Outsiders see with different outlook

Daniel Mori’s book, about the company cowards keep, allows those who see a coloured light on a different hill to examine the perspective they are coming from.

Outsiders see with different outlook

 By Louis A Coutts

As I looked around the room a recent book launch, I became aware of an emotion that visits me from time to time like an old friend, a feeling that takes me to uncomfortable places where my commitment to certain values is tested.

I felt that many of the people at this launch, including the author, had similar experiences. I thought of us collectively as the outsiders. We are a minority who often see things differently to the mainstream and not infrequently arouse the antagonism of the establishment and its unthinking supporters.

So often, issues of public policy arise that arouse the passion of the population which reacts positively to “tough” action by governments. And yet, there always seems to be this relatively lonely group of people who see things differently and who distance themselves from public policy they consider offensive.

moriThe book in question is In the Company of Cowards by my friend, Dan Mori. Dan is a lawyer and, when in the US Marines, was called upon to represent an Australian by the name of David Hicks who was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay after the 9/11 disaster in New York. Hicks was labelled as a terrorist and, in the words of our Prime Minister and Attorney General at the time, was among the “the worst of the worst”. The popularity of the Military Commission set up in Cuba to incarcerate people like Hicks (universally recognised as “terrorists”) was widespread both in the USA and here in Australia.

Fortunately, despite the risks to his military career, Dan had the courage to stand up to the establishment which had put in place the most outrageous and indecent insults to the Rule of Law and the values that underpin a free society.

The legal indecencies discovered by Dan when representing Hicks brought shame to our respective countries. However, the majority of people were happy for Hicks to rot in hell (which is what would have likely happened only for Dan). Dan was able to tap into that small minority of people whom I have described as the “outsiders” who saw the issue differently.

So, when I looked around and saw these “outsiders” at the book launch, I pondered on how many occasions I had been with that lonely body of people over the years.

The Vietnam War was amazingly popular despite the fact that it was an outrageously illegal and cruel infliction of horrific damage to that country. That is not to mention the hundreds of thousands of deaths inflicted, including the lives of decent young American and Australian soldiers. The outsiders who opposed the war were marginalised and, certainly in my case, treated as a social outcast. We were admonished as being unpatriotic and friends of communism.

The same scene has been played out many times. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-terrorist legislation that breached fundamental principles of the Rule of Law that had become enshrined in our jurisprudence over centuries; the imprisonment of an Indian doctor without charge and the withdrawing of his visa without justification were all issues that played to the mainstream as popular political adventures. Then of course there is the crude abrogation of our responsibilities to international law and treaties to which our government are signatories in relation to refugees.

But in all of these situations, there has been this small group of “outsiders” who are concerned with preserving the fundamental characteristics of a civil society. We are always in a minority and, more often than not, denigrated for our beliefs.

Indeed, when we raise issues of legal propriety and the Rule of Law in relation to political initiatives that are designed to assuage popular concerns, we are unable to convey to the community the profound damage that is done to the fabric that has been woven over the centuries that guarantee a free society.

So, a few outsiders were there to applaud Dan for standing up against the might of the American defence establishment, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister and government of Australia. Had he not done so, an innocent Australian would either be rotting in solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay or dead as a result of a suicidal act. I am glad that there were outsiders supporting Dan.

Now we have new issues. As if the original anti-terrorist legislation was not sufficient insult to our time-honoured jurisprudential traditions, our government has moved further into the legal territory occupied by rogue countries with horrific interference with basic concepts of the rights of the individual. That is not to mention the sending of our military yet again to the bloody fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, without debate in our parliament. Entering the killing fields has become amazingly popular in the mainstream while the warning cries of the outsiders disappear like dead autumn leaves as the cold winds of war rage unchecked.

In a sense, it is lonely being an outsider but then, you can get invited to a book launch of an inspiring person like Dan and sit with fellow travellers for a few minutes.

Louis A Coutts is a lawyer and member of Civil Liberties Australia.

In the Company of Cowards, by Michael Mori. RRP $29.99, paperback 304pp, ISBN 9780670077854
Penguin Australia, Viking imprint

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