Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Controlling Liberties – The Failure of Democracy’s Promise After 09/11

The discussion around the legitimacy of so-called “preventative legislation” and its place in a liberal democracy has been ongoing since the adoption of such legislative measures following the horrendous attacks in the USA in September 2011.  From 2002 onwards, the USA, UK and Australia have adopted laws that severely curtail the rights of certain individuals, justifying such laws by the need to protect the country’s national security. In this article, I will limit my discussion to the control orders adopted in Australia in 2002, in the light of the country’s current political system. I argue that, firstly, “liberal” democracy in Australia is inherently weakened by its history and its present; secondly, that control orders have the potential to seriously damage “liberal” democracy by interfering with the basic pre-requisites of its existence: separation of powers, civil liberties and human rights; and thirdly that these laws have an adverse long-term political impact on the Australian social fabric.   

“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”[1]
As the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York unfolded, few would have been analysing the potential effect of that terrorist act on weakening the fundamentals of liberal democracy in the West. After all, it seemed reasonable that our political system, with all that it stood for in terms of democracy, civil liberties and hard-won rights, was being attacked from outside by elements that seemed to detest what we have achieved. It seemed reasonable that what needed to be done was to strengthen our liberal democracy, and defiantly stand in the face of what the US and its media marketed as “the axis of evil”. And yet the attacks enlivened a worm in the bud of the liberal democracy that has, for the past twelve years, been steadily eating away at the same hard-won rights we want protected, and most ironically, in the name of that protection.

On 28th September 2001, the United Nations Security Council adopted, at its 4385th meeting, a resolution binding all signatory states to take measures which would prevent further terrorist attacks from occurring. These measures include suppression of financing of terrorist acts, intra-state exchange of intelligence, stronger border control, and criminalisation of terrorist acts in national and international legislation through administrative and judicial bodies. More ominously, the resolution also included the mention of asylum seekers and refugees as potential perpetrators of terrorist acts[2]. This prompted words of caution and restrain from the then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, expressing

“..deep concern over anti-terrorist and national security legislation and other measures adopted or contemplated that might infringe upon the enjoyment by all of their human rights and fundamental freedoms (…) warned against human rights violations and measures that have targeted particular groups such as human rights defenders, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, religious and ethnic minorities, political activists and the media.”[3]
The Australian government’s response was to look into the then current legislation and try to decide if it was sufficient to deal with the potential threat to national security. In a research paper that ensued, Hancock argued that Australia had a “limited understanding of what constitutes 'terrorism' and what constitutes 'the terrorist threat' in Australia”[4] and that the legislation would need to carefully balance the response to threat with the potential impact this legislation will have on civil liberties, and importantly, “the gains to security from enacting new laws that enhance the state's coercive powers outweigh the costs to civil liberties”[5]

So when the Australian Parliament introduced five new bills in June 2002 to presumably combat terror, all the warning signs were already in the air. Between September 2001 and the introduction of the anti-terrorist legislation, the “coalition of the willing”, in a Manichean stand against the “axis of evil” was inflicting heavy collateral damage in Iraq and Afghanistan, while in all Western countries Muslims (or people perceived to be Muslim, including Christian Arabs, Indian Sikhs, and Mizrahi Jews) were being targeted with violence and racism. Yet in the frenzy to protect the liberal democracy, little if any legal action was taken to protect minority citizens in the same democracy, who presumably had the same rights as the attacking majority.

The writing was on the wall. But few could read it for what it was. In 2005, a Council of Australian Governments decided the anti-terrorist legislation needed to be beefed up at state and federal levels. Control Orders constituted part of the ensuing package. In short, they provided for some highly controversial measures that breached a number of fundamental human rights: to fair trial, to freedom of movement and association, and to protection from loss of liberty unless convicted of a crime by due legal process.

The Fallacy of “Constitutionalism” 
No constitutional challenge was brought before the High Court of Australia until 2007, when it decided in Thomas v Mowbray that the control order regime was constitutionally sound. Kirby J dissenting,  said the control order regime was a “novel and offensive principle”[6] that could render the judicial process “capable of arbitrary and capricious interpretation”, and that “[u]nless this court calls a halt, as it did in that case[7], the damage to our constitutional arrangements could be profound.”[8] The High Court seems to have lumped the judicial right to make control orders with apprehended violence orders and refusing bail, both of which infringe on the liberty of persons with the aim of keeping peace. 

Thomas v Mowbray highlights the inability, as much as unwillingness, of the Australian judiciary to tackle human rights protection[9].  There are two main reasons for this state of affairs. The first has to do with the fact that Australia, unlike the USA, does not have a Bill of Rights in its constitution. Nor, unlike the UK, does it have any special act of parliament protecting the citizens’ basic rights and freedoms. In addition, Australia has not “domesticated” its international obligations as a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has been party to since 1980.

