There are former members of the Third Reich who guarded Jews in Belsen and walk unpoliced around South Australia today; unlike David Hicks. There are former warriors of Imperial Japan who beat, starved and beheaded Australian POWs, availed themselves of Comfort Women and would, if asked, have gone on suicide missions for the Emperor, who visit Sydney unsupervised today; unlike David Hicks. There are former American GIs who slaughtered Vietnamese villagers after raping some of them who can stay out after midnight in any Australian city; unlike David Hicks.
David Hicks, it seems, is different, another kettle of evil entirely. He’s so different that, despite his fame, his voice has never been broadcast. He’s so different he can’t (unlike, say, Albert Speer) write of the experience that made him famous. He can’t badmouth his torturers. He can’t stay overnight with a girlfriend at an address unknown to police. He can’t (for instance) go fishing for week with his son, after seven years apart from him, unless he reports three times in that week in person to local police.
What has he done to deserve this? Why has he been so singled out for cruel and unusual punishment? There are many answers to this.
His voice, for instance, has never been broadcast because it’s a broad Australian voice. And if that voice were heard he’d be humanised by it. He’d be soon thought by other Australians to be no more wicked than, say, Shane Warne, that other blond larrikin Aussie short-arse who’s paid his dues; and that would never do. He might even prove, if heard and seen, to be as charming as his father. And that would never do.
His voice if heard might embarrass John Howard, and that would never do. Or George Bush. Or Donald Rumsfeld. And though this is a reprehensible reason for his unended silencing there is some logic to it. But why is he not let to write about his life, as any human being in world history previously could do? Because of a new law, it turns out, one that says you can’t profit from your account of a life of crime.
This should mean that Chopper must give his book earnings back, and so must his publisher. So must every other author who’s written of Martin Bryant or Ronald Ryan or the Wanda Beach murders or Ned Kelly. So must Anthony Beevor, who’s described in detail the crimes of the Third Reich; and Don de Lillo who wrote a fine book about Lee Harvey Oswald. That’s if this new law is in any way real.
But it’s not, of course. It exists, as in Kafka’s The Trial, because David Hicks is different, and must be punished when no-one else is.
He’s so different he’s the first citizen of a liberal democracy unable to complain about being tortured. He’s so different he can’t sue America for his torment, humiliation, sleeplessness, nakedness, drenching, for being forbidden to see the evidence against him, or talk on the phone to his children, or read more than one book a month, or talk face to face to another prisoner for months on end. He can’t sue for any of that, or write about it, or make money from talking about it.
David Hicks is different, you see. There’s never been anyone like him. Or not in a functioning democracy. In a Soviet Gulag, certainly. In the Tower of London, certainly. Under The Spanish Inquistion, certainly. But not lately, not here.
And observing his uniqueness leads to awful conclusions. Let’s carefully look at what they are.
One is that many, many laws passed since Magna Carta have been overturned, or made conditional, or provisional, or arguable, in order to make David Hicks, and David Hicks alone, more uncomfortable.
The law that says you can join an army of a recognised country defending itself from invaders. The law that says you can’t suffer execution if you haven’t murdered anyone, or funded or assisted his murder. The law that says you can’t be imprisoned for years without being charged with a crime. The law that says you can’t be ill-treated while awaiting the day of your charging, or trial.
The law that says you can’t be found guilty because of a confession made ‘under duress’. The law that says you may talk about your imprisonment after it’s over because you’ve paid by then your ‘debt to society’. The law that says you can write, if you like, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or If This Is A Man and publish it.
The law that says you can sue a Minister of the Crown for calling you a ‘trained killer’ before your trial, thus unfairly prejudicing the jury, sue him for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
But David Hicks is different; and these old laws, and these old legal conventions do not apply to him. He’s so bad he’s beyond all laws we know, and he’s lucky he wasn’t hanged.
What he did – and it’s too dreadful even to contemplate – was meet Osama bin Laden twenty times and form a good opinion of him; to train with an insurgent army, the same one the fictional hero Rambo trained with; to become a Muslim and advertise in letters some of his new beliefs; to guard a tank for an afternoon; and worst of all to go back to get his passport in the hope of escaping a war that scared him and going home to Australia. Because of this last thing he was kidnapped by some roving tribal thugs and sold to the Americans for three thousand dollars, and the Gates of Hell then breathed on him.
