This is the story of a man who for over eight years has been crossing borders, oceans and seas. Helal Uddin, better known as Spicy, has been incarcerated in many different prisons. He is now languishing in Port Moresby’s notorious Bomana Prison, but this is only the most recent part of his saga. Spicy’s story is epic.
The coalition government, Labor opposition, and much of the Australian intellectual, cultural and media commentariat has in recent years consistently betrayed, not merely an important Australian citizen, but the very ethos we like to imagine is uniquely our own: the capacity to adjudicate moral conflict with decency and good sense, an attention to facts, and an egalitarian concern with a ‘fair go’ for all.
While Italy, Germany, Belgium and several other countries have implemented weapons bans or suspensions on the Saudi-led coalition, Australia has stayed silent. This troubling reticence is indicative of an arms export policy that is as lucrative as it is opaque, with precise details about what weapons and other military items are being sold, who they are being sold to and for what purpose, shielded from public scrutiny.
‘I used to believe in all that stuff in textbooks, about human rights and the Nobel Peace Prize. I had seen how well they treated stray dogs in Norway, putting clothes and little shoes on them in the snow, and I thought surely they could help me. But it is just an illusion—rights only apply to those people who they accept, who they accept as human, and I was not one of them. It is my dream, once in life, just to be normal in the airport, to not be stopped, to not be put in a separate line, to not be looked at like I am something strange, something different.’
The pandemic makes borders legible in new ways. For some, the death counts and interactive maps tracking the global movement of the virus recall the monitoring of sea journeys and charting of refugee movements. For others, the act of crossing borders is made visible anew, as different sorts of bodies are ensnared at airports and surveillance points. These redraw once again the permeable lines between rights and rightlessness, the privileges and limits of citizenship. Different biopolitical permutations are playing out before our eyes from moment to moment.