The reason why Australia does not have a Bill of Rights is that the draft prepared by Andrew Inglis Clark and based on the US Constitution was opposed at the 1898 Convention in Melbourne– theoretically, because the rights to equal protection and due process guarantees would affect the legislative powers of the States and because they “were unnecessary for the protection of the rights of citizens in a polity based on representative and responsible government”[10]. In reality, the opposition was to the diminishing privileges of the ruling class - they were seen as having the potential to restrict colonial laws that limited the employment of Asian workers[11]. The men who wrote the Australian Constitution were essentially white British colonialists, seeking to protect their privileges[12] vis-à-vis “aliens”. In the 21st century, the “aliens” have a slightly different profile, but they nevertheless still exist and the “privileged” majority still feels it incumbent to legislate against their human rights.

As a result, a watered down version of Clark’s proposal of rights made its way into the Constitution: the right to trial by jury in cases of offences against the Commonwealth tried by indictment (s 80), a prohibition on the Commonwealth establishing any religion or preventing the free exercise of any religion (s 116), and the protection of the residents of one State from discrimination by another State on the basis of residence (s117). However, the Constitution operates on certain assumptions about the rule of law and basic freedoms reflected in the common law. Common law continues to evolve, although recently being progressively displaced with the minutiae of legislation, and as such the understanding of “basic freedoms” also evolves, affecting how constitutional institutions operate and how legislation is interpreted by the courts. The highest jurisdiction in Australia is the High Court, which alone can interpret the Constitution and decide on whether certain legislation is constitutionally sound. In this, it takes the approach of J.S. Mill, respecting the rights and freedoms of the majority, protecting them from interference, but without declaring what they are. Lacking an actual instrument – a bill of rights – that would guide it in discerning whether a legislation breaches constitutionally given human rights and liberties, the High Court is left to its own devices to make such judgements as it feels necessary. Herein lies the second main reason of why it so spectacularly fails to do so.

The “Apolitical” High Court
Since the abolishment of appeal process to the Privy Council in 1987, the High Court has become the final arbiter of cases in Australia, and its decisions are final and binding on all parties.

No judiciary system exists in a vacuum. There is always a particular social and political context to the court, where a specific set of institutional features and procedures shapes its work. As Gleeson J aptly noted, democracy does not have an inherent definition of the role of courts.[13] The justices to the High Court are appointed formally by the Governor General, but in fact the decision as to who is appointed rests with the incumbent Cabinet. The timeframe between announcing a candidate and their appointment is very short, precluding a more thorough research by the public into the proposed justice’s history.
Once elected to the High Court, their tenure is for life (they retire at 70), making them politically unaccountable and fully independent from the executive.  Although the High Court has an inherent right to judicial review, the fact that there is no Bill of Rights, as mentioned above, makes it difficult for the Court to decide on cases of human rights. As a result, they tend to be conservative in their judgements, adhering to the letter of the Constitution rather than to its spirit, thus preserving the fiction of a legalist perspective. This in turn assists in creating the perception of an impartial and bipartisan (while apolitical) High Court.  The High Court tries its best to maintain that politics of the members do not affect their decision making,[14] despite Kirby J’s opinion that “[f]or an appellate court to reach great strengths there is a need for diversity amongst its members. If everyone has the same judicial philosophy, background and experience, a court is seriously weakened.”[15]

Nevertheless, there is jurimetrics research that shows justices have plenty of discretion to make decisions that agree with their political and social views, even within the constraints of law.[16]This research, based on the collection of 40 years’ worth of data, shows justices make decisions based on two perceptions – policy preferences and attitude to the distribution of legal control across the government.

Successive federal governments failed in bringing Australia’s international human rights obligations to impact on domestic legislation, on the proviso that abiding by the international charters in some way undermines Australia’s sovereignty, putting pressure on the High Court so as not to be seen as too “activist” by venturing into law making which is constitutionally the domain of the executive and legislative arms of the government. A few of the High Court justices since the 1980s have engaged in legal activism, among them Mason J and Kirby J.  It was telling that Kirby J was the sole dissenting voice in Thomas v Mowbray. Coupled with the conducted research, it would seem reasonable to reach a perception that sidelining fundamental human rights issues to make legislation breaching them constitutionally sound, must be a preference for the current High Court.

The Dilemma of Representation
As stated above, Australia’s Bill of Rights was aborted on the theoretical basis that “good governance” will render any constitutionally enshrined protection of rights and liberties (and also of equality) unnecessary. The “good government”, chosen by the masses since 1924 as a compulsory obligation on every Australian 18 years of age or over, is still perceived as the best means to achieving direct democratic “representation” and thus forcing the government to “consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management”[17]. Unfortunately, this is not a totally correct perception when it comes to the “total electorate”. Firstly, a large number of citizens vote without having the understanding of political issues necessary for making an educated decision, either because they lack the necessary intellectual acumen to do so, or because – in our multicultural society – of linguistic and social issues. Secondly, election campaigns in Australia are a “media circus”, with almost no independent, unbiased media available to the public. Thirdly, there is no mechanism to make the elected government actually abide by its election promises, other than waiting for its term to end and then going again to the polls. Because of this, the government considers the majority of voters, which can often leave quite a large minority without due consideration. Fourthly, because of the relatively short government terms, the elected governments in Australia often have a single goal in sight – that of being re-elected. As such, they often resort to acts that would be seen as “doing something” instead of actually achieving a long term desired outcome for the benefit of the populace. Often these acts of “doing something” aim at weakening the opposition, not strengthening the country. Lastly, the elected parliament engages in passing laws that impact on all the electorate without asking the affected electorate its direct opinion via polls and referenda. Once elected, the legislature is accountable to itself, to the exclusion of the voters. As such, one finds it hard to call the form of “liberal democracy” we have in Australia in any way “representational”, and since it is not representational, its claim to “good governance” lies on shaky foundations.