How iniquitous he is. Are there any other people who have done like heinous things that we can compare him to?
Well, Traudl Junge met Hitler hundreds of times while typing for him, and was never punished for this, and was allowed to live unpoliced Surfers Paradise for five years. Davey Crockett trained with an insurgent army and is now thought a hero. Cassius Clay became a Muslim, changed his name to
Muhammad Ali and refused to serve in the American army and praised the Viet Cong, and yet was permitted to light the torch at the Atlanta Olympics. And Bill Clinton took his passport to England to get escape a war that scared him, in Vietnam, and he was elected President.
But David Hicks is different; apparently. So different we have to gag him for a year and watch him like a hawk lest he conspire with other Muslim fanatics to blow up Uluru, or the Crown Casino, or Centrepoint Tower, or otherwise aid fanatical sedition.
Why is he so different? Why do we think so badly of him?
Well … he’s inadvertently become, I think, the focus of the new anti-Semitism, as the Howardite Australians practise it. By the same thought-process Hitler used to make marriage to a Jew a gaolable offence, the Howardite Australians (not you or I, comrade) have made conversion to Islam an unspeakable iniquity. But they’ve hidden the word ‘Islam’ beneath another word, a word without meaning, ‘terrorism’.
So if you married an Arab or embraced his creed you were thereafter thought iniquitous, abominable, unforgiveable, and if you did it publicly enough (as Hicks did through his published letters), you were flung in gaol for terrorism. And tortured. And called a killer by your Prime Minister and threatened with life, or death, in prison. And made a pariah once you were let go.
The Arabs are a Semitic people and our tendency now, since 9/11, is to treat them as the Germans did the Jews after the Reichstag fire; that is, anti-semitically: to randomly kill them, and lock them up without reason, and release them reluctantly, if at all, after years of torture. And anyone who joins their cause are treated like white Americans who ‘turned Indian’ as turncoats, heathens, traitors, betrayers of the tribe.
Thus David Hicks by embracing Islam and talking now and then to Bin Laden (much as George Bush talked to Bin Laden’s brother dozens of times, in the course of their business dealings) let down the side, and must therefore be unspeakably punished. He has been soiled, irrevocably. He has sinned, abominably. He must undergo unspecified penalties, which may continue forever.
Is this, one may ask, a just and decent way to treat a man already tortured, sent half-mad, and locked up for half of his adult life? I myself don’t think so. I might be wrong.
But I think we’ve treated David Hicks very badly. We’ve niggerised him. We’ve lynched him in our minds because of new laws and new procedures beyond the pale of civilised life. We’re calling him a ‘convicted terrorist supporter’ because of new laws and procedures that may be struck down as wrong, illegal, insufferable in a year or two. And we’ve done this although he wasn’t convicted; he ‘confessed’, after being told that his six years of torment might otherwise be twenty, to a crime that wasn’t a crime but a retrospective crime. That is not ‘convicted’. It’s extorted. That is not a confession. It’s the fearful blithering of a man in mortal pain.
And anyone in a Che Guevara T-shirt, let’s face it, is a terrorist supporter. And any rock star who once sang happy birthday to Nelson Mandela when he turned seventy in gaol is a terrorist supporter. Anyone who liked the movie Michael Collins and paid to see it is a terrorist supporter. Or The Patriot. Or The Battle of Algiers. Or V For Vendetta. Or The Adventures of Robin Hood.
I’d be really surprised if David Hicks was ever a danger to anybody who wasn’t already shooting at him. He seems okay to me. I’d let him baby-sit my grandchildren. I’d go bushwalking with him. I’ll buy him and his dad and step-mum lunch at any Adelaide restaurant of their choice just to hear what he sounds like and what, after all this, he believes.
I might be terribly wrong but I think he’s a decent, wayward, ordinary man who has become, through ill-luck, buoyant energy, bad timing and George Bush’s particular post-alcoholic God-bothering neuroses, Australia’s Dreyfus.
And I see no evil in him. Who does any more? Let him who loves Guantanamo cast the first stone.
I wish him a happy new year, long life, good books, warm friends, green pastures, and many sweet horse-riding summers with his children.