Challenging the language of fear

When we think about what we are scared of, what comes to mind? Debt? Crime? Death?

Dr Keith Suter, managing director of Global Directions and Uniting Church member, is a leader in global thought and a member of arguably  the most prestigious global think tank in the world, the Club of Rome. While you may not realise it, he believes that many Australians are  fearful of invasion.

Keith Suiter speaking

Dr Keith Suter, Managing Director of Global Directions.

He said this is all to do with our nation’s ‘psychic wound’: a wound to your soul which can’t be healed with rational discussion. Australia’s  psychic wound is the fear of invasion – which also ties into our nation’s fear of refugees.

Much of the rhetoric in Australia is around people coming here from other countries to ‘steal our jobs,’ ‘live on our welfare’ and ‘change our  way of life’; which feeds this fear and creates a barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Keith adds that while our fear is big, the number of people  trying to get into Australia is actually minute. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, Australia ranks 49th on a global ladder of  refugee and asylum seeker hosting nations.

According to Keith, part of this fear is connected to the fact that we are a vast, wide land with lots of unpopulated space, while immediately  to our north are millions of people, the majority of whom are Muslim and very different to us culturally. While our governments and media  play fear tactics, this fear of the ‘other’ is often something that is not always rational.

The Uniting Church in Australia has made a strong commitment to building mutual relationships with our international neighbours, and here in WA we take that commitment seriously. The Uniting Church in WA and its closest neighbour, the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Regional Synod of West Java signed a Memorandum of Understanding  (MOU) in 2002, which was reviewed in 2010. Conversations are currently being held about another review taking place in the near future.

Rev Ken Williams was moderator at the time of the renewal and, to him, the relationship has always been important to the synod; for different reasons than political gain.

“Indonesia is a very close neighbour to Australia,” Ken said. “But even more specifically, it’s a neighbour of Western Australia. “For me to go to Jakarta is a shorter trip than going to  Sydney.”

And if you live in the Pilbara, Jakarta is closer geographically than the Uniting Church Centre in Perth.

But more importantly, the MOU is a mutual bond between the two synods to support each other in prayer, spiritual support and in other ways. One of the big ways GKI West Java support the Uniting Church in WA, is through the GKI Perth Uniting Church congregation in Mosman Park.

“It is out of our mutual strength and respect for each other that we’ve made this MOU,” said Ken.

UnitingWorld, the Uniting Church in Australia’s international community development arm, believes that partnerships with international churches are at the core of what they do.

Their partnerships are not focussed on what they can do to fix the problems of other countries, but how to work together with churches in developing nations to deliver positive  community services in their own contexts. According to Keith, Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is critical in international politics.

“Australia and Indonesia are countries that are very close geographically but very distant culturally and politically,” he said.

He says that while many Australian’s have been to Bali as tourists, very few know the ‘real’ Indonesia. As Indonesia grows, including a rapidly growing middle class, Keith says it is likely the country will replace Australia as the regional economic super power in the not too distant future. He believes many Australians are fearful of what that could bring.

Australian tourism could increase but, as a country, we may no longer have the power that we think we do. Politics, Keith said, is controlled by two languages: the language of power  and the language of idealism.

“The Uniting Church talks about the language of idealism. It’s the language of morals and ethics,” Keith says. “It’s the language that you get from a lot of commentators from the  non-government sector, who say that we should look after human rights, we should look after women’s rights, and in Afghanistan we should look after the rights of young girls to get  educated. That’s the language of idealism.

“There’s also a language of power. When you move from opposition, you move into the corridors of power, and the language of power is ‘what can we get away with?’ When you’re in  opposition, you speak highly of the need to protect the Dalai Lama, for example, and the rights of the Tibetan peoples. When you join the government, suddenly you’re more worried  bout trade with China.”

If you’re using the language of power you don’t want other countries to grow, as then they would have better economies and we would lose the power that money brings. The language of power incites fear into the general population: fear of refugees, fear of people of other faiths, fear of those who are different. However, if we actually get to know the  ‘other’ as people like us we would probably find there is not much to fear.

All relationships work better if each are looking out for the other and showing mutual respect – not only focussed on their own gain. But unfortunately this is not always how  governments work. Keith believes that in politics, if we use our relationships with a good heart, then we can all benefit from things like tourism and fair trade. That through better  spending of foreign aid and investment in other nations through trade, Australia’s international relationships could be more of a blessing to our neighbouring nations.

“It’s my view that a rising tide lifts all the boats,” he said.

Heather Dowling

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