Fairall and Lacey in their argument for the need of a Bill of Rights, state that in uncertain times, such as after the 09/11 attacks, the judiciary may be less inclined to obstruct the parliamentary legislation, and that despite Australia’s “robust press culture, an impartial and professional public service (…) and a long tradition of good governance based on shared values” which according to the two writers form the pillars of successful liberal democracy in the country, these pillars might not be strong enough to withstand the onslaught:

“The situation in Australia is currently such that basic and fundamental freedoms are being eroded by a Parliament with increased legislative powers and an all-powerful executive government with the political will to use them. Politicians have an agenda, and are frequently willing to trade hard-won privileges and freedoms for short-term advantage. Recent legislative measures have highlighted, to an unprecedented degree, the threat to human rights.”[18]
Also as mentioned above, the failure to enshrine a Bill of Rights in our constitution was an outcome of protectionist privilege as perceived by white, Anglo-Saxon settlers. Almost all men involved in writing the constitution were moneyed. Australia’s protectionist policies continued until the 1970s, when the country embraced “tolerance” and “multiculturalism”. The gains in rights by the Indigenous community and non-white migrants, not to mention women, the disabled and the LGBT community, are relatively new, and vulnerable to attack and attrition by those elements in our society who would like to see that “privilege” returned to its original owners. While most discussion about control orders revolves around security and protection, few mention the fact that they have created a new class of humans specifically targeted by these orders. In essence, control orders are the newest tool in racial profiling in the name of protecting the “mainstream” from the “aliens”.

Protection or Control?
Anti-terrorist legislation in the West, of which the Australian control orders form a part, were instituted to “protect” civilians, the state and its assets from the violent acts of terrorists. They constitute a part and parcel of the civilised, democratic, liberal West’s “war on terror” – a war that has no identifiable space, borders or nationality, and which transcends international conventions. To better understand the danger that control orders and similar legislation pose to the notion of liberal democracy, and its fundamental principles of protecting the rights of minorities and individuals, of human rights, civil and political liberties, the separation of powers and the rule of law, I propose now to look at the changes in definitions of the terms used to promote this legislation.

The landscape of post-modern liberalism in the West is, according to Prof. Vivienne Jabri, one of an ever-present condition of war:

“… one of camps, oneof the detention of groups of people irrespective of their individual needs asmigrants, one of the incarceration without due process of suspects, one ofoverwhelming police powers to stop, search and detain, one of indefinitedetention in locations beyond law, one of invasion and occupation…” leading to the “disappearance of distinctions between warand criminality, war and peace, war and security.”[19]
Jabri explains that the “war on terror” has permeated normality to the point that it has become a permanent feature of liberal democracy – we are in a constant state of war, and therefore a constant state of applying “exceptional” legislative instruments against some specified “other” with no end in view to the conditions that made these instruments exceptional. As such, the exceptional has become “normalised”. This “normalisation” can be evidenced in what happened to the control orders in Australia – aimed at the “exceptional” threat of terrorist attacks, they have become an instrument against “organised crime”, i.e. sex offenders, bikie gangs and tattoo parlours. Jabri warns against assuming that liberal democracies are averse to war, in fact, that a global war such as the one on terror is deeply institutionalised and pervasive and therefore extremely threatening to political and civil liberties, being located within “the framework that enables us to see the workings of discretionary power and its associated practices, from the most blatant act of war to the most invisible procedure enacted in some office beyond our gaze.”[20]

The “normalisation” of control orders flies in the face of evidence that applying them to the criminal elements in Australia has not delivered the intended results.[21] The 2011-12 Attorney General Control Orders and Preventative Detention Orders Report shows that they have not been used. However, their latent threat to democracy is palpable – declaring any organisation illegal (or criminal) targets the freedom of association and expression.
The language used in describing the war on terror has, over the past 12 years, portrayed it and its human rights abuses as legitimate, because geared towards protection against a violent threat. Jabri’s list of what anti-terrorist legislation permits internationally and domestically in terms of human rights abuses is lengthy: from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, to indefinite detention of asylum seekers, to breaches of privacy and liberty of citizens, all in the name of security. Underlying the dialectic of security is an increasingly harsh tone of political xenophobia and nationalistic emotionalism. We heard it in Australia during the Tampa Children Overboard incidents, and when Kevin Andrews, the then Minister for Immigration, cut the quota on African refugee intake because, as he claimed, they had issues integrating with the Australian society. We saw it during the Cronulla riots, in the Habib and Dr Haneef cases, and in the Citizenship Test. Control orders are one of the tools that the ruling bureaucracy uses in perpetuating the state of war based on promoting fear against the cultural “other”, based on ethnic origin, religion, or language.

We are back at the inception of our Constitution: we cannot have everyone equally equal and maintain privilege at the same time.  The difference between then and now is that we live in a globalised, multicultural world, connected via telecommunications, and engaged in trade and commerce across borders and jurisdictions. Profiling minorities and creating securitised ghettos does not sit comfortably with the liberal democracy’s notions of equality and freedoms. Preserving security can be used as an excuse to serve the interests of a particular class of people who are comfortable with the current status quo: the traditional security actors (military, police, intelligence) will be granted a privileged voice in dictating the rules of the game. It bodes poorly for the future of liberal democracy in Australia. “Exceptional” anti-terrorist legislation which became normalised to include local criminals, which is in many ways extra-judicial, and which flies in the face of many of our rights that we have long taken for granted, begs the question: today, Muslims, bikies and sex offenders; who will it be tomorrow? The ruling bureaucracy, no longer bridled by any judiciary qualms about the constitutionality of what it does, can choose some other victims to profile tomorrow – be it another inconvenient minority, or an opposing party, or the media. The choice is endless.  In a state of war, nothing is sacred. Where there is no Bill of Rights, we can easily be divested of “rights” to freedom of expression, rights to privacy or to information. 

This paper aims at explaining the danger posed by control orders to the liberal democratic political system in Australia. It bases its premise on the fact that Australia, alone among the common law countries, lacks a constitutionally enshrined Bill of Rights that would permit its High Court proper oversight of parliamentary legislation instituted to protect the national security but breaches human rights and civil liberties fundamental to the liberal democracy is purports to protect. The lack of the Bill of Rights is coupled with the inherent conservatism and legalism of the Australian High Court, manifested as a willingness to sideline human rights issues and parliaments that have no intention of implementing the statues of international human rights instruments in their domestic statues.

The second premise on which the paper bases its discussion of the threat posed by the control orders arises from political science. The fact that the Bill of Rights was rejected to protect the privilege of ruling class against what was then perceived as aliens, and the current representation of the war on terror as a global exercise in demonising specific others as aliens and therefore dangerous to our liberal values and mode of life is seen as a parallel manifestation of entrenching a status quo for a specific part of the Australian population – white, Anglo-Saxon, moneyed males – against the masses which do not fit that description. To this end, the privileged classes, in the guise of a bureaucracy, implement control orders to keep these “aliens” in check. The rhetoric of permanent threat also aims at normalising these orders, so they can be equally applied to any unwanted elements, criminalised by the privileged bureaucracy. The argument shows that compulsory elections – one of the fundamental principles of “good governance” on the pretext of which the Bill of Rights was originally rejected – are in themselves flowed and do not provide for “representation” nor protect the voters from encroachment by the politicians and bureaucrats on their rights.
The paper concludes that control orders, in the absence of judicial oversight and the presence of vested interests, have the potential to undermine liberal democracy to an unforseen extent. Intense debate about them seems to be carried out solely among academics, while majority of Australian population seems blissfully unaware of the harm on the horizon. It would have been encouraging to believe that “good governance” will prevail, however, any reasonably prudent reading of the current political landscape, whether in Australia or internationally, does not permit such optimism.

[1]“The writing on the wall” from the Book of Daniel 5:25-28.Translation: “numbered, weighed, divided” .
[2]See items 3(f)-(g), SC Res1373, UN SCOR, 56th sess, 4385th mtg, UN DOC S/RES/1373 (28 September 2001) 6 [3] <>
[3]United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Follow-Up to the World Conference on Human Rights, 4,UN Doc E/C/N.4/2002/I 8 (27 February 2002)
[4]Nathan Hancock, 'Terrorism and the Law in Australia: Legislation, Commentary and Constraints' (Research Paper No 12, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, 2002); ii
[6]Thomas v Mowbray (2007) 237 ALR 194, 63
[7]Kirby J is referring to the Australian Communist Party v The Commonwealth (1951) 83 CLR 1, commonly known as the Communist Party Case
[8] Thomas v Mowbray (2007) 237 ALR 194, 292-3
[9]See discussion in Paul Fairall and Wendy Lacey, 'Preventative Detention and Control Orders under Federal Law: The Case for a Bill of Rights' (2007) 31 Melbourne University Law Review 1072, 1080-85.
[10]Andrew Byrnes, Hilary Charlesworth and Gabrielle McKinnon, ‘Bills of Rights in Australia: History, Politics and Law’  (UNSW Press, 2009)  25
[12]See, for example, Australian Constitutions51(xxvi)
[13]Murray Gleeson, ’The Role of the Judiciary in a Modern Democracy’ (Paper presented at Judicial Conference of Australia Annual Symposium, Sydney, NSW 1997)
[14]See affirmation to that effect by Gleeson J in Murray Gleeson,  ‘ The Centenary of the High Court: Lessons from History’(Paper read at Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, Melbourne, VIC 2003).
[15]Michael Kirby, ‘Dissent and the Importance of Judicial Diversity’ (Paper presented at The Institute of Judicial Studies of New Zealand Conference: Equality and Diversity in Our Community,  Rotorua New Zealand, 18 – 19 August 2005)  <>
[16]For discussion, see analysis of judicial voting in Jeffrey A. Segal and Albert D. Cover. ‘Ideological Values and the Votes of U.S. Supreme Court Justices’ (1989) 83(2)American Political Science Review 557. Also, Tony Blackshield, ‘Jurimetrics’ in Tony Blackshield, Michael Coper and George Williams (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia, (Oxford University Press, 2001)
[17]Australian Electoral Commission,  Compulsory Voting <>
[18] Paul Fairall and Wendy Lacey, 'Preventative Detention and Control Orders under Federal Law: The Case for a Bill of Rights' (2007) 31 Melbourne University Law Review 1072, 1095.
[19]Vivienne Jabri, ‘War, Security and the Liberal State’ (2006) 37 Security Dialogue 47, 48
[20]Ibid. 60
[21]Nicola McGarrity, ‘From Terrorism to Bikies: Control Orders in Australia’ (2012) 37(3) AltLJ 166

