Here’s a question I’ve been pondering this week, and I’d love input from other people living away from their “home” country: How involved are you in your home country’s politics? How involved should you be? I mean politics here in the broadest sense, not just elections and governments but social issues generally. How closely do you follow the news? Do you keep giving money to causes you supported previously? If you’re allowed to vote, do you? Should you?
What prompted all this was a friend here asking me how I felt about Australia’s refugee policies. For years now, governments from both sides of politics have had policies of mandatory offshore detention for anyone coming to Australia by boat. The stated goal of this is to undermine the business model of people smugglers, apparently by trying to make coming to Australia even less appealing than, y’know, for example, getting killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The detention camps are squalid and mental illness and sexual abuse are reportedly endemic. Whatever the solution is to people smugglers preying on the desperate, torturing the same desperate people is surely not it.
So my answer to my friend’s question was: I am appallled. My country is literally trying to be more unattractive than the Iranian government, warlords in Afghanistan and human rights abusers in Sri Lanka. And just the other week, our Prime Minster said he felt no guilt “whatsoever” about the situation. (Oh, my blood pressure after I read that…)
So yeah, I’m angry. I’m also sad. And I feel guilty.
Guilty because this is being done in my name as an Australian, and what am I doing to stop it? Or even to register my disapproval?
Which brings me back to my opening question. What can I do? What should I do?
It’s tempting to say: not my problem, what happens in Australia now has nothing to do with me. Maybe I should even butt out, after all, do I want to become one of those meddling foreigners who has a vague connection to a country and therefore feels qualified to lecture it on how to conduct its affairs?
But that doesn’t sit right with me, to say “whew, glad I’ll never be a refugee” and to get on with more pressing concerns like, “what’s for lunch?” And anyway, I’ve been asked about Australian politics often enough that I don’t think people around me are going to let me shrug it off any time soon.
So, what to do?
Australia lets you stay on the electoral roll and vote for several years after you leave the country, and I did vote in the last federal election. But so did 94% of voters (and we all tutted about low turnout — that’s compulsory voting for you!) and we still wound up with a government that seemingly no-one is happy with at the moment.
I can write emails to politicians. Does that do anything? Here is the frustration of being abroad — I’ve heard that in-person visits are really the way to go if you want to be heard, but that option is out for me. I can post things on facebook — I can barely type that with a straight face, has anything in the world ever changed because someone posted something on facebook? (Besides your friend count, as people decide you’re “that person”?)
As a Christian, I do believe that I can pray. But I also believe God usually answers prayers through peoples’ actions rather than thunderbolt or angelic visitation, so sitting here piously praying without also doing what I can feels false to me. (Like the apostle James says: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”)
Any better ideas? Thoughts about political involvement generally?
PS: I still miss Australia. I mean, look at this: