Opinion piece by Ruby Hamad.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect in any way those of the United Australian Lebanese Movement.
You can’t fault a mother for trying. When Sally Faulkner learned that her Lebanese ex-husband, Ali Elamine, had no intention of returning their two children to Australia from Lebanon, where he had ostensibly taken them for a holiday, she would have known her chances of getting them back legally were almost nil. Parental rights are automatically given to fathers in Lebanon and the country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which stipulates that children be returned to their “country of habitual residence”.
And so Faulkner turned to the media, with disastrous consequences. Now, along with four 60 Minutes journalists including presenter Tara Brown, she is in custody in Beirut following an audacious attempt to snatch the two children from a Beirut street. Two of the agents working for CARI, the “child recovery” organisation behind the bungled operation (run by Australian ex-soldier Adam Whittington), are also in custody.
The actions of a desperate mother are one thing; the extraordinary lapse in judgement and ethics of a crew of seasoned journalists getting involved in an international kidnapping scheme is another entirely.
While the full picture is still emerging, Lebanese authorities claim one of CARI’s agents admitted that 60 Minutes paid the $115,000 fee for the operation. Meanwhile, a series of text messages between Faulkner and a rival child recovery agent imply that 60 Minutes refused to pay up when – aware that the plan had failed – Faulkner needed an alternative to escape the country.
If this is true, the program’s preparedness to exploit the pain of a mother who hadn’t seen her children in ten months only to abandon her when she needed them most, is beyond comprehension.
Whatever the full truth, 60 Minutes is in trouble. And they deserve to be. While it seems incredible that a major news organisation could be so irresponsible as to film a serious crime taking place, that they allegedly agreed to participate in a kidnapping to be later spun as an heroic deed simultaneously shows the heights – and limits – of white, western privilege.
No doubt the Australian journalists, as well as knowing the abduction would rate through the roof, thought they were doing the right thing. After all, the West has a habit of seeing itself as fundamentally and inherently good. Indeed, 60 Minutes claimed they were on a “humanitarian mission” to cover the story of “a desperate Australian mum trying to get her two Australian children home.”
Had the children’s Lebanese father brought a crew of Lebanese journalists to Australia to pull the same stunt when the children lived here with their mother, it would have been met with an indignant fury so all-encompassing it would surely ensnare the entire Lebanese community (because individual responsibility is also a privilege reserved for white people). How dare they come to our country and kidnap our children?
What made these journalists think they could do this, and get away with it? The answer must be tied to the disdain Australians by and large hold for non-western countries. It’s no coincidence that this took place in a region that the West has long treated as little more than its playground; carving up land in the Sykes-Picot agreement, launching countless wars, orchestrating coups, arming dictators, and so on.
This history has lead to some pretty dubious double standards. While our leaders bleat on about people smugglers, “sovereign borders” and lock up vulnerable people – including children – these journalists were allegedly planning on smuggling the two Faulkner children out of Lebanon. On a boat. In less tragic circumstances, the irony would be delicious.
In common Australian parlance Lebanon is thought of as a ‘third-world shithole’ (I should know, I’ve been told to go back there often enough), even though it is not a developing country. It is assumed to be an Islamic nation, even though almost 50 per cent of the population is Christian and the president is always a Maronite Catholic. And while much of Beirut – famously referred to as ‘The Paris of the Middle East’ – seems lifted right out of Europe, the perception of Lebanon as some kind of cultural and political backwater persists. Remember that scene in Homeland that famously misrepresented Hamra Street?
It is this perception that leads Westerners to assume they are doing a noble thing in “rescuing” children from a country like Lebanon; you’d never catch Australian journalists lending support to a violent kidnapping on the streets of Paris in a bid to smuggle children across the border.
And a violent kidnapping is exactly what it is, despite the Australian media’s reluctance to call it that. CCTV footage shows the “recovery agents,” who appear to have Rambo delusions, forcibly snatching the children and knocking a woman to the ground.
While it is not uncommon for journalists to break questionable laws in service of their jobs, exploiting a mother’s pain and participating in a violent abduction in which someone could have easily been hurt is surely crossing the line.
Nonetheless, the Australian media has danced around the issue, using terms like “recovery operation”, “bring back”, “retrieve,” and “snatch.” The closest anyone seems willing to get to reality is to call it as an “abduction.” This is not surprising. After all, “kidnap” is a damning word, one that makes it obvious that what occurred was in fact, a dubious and criminal act. But because white privilege dictates that the West is good, we have to call it something else. We don’t kidnap, we rescue and “recover”.
If Australians can’t even call the incident what it was, imagine how shocked the journalists must be to find themselves in a Lebanese jail. It can be surprising to discover that white privilege does not apply in other countries. That you can’t just waltz into a country, wreak minor havoc, and then waltz back out again.
That the 60 Minutes crew felt so comfortable as to actually go along and film two children being abducted in public indicates they were not fully comprehending the gravity of their own actions. And why should they, when for so long the West has gotten away with its endless meddling in the Middle East? The hubris of white privilege mixed with Channel Nine’s lust for sensationalism is a toxic brew indeed.
Published on Dailylife.com.au