Thursday, April 07, 2011

WEBINAR: What makes a successful freelancer?

Date: 28 April, Tuesday Time: 7:30 PM in QLD, ACT, NSW, TAS, VIC (GMT+10) Place: at your computer Price: $ 35 (AUSIT members), $ 50 (general)

Most of us are freelancers. When we sign contracts with agencies, we do this as freelancers. Usually we operate using mere scraps of knowledge in bookkeeping, marketing, social media and networking, whilst we all agree that ideally anyone attempting to run a business - whether a boutique T/I agency or a one-person show- would have some sort of formal business education.
Not all is lost, however. Skills can be acquired on the path to success. Skills become more permanent the more practical experience one gets. In this webinar, our own much-admired Sam Berner will share with us her knowledge and experience (often learned from mistakes), on how to succeed on the path to professionalism.

During the webinar you will be able to ask questions, you will receive a printout after the session, and you can access a recording of the webinar for another 60 days.
Register early to avoid disappointment: attendance is limited!
Registrations close on 21 April!

Click here to register!

The presenter:

Sam Berner has been at one time or another a writer, publisher, teacher, business woman, mentor, translator and motivational speaker who arrived in Australia 16 years ago. She is currently the manager of Arabic Communications Experts . In Australia, she mentors and motivates many aspiring small business owners, most of whom are home based, to expand their vision globally. Prior to coming to Australia she lived for over twenty years in the Middle East and North Africa, teaching, publishing and translating. During those years Sam worked for a number of regional and international publishing houses, as well as the UNICEF. She was a founding member of the WATA (World Arabic Translators' Association), a National President of AUSIT, and currently serves on the Management Committee of the Queensland branch of the Institute. In addition to her translation work, she also writes regularly for a number of professional and community publications. Some of her writings are accessible online. Sam conducts workshops for small businesses about knowledge management, cross-cultural training, effective use of IT for growth, time management, and business intelligence. She also gives talks on work/lifestyle choices, going solo, and creativity in work, and seminars on business ethics and professionalism.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Japan post-earthquake: Glimpses of Stoicism, Humanness and Strength

This is from a friend of mine, a Japanese translator and interpreter, Yoko.

Compilation of personal episodes, comments, and tweets from earthquake-affected people translated (by me) from Japanese:

1. Tokyo Disneyland started distributing sweets and treats from the Disney shop. I saw conspicuously dressed up high-school girls demanding more than they should need for themselves, and felt dismayed. Later I saw the same girls distributing the treats to little kids in the Earthquake shelter. Mothers with small kids could not stand in the line to receive the treats, so the high-school girls' action was very much appreciated.

2. In a supermarket where all the merchandise were still on the floor after the earthquake, shoppers picked up the merchandise and put them neatly back on the shelves as they shopped, calmly waited in line for their turn to check out, and paid for their purchase as usual. In the packed train, an elderly gave his seat to a pregnant woman. Many foreigners were speechless to see such acts. Japan is extraordinary.

3. When the lights turned green, typically only one vehicle could get across the intersection before the lights turned red. But all the drivers were calm. The traffic would come to a standstill at a more complicated intersection, but during the ten hours of traffic jam, I never heard any honk other than to thank other drivers. Despite the fears that had engulfed me, I came to love Japan even more.

4. When I was walking home from my university late last night, a baker-woman was distributing bread to people who were walking home. The bakery is normally closed at that hour. In this time of confusion, she had discovered what she could do to help. I was warm inside. Tokyo is not a bad place to be in right now.

5. I received an email from my Korean friend: "The only country that has ever received atomic bombing. A country that lost the WWII. A country that receives typhoons every year. And earthquakes. And a tsunami...A small island nation, and yet, it always knows how to stand up after it fell. That's Japan. Keep it up." I'm crying right now.

