Friday, July 23, 2010

a serious man : some reflections on law

i sit at the table and before we commence i tell her something about one of my moot problems. 'Re-argue the case of Al-Kateb v The Commonwealth of Australia'. i begin describing the circumstances: a man, made of probably more stuff than i am, but not too much more, flees his home. of course they're chasing him with pitchforks (or whatever newest weapon mankind has found to replace those). gets on a boat seeking a place where he's not going to be killed. makes sense to me. my grandfather did it. he boarded a plane that took off at 8am. he once told me he was covered with sweat the whole 14 hour flight. he said he asked for more water every 3 minutes. the person in the seat besides him leaned away towards the isle. he said he thought he was having a heart attack. some months after he landed he received a letter from his former next-door-apartment neighbour. it said that at 8am, the day and moment the flight took off, he heard a loud banging in the hallway. that he had opened the door and found the Revolutionary Guard, dressed for business and knocking on his door with the butt end of a rifle. they asked the neighbour where is the man who lives here uHogshan Knnaai? and he shrugged. ___my auntie and uncle ran through a desert at night, dodging jeeps with floodlights attached to them. my auntie cries when she tells the part about a baby that was with them that wouldn't stop crying. and how the mother had to smother her daughter. thankfully she doesn't tell that part anymore. now she just starts crying and somehow that fills the room with the scent of it. so here's Mr Al-Kateb. and he arrives and is put in administrative detention until his refugee status is determined. it's not granted.

there's something i always find fascinating by the west: arrogance. why are we soo quick to think that people would readily get up and leave their heritage, their culture, the sound of people speaking their language, their kin and their families and their possessions (humble or otherwise), get on a dubious vessel, risk months upon months at sea, or quick sprints with the imminent fear of bullets and torture and landmines, more months stuck in camps and (my uncle picks up the story and talks about the 2 years they spent in Pakistan waiting for their visa applications to go through, he laughs a little when he recounts his various mischievous exploits) finally : a whole future in a place that makes no sense to you? a whole 'rest of your life' in a place that is not, and never can be home in the way your mother's hug is home.

but we do. we make light of it. as though that adventure of itself, is not evidence that something must be seriously wrong where this man/woman/family/stranger is from. and so, Mr Al-Kateb sits in detention waiting. only that Palestine is not a State to permit his return. Israel's not interested. Kuwait (where he was born) has other worries. the Arab nations do what they always do (get distracted blaming israel and forget to do anything). so. involuntary, indefinite administrative suspension.

i recount this story and i get angry as i tell it. i'm not thinking of my auntie, or my grandfather expressly. but those are the themes of my bones. the things that one doesn't need to think of but that think for themselves inside me. or, that in fact whisper the thoughts that i think into my ears. i don't know - i hope that left to my own common sense i would arrive at the same conclusion : that the situation is simply an anomalous misfortune. and that a minor act of generosity can surmount it. the way you might let a friend stay over because they've locked themselves out. or the way Mar and Courtney let me sleep on their couch for 6 weeks because i'd forgotten where i was from and was too tired to go anywhere else. that sort of thing.

but... i mean, that seems absurd. absurd in the legal sense, in the 'construction of statutes' sense, how could the State legally argue its way around that? i nod. well, the Attorney General stood up before the high court and said 'maybe one day there will be a State of Palestine that will allow him to return. you can never say never'. i wince a little as i say it. she stares back at me dumbfounded. by now the rest of the room has sat down and is listening to us. i'm obviously worked-up. so she smiles: a sincere sort of smile (perhaps a knowing one):
it's good to be angry. law is about anger. i wouldn't be here if i wasn't angry.

which i don't immediately agree with. but which i chew on afterward. a few weeks worth of chewing. and, eventually, i do agree. at least i feel better about planet earth knowing that from time to time you find people not afflicted with apathy. the scourge of our times. the Aids of the west. selfish narcissism and the Hollywood brat mentality. either that or the 'who gives a f*ck, i got my own problems pal' school of mis-philosophy. but here's someone with enough conviction in something to get mad about it. something that has nothing to do with her. a forest in Guatemala or another random no-named stateless who?body stuck in a camp somewhere in the middle of red Australia. disagreement is irrelevant. the point is idealism. ideals. the very having of them. that they are contrary to mine, or yours is besides the point. balances can be struck, compromises reached. by debate and consideration both sides are more clearly illuminated. something more 'equitable' can be gleaned. but having the bother to get mad, that's the necessity.


so i read 106 pages worth of judgments. six of them. quite bipolar. 4:3 decision. and it occurs to me (putting aside our religious stuff) that nowhere on this planet lives a true, stable, equilibrium point for justice. all we have are people who sit in different seats. some are on buses and are cheap vinyl. others are in the high or supreme courts or general assembly rooms of the world. and the people i disagree with now, and who disagree with me, the ignorant and the learned (and those who are learned and still ignorant) and the prejudiced and the biased, and (soo often) rich white men whose grandfathers didn't sweat on planes and who can't understand in the fathomed space of their imaginatoriums what makes someone able to smother their daughter in the desert... these people make the decisions. not always bad people. not always bad decisions. but, sometimes, when a decision most counts, you're stuck with one of them. they made decisions when i was in sixth grade and got sent outside for something i didn't do, and they make them in courts.

the lawyer loses the fight. remember that. but the advocate is the thorn. the rock in the shoe. the disturber of peace. who loses but brings a new case again, and again and again, with the names of different persons, in different positions of vulnerability and forces people to say 'no', and 'no', and 'appeal dismissed, with costs', and 'leave declined' until a more fuller, more complete bastardized notion of (always ever always) elusive justice can be established. debated and debated and pushed around like gradations of shadows. that is my point. merely that somebody push back a little the tide of the ocean, so that at very least there is a potentiality of equipoised principles finding equilibrium.


alas.__ i fear.


i'm not really a fighter myself. i don't take up 'causes' in the way she meant. i like to be of use. i like to be helpful. i'm happy to force dreams through asylum-ward keyholes, back into sunlight.

but i'm no allen shore.

my resume is pretty average.

and i get really nervous sometimes before i present and my mouth gets dry and i'm still terrible at giving appearances (you forgot to say how long we'll each be speaking again! Q... ___don't worry. it's ok. she adds the last part after she seems me get upset).

if the world is in my hands, i need more hands.


E said...

Interesting reflection Q.

The disconnect that exists is fascinating and sad at the same time. Even those of us whose parents and grandparents went through such turmoil, the disconnect is still quite significant - God help those who don't have that! But I guess interpretation of law is suppose to be unbiased??

golriz lucina said...

spoken like a man who may have found his calling.

this post is one of your best.

Karleia said...

If there are any posts of yours that I come back to, it's this one. I love your argument on anger because it's so true. If there is any one emotion that can power people for the better and to create a change it's anger. Thank you.