexual slavery, former Prime Minister John Howard launched a military-police intervention, driving indigenous communities off their land, suspending the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act, eroded the social welfare measures, pitifully inadequate as they are, available to indigenous people, and opening up vasts tracts of land to commercial exploitation.

It just so happens that the Northern Territory is incredibly rich in natural resources, particularly uranium. The mining companies, the large transnational corporations that dominate the Australian economy, were beneficiaries of this intervention. While the Howard government began this intervention, the subsequent Labour governments of Rudd and Gilliard did nothing to stop it. Subsequent investigations into the allegations of child sexual abuse in the indigenous communities found no evidence of pedophile rings, sexual slavery or child trafficking. The central justification of the intervention was demolished, yet the policies implemented in its wake continue.

Pilger reveals a side of indigenous struggle rarely commented on by non-indigenous Australians – industrial action by organised working class indigenous workers. Pilger interviews Arthur Murray, a cotton picker who along with his comrades, went on strike in the 1970s for equal pay and to protest dangerous working conditions. Indigenous workers were always paid lower than their white counterparts, working in unsafe conditions, while turning a profit for the Australian companies that exploited the resources of indigenous land. Murray and his fellow workers were dismissed as Communist troublemakers and agitators. Pilger emphasises the struggle by the indigenous stockmen employed at Wave Hill cattle station, where in the mid-1960s, Gurindji stockmen walked off the job for equal pay. It was the longest strike action in Australian history, lasting from August 1966 until 1975. The Whitlam government at the time finally handed back at least a portion of the cattle station land to the indigenous Gurindji owners. The divisions of race, always important in Australian capitalism, are based upon and magnified by the divisions of class. Pilger does talk about the mining companies, those corporations that exploit the resources of this land, but continue to deny the presence and rights of the original owners.

There is so much more in Pilger’s documentary, that you have to see it for yourself. As part of the larger colonial-settler project of occupying Australia, skin colour became an obsessive preoccupation. Race and racial divisions were invented to further widen the antagonism between the first nations of Australia and those who have come from overseas. I referred to the heart of darkness in the title of this article; and this expression has usually been used to refer to the darkness of the conquered people, whether they be the indigenous people of Australia, or in the context of the colonisation of Africa, the dark-skinned inhabitants of that continent.

But Pilger’s documentary taught me that this obsession with race is completely distracting and unnecessary. The heart of darkness has nothing to do with skin colour; the darkness is the imperialist project itself, the building of a settler-colonial society on the backs and suffering of the original nations, whether in Australia, Africa, or Israel for that matter. The darkness is in our minds and hearts, not in the colour of anyone’s skin. Constructing an unequal economic and political system, reserving privileges for a tiny minority class of financial-energy-banking oligarchs, while the majority sinks into poverty, is the dark ideology enveloping our society. Denying justice to a dispossessed people, undermining their ability to work, live and educate themselves, reveals a dark fanatical ideology at the heart of Australian capitalism. Pilger calls this the secret history of Australian apartheid.

After watching Utopia, it is clear to me that the Australian flag, its Union Jack, is a butcher’s apron. I will not be saluting it anymore.