6. When I was getting really fed up waiting for a train on the platform, a homeless man gave me a cardboard box and told me to sit on it to keep myself warm. We always ignore the homeless people. Now their warmth has hit me.

7. I walked for four hours to get home. I saw a woman who was standing in front of her house and showing a large sketchbook to the many passers-by. She had written on the sketchbook, "Please use our toilet if you need." Perhaps Japan is one of the most hospitable counties in the world. When I saw her, it was hard not to cry.

8. I had to walk four hours to get home and the streets were packed with people walking home. But it was not chaotic as people marched in a very orderly manner. Convenience stores and other shops were operating as if nothing had happened. Network infrastructure withstood the huge quake. Many shelters for stranded people were instantly set up in many locations. The train services came back on the same day and the trains run throughout the night to carry people home. It is a great country. This is something you wouldn't know from a simple GDP ranking.

9. A friend in Chiba told me this. An old man in a shelter murmured, "I don't know what's going to happen now." A teen-age boy started stroking the man's back and said, "Don't worry. When I grow up, I will bring everything back to normal." We will be all right. Our future is bright.

10. The man had been rescued after 42 hours of being trapped in a destroyed house. When he came out, he smiled at the TV camera and said, "I was there when the tsunami from the Chilean earthquake hit us. It's all right. All we need to do is rebuild." What is important is what we do from now.

11. "Operation Tomodachi" [meaning, "Operation Friends"] is the name of the U.S. military's rescue operation this time.

12. It's so dark with the power down, so the stars are shining the brightest ever. My fellow earthquake refugees in Sendai, let's look up.

13. M9.0. One of the greatest earthquakes in the human history. Well then, let's make the passion to rebuild and love for each other one of the greatest in the human history.

Japanese migrants' communities across the State are preparing for fundraising activities. The activities will typically involve paper-craft cranes and in some cases music or dance performance. If you see one like that in your suburb, please make generous donations, but make sure the fundraising activity is legitimate. (Normally the organisation that receives the funds, such as Red Cross, issues an official letter of authority. If you are not sure, you can always ask the fundraiser to show you such a letter before making donations.)

Thank you very much for your support for the earthquake victims in Japan.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Slowly Catching Up to the Reading Nations



Called a "flagship project" - more like flagging-stone. Or is it flogging?

What am I raving about, you ask? Well, a UAE-based software company has "unveiled" a new mobile book-reading application. They called it Rufoof. In the words of its developer:

- it is one of the prominent Arabic apps on the app store, is an amazing reading experience for Arabic Content (I read Arabic on Kindle, what's so amazing?)

- Users of Rufoof can view a wide range of book titles in different categories and download a sample to have the content available even when the device is offline. Another feature of the application is reading through bookmarked pages, search and change the font size as well as colour of the shelves. This represents a big advancement in the world of reading from an iPhone, Ipad or other smart phone devices. (DUH? Ditto Kindle, Sony, iPad, etc. etc..)

- is a revolutionary bookstore application that targets the Arab audience with more than 4,500 books covering various sectors (OMG. I have this much and more ebooks alone. Must be a drought in publishing).

Something is telling me that they will be selling it oveseas to the diaspora. Only a few days ago, a blogger I respect posted a Yahoo Maktoob research on reading in the Arab World. She says that "the survey polled 3,503 online folks, which means that it should definitely be taken with several grains of salt. Internet penetration in the Arab world does not go beyond 35%, and the fact that the poll takers are online already says a lot about them." And what were the results? A quarter of people polled hardly ever or never read books for personal enjoyment. Roba (the blogger from Jordan) blames lack of pulp fiction as a reason for turning off young readers. Would I rather they didn't have intellectual junk food? Of course, yes.

So will reading off the electronic shelf be any more enticing? Is Edward Said or Nawal Saadawi more palatable in e-ink than on paper? You never know. Research is beginning to show that reading online makes one more shallow and destroys the ability to think deeply. What it does to heads that were empty in the first place, is something we need to wait and see.

Suitably empty!


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Communication Experts at

Writing in a Language Other Than Your Own

It is interesting to see how, at the time Arabic-speaking Gulf countries complain about the morbidity of their own language, an American university in Qatar is celebrating "the creative possibilities for expressing oneself and one's experiences through writing - in a language other than his native tongue."

"The Writer's Craft: Teaching Creative Writing in Qatar", edited by Amal Al Malki, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, is a book based on a collection of essays written by students of Al Malki's creative writing course - in English.

Al Malki says that her students "were encouraged to acquire both comfort and competence in a variety of English genres - but, not really to mimic the English of a native speaker."

Even more fascinating is how Al Malki explains the difference between writing in Arabic versus writing in English: "Many students in Education City had grandparents who were illiterate, and have parents who are literate primarily in Arabic. The students find themselves the first generation cultivating two languages, and two identities. They see the Arabic language as the language of family and religion, and English as their global self - the language in which they can relate their pride in their Arabic heritage to the world."

