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Australian crimes in Afghanistan weren't just a 'few bad apples', we're rotten at our core Open in fullscreen

Diana B. Sayed

Australian crimes in Afghanistan weren't just a 'few bad apples', we're rotten at our core

The report is a years-long investigation into the Australian military's behaviour in Afghanistan [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 December, 2020

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Comment: Australians are due a reckoning and must acknowledge that we are a state built on violence, writes Diana B. Sayed, Afghan Australian international human rights lawyer.
The unbearable heaviness of 2020 has been an ongoing challenge to us all this year. 

We have been collectively suffocating under the immense weight of structural oppression for longer than we would like to admit, especially for us here in Australia where the thin veneer of a progressive and "civilised" country has once again been laid to bare with the release of the Brereton Report - the outcome of a four-year long investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016. 

The horrific killing of 39 unarmed Afghan civilians as described in this latest war crimes report is not and was not an aberration, or what many within the military and veteran community have proclaimed as the result of a "few bad apples". 

As an Afghan Australian international human rights lawyer, I have spent over a decade advocating, campaigning and speaking truth to power whenever I possibly could, to highlight how Australia enables war crimes in our name every day. Examples include committing the second largest military to the US-led coalition, conducting airstrikes targeting civilians in Raqqa, Syriaselling arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that have been used to contribute to the world's largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and cosying up to the Myanmar military that has committed genocide against the Rohingya people in recent years. 

Why, then, are we surprised or shocked by the allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan? This is exactly who we are, who we have always been, and who we will continue being until we decide to confront our true selves. The part of ourselves we have buried deep and refuse to bring out into the light and reckon with. The reckoning that must come is the acknowledgment that we are a violent state, our very foundation since colonisation has been predicated on violence. 

Why, then, are we surprised or shocked by the allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan? This is exactly who we are, who we have always been,

From the forcible displacement of First Nations communities off their ancestral lands to these alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, violence is woven into the very fabric of our society. To this end, the perpetuation of violence overseas and the findings of the Brereton Report should neither surprise, nor shock us. 

By "us", I mean, Australians and by extension of this, Afghan Australians - of which there is a growing population and rising tide of voices who are speaking out and speaking up against our own oppression at the hands of both the Afghan and Australian governments. These are voices which must be centred when discussing topics so pertinent as this, but somehow still get side-lined and silenced when we attempt to be heard. 

We live in a settler-colony that inflicts violence upon us every day, from Aboriginal deaths in custody at the hands of police brutality, to more than one woman dying a week from intimate partner violence, to locking up people seeking asylum both in Australian hotels and offshore. This isn't the case of a "few bad apples" - we are rotten at our core. 

Read more: Australia PM slams China tweet showing fake image of 'soldier killing Afghan child'

Violence begets violence. So how can we expect Australian Defence Forces overseas to somehow be exempt? The whole idea that it was a mere "few bad apples" is morally reprehensible given the Brereton Report clearly outlines that "the criminal behaviour of a few was commenced, committed, continued and concealed at the patrol commander level... at corporal or sergeant level."

This is structural violence with institutional cover at the highest levels in the chain of command that rarely sees the light of day, even though these sorts of initiation practices are common in modern armies. With the "War on Terror" in particular, let us not forget it also gave us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, so none of this should come as a surprise. 

We live in a settler-colony that inflicts violence upon us every day

The atrocities committed by the Australian Defence Force must be unequivocally condemned and those responsible should be brought to account accordingly. It is not enough to express mere "concern" or shock. What the Brereton Report has redacted and what they haven't shown us, is more telling. We need to be questioning this. We should be asking what else the Australian government - and in turn our Defence Force - is doing with impunity under the guise of the "War on Terror", and what extent will they go to in order to conceal this from us?

But the real question is who is terrorising whom? I'm terrified every day living in this colony that the dehumanisation of me - as an Afghan, Muslim, woman - means that I don't matter. And in turn the lives of so many who have suffered because of yet another needless war doesn't matter.

What we have been privy to in the 465-page Brereton Report is nothing short of horrific. What could be worse than the murder of children in their sleep?

Have we become so desensitised by the 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody, that Black and Brown bodies are so dehumanised that we have come to expect this sort of state-sanctioned violence against us? Or is it a particular and peculiar type of apathy that runs deep in this colony that if it happens in a cloud of secrecy with plausible deniability, that we can comfortably continue to deny it ever happened?

This is exactly who we are, who we have always been, and who we will continue being until we decide to confront our true selves

Truth-telling isn't a part of our history. What is a deep-seated part of our history is massacres, denial and erasure of violence committed at the hands of the state. The very same state that commits alleged war crimes in our name overseas. 

There is no worldly justice that can compensate the families of the 39 Afghans who were senselessly and cruelly murdered at the hands of the Australian Defence Force. But justice and accountability with reparations from the Australian government for the families is a welcome first step in the right direction. While it's still not an acknowledgment of guilt, but merely the bare minimum and a sign of goodwill for other states to follow suit, it is still something. 

For those families who have lost the main breadwinner - and we know that the gendered impacts of war crimes predominantly fall on women and children - this is important and would be meaningful to those victims for their families to begin to heal.


Diana B. Sayed is CEO of the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR). She is an international human rights lawyer, advocate and campaigner.

Follow her on Twitter: @DsSayed


If you are an Afghan Australian or Muslim needing to reach out to someone about the issues discussed here, you can call the Hayat Line for assistance, on 1300 993 398.



Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
 

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