I have seen and experienced very similar sentiments among first and second generation migrants in Australia - but it didn't relate to "pride in one's heritage" as much as to the innate ability of English to express the inexpressible in Arabic - alternative identities, erotica, technology, theories of science that have not yet caught in Arabic, for which there are no terminologies in that language.

Arabs face huge obstacles in gaining access to western knowledge, the most significant hurdle being the language barrier between them and the industrialised
nations to the north that generate the majority of technical/social/philosophical innovations.

This situation is further complicated by the lack of clarity regarding the correct Arabic equivalent for numerous technical/scientific terms. The region speaks various dialects, and there is often no distinct or standard term for technological innovations. Often, Arabs from different countries in the region are forced to use a third language (mostly English) in order to communicate that sort of knowledge.

I am not a proponent of conspiracy theories, but when much of the teaching material at science courses in Middle Eastern universities is only available in either English or French as there are no Arabic translations, while students are often given texts in English or French while receiving instruction in Arabic during class time, it makes one wonder how Arabic could ever evolve and catch up?

This is a proverbial shooting yourself in the foot.

It is also a great time for lexicographers of all colours to start producing real dictionaries for a real, 21st century, Arab world. Enough esoterica. Sufis need technology, too :-)

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Communication Experts at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Equal Rights, Unequal Pay

I read with interest the address by Joris de Bres, Race Relations Commissioner, at the Annual General Meeting of Interpreting New Zealand, Multicultural Services Centre, held in Wellington on the 17th of this month.

The right to an interpreter is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak the language used in court (Article 14.3(f)). So is the right to legal representation. Otherwise, it amounts to the miscarriage of justice, which is a grave offence.

A lawyer in Australia charges over $200.00 just to look at you for an hour. An accredited, qualified court interpreter in Australia, after all things get factored in (travel time, delays, etc), is paid a paltry $16.00 per hour before tax. Both are professionals, both have qualifications. The diffrence? One is employed by himself (or a large law firm), while the other is employed by Australia's only employer - the Government - via a host of decent and not so decent agencies.

Talk about monopolisation!

Plus, there is no union to represent community-sector interpreters. So no access to legal redress for all sorts of other abuses that come bundled with low pay: no debriefing, harassment and intimidation of interpreters, no parking dues, often no travel fee, and no paid CPD opportunities. And then the one and only employer has the temerity to pay thousands of dollars to pack agency owners and so-called "end users" (still Government) for a whole day of fruitless discussions about the lack of retention of interpreters (or good ones at least).

Is it so hard to fathom, or is our public service slightly intellectually disabled?

Friday, July 30, 2010


First we had Dubya.. Now we have Wasilla.

"Now, some of you may think Sarah introduced “refudiate” to our common language last Sunday, when she tweeted Manhattan’s Muslims, begging them to “Pls refudiate” plans to build a mosque two blocks north of the Ground Zero.

You would be wrong.

Mama Grizzly actually gave the “word” its out-loud debut about a week before, when she bounced it off her fellow Fox News heavyweight and conservative stud muffin, Sean Hannity.

Sarah was opinionating, via live-feed from her kitchen overlooking Russia, calling on the Obamas to “refudiate” the NAACP’s charge of racism in the leadership of the Tea Party movement."

Peter Gelzinis from Boston Herald

Refudiate the fact, please, that something is very wrong with education in the USA if someone like Palin can become a politician. PLEASE??

Left or Right, East or West?

Prof. Lera Boroditsky on how language shapes thinking (or is it the other way round?). Absolutely must read! Read the comments, they are as good as the article, if not better.

  • Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
  • Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
  • The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
  • In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn't remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: "The vase broke itself," rather than "John broke the vase."

What happens in interpreting, then, when we need to bridge the east with left, or the few with five?

Cultural Translation - Not an Easy Bid

In Australia's professional LSP sector, the standard (and of course lazily comfortable) response to the question "Can translators be cultural advisers?" is "No". Too much responsibility is attached to trying to explain cultural issues A to a member of culture B, especially if B is a much more powerful and sort of mainstream culture, and A is a minority, often refugee (economic or otherwise) sub-culture. It is so much easier just interpreting words, usually making the discourse of the dominant language into something utterly alien and alienating in the receiving language.

I don't agree with this stance. A language is a vital vehicle of culture, it does not exist in a vacuum. Whether interpreting or translating, some things need to be "footnoted", explanations need to be added. It enriches both parties. But I agree it is hard.

I have been following this guy for a while now, and I am full of admiration for what he does. And today I came across another bunch of "lingovists" (language activists) from India - Video Volunteers. Their main issue, of course, is that India is a subcontinent of many cultures and many languages. And it is a subcontinent of many voiceless people.

How do you give a voiceless community a voice? You interpret and translate what they say into the language of the dominant discourse! Bravo..

Are we creating our own 'voiceless' communities by refusing to be cultural brokers?? Listen to Ted talking about what translation is REALLY for:

More on the GIGO Syndrome

I love Barbara Jungwirth posting on writing source text in "grammatically correct, clear structures free of spelling and punctuation errors" so as to facilitate the translation process, instead of getting the "Garbage In, Garbage Out" syndrome.

Barbara writes: "I was initially surprised at how frequently source text -- even fairly lengthy white papers and similar types of text -- appears not to have been proofread, let alone copy-edited. After reading a couple of books on technical and business matters recently, I am no longer surprised. Even books being printed and sold in bookstores don't seem to undergo much of a quality-assurance process any more. A case in point is Tamar Weinberg's "The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web", which I am in the process of reviewing for an upcoming issue of the Society for Technical Communication's magazine Intercom, which contains quite a few instances where sentences seem to have been hurriedly revised and fragments of the sentence's previous incarnation left behind or too much taken out. So if books aren't proofread any more, what can we expect from internal industry papers or instructions?"

Surprised, eh? I have a few books on translation studies that were published by very respectable institutions, and which contain errors. It is human to err. It is unprofessional to write slovenly, however. However, since the generation currently coming into force as editors and writers grew up on cut-and-paste, SMS and the Microsoft spell-checker, and without the benefit of being taught any serious usage of English at school, we can only expect to see more of this.

It is the translator's job to "leave source text errors in the source text" and provide a clean translation. Provided, of course, the translator knows an error when they see one. SMS your professional body for advice, maybe?

Barbara states, correctly: "However, such poorly written source text not only hampers the flow of reading, it often also adds ambiguity to the text. After all, if there are two conjunctions when only one should be present, which of the two did the author intend to use?"

I just smiled.

Ambiguity is now called "creativity" and "innovation" in language. Rules are BAD. And for someone to understand what one conjunction versus two mean in a text, they must be my age :-)


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

The US Government Still "doesn't get it"

The Government Accountability Office reported on Thursday that Federal agencies must do more to improve employees' foreign language proficiencies.

David Maurer, director of GAO's homeland security and justice team said that DHS, in particular, has failed to take a comprehensive approach to assessing the foreign language capabilities of its employees and addressing any shortfalls despite several critical GAO reports. Jeff Neal, chief human capital officer at DHS, acknowledged the department does not have an overarching plan or program for foreign language skills.

"An effective program must be dynamic and responsive to changing situations," Neal said.

(Source: Government

Couldn't the same be said of any English-speaking business trying to enter foreign markets? All this money spent on copywriting, advertising and business meetings is going to waste if the produced materials do not actually address the target audience - that is, their potential clients and business partners.

And yet, when it comes to budgeting, the beneficial, intelligent use of language services comes as a not-so-high priority. Instead, business tend to depend on locals to tell them what to do. A bit like going to the barber to have your tooth extracted, if you ask me.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Predicting the Nakba in an Israeli Novel

A book I would love to translate (are you listening, Alon?) into Arabic. A book that MUST be translated into Arabic, and translated well.

House of Rajani (Harvill Secker - Random House UK), takes place in 1895 Jaffa. It records the diaries of Salah Rajani, a 12-year old Moslem child cursed with prophetical powers who foresees the rising of the Jewish state; and of a 27 year old Jewish colonist, new to the city of Jaffa, who takes both Salah's mother and their house.

Arab Israelis – among them Radio Cairo correspondent Khamis Abulafia and politician Ahmed Tibi – have called the book "riveting" and claim to find an echo of the Palestinian narrative embedded within.

The House of Rajani was awarded the Sapir prize in 2009, but two weeks after the public announcement on Television, the award was withdrawn due to allegations of a conflict of interest.

Alon says that the main catalyst to write the book came from a deja vu feeling: "The initial catalyst for writing it came from a scene I envisioned one day as I sat in a Tel Aviv café: all at once I stripped the present reality of its clothes – the Bauhaus buildings, the uniquely Israeli window blinds, the ugly air-conditioning units, the ficus trees, the asphalt sidewalks, the low stone walls – and I could picture the orchards and groves and prickly pear cactuses of the Palestinians who had lived there in the past. I shuddered, and at that moment I decided to try to pass that feeling along to my readers in a historical novel about Tel Aviv's Palestinian past and about the first wave of Jewish immigration."

An expert from the novel can be read here.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

Being Fast

Ken of the 1-800 Translate company is blogging about Speed.. not the kind that makes you unwell, but the kind that makes you productive.

"You’ve got to do it right, but you’ve got to do it fast too. How fast? It all depends. Most translators in most languages can do somewhere between 2500 and 3000 words per day. That works out to about 300 words per hour. That’s unique words, now, so if the materials to be translated have a lot of repetition (say 50%), then the translator is effectively translating 5000 words instead of 2500 (...) Terminology management, machine pre-translation, and lots of other stuff can push those numbers much higher (...) Edit and proof take more time, say around 1000 words per hour, each, depending on the quality of the original and the talents and diligence of the editors. Traffic becomes a concern, too, in that the document has to be scheduled and assigned to the appropriate linguist by the appropriate project manager or language manager. So all the expectations we have for words per hour get tossed out the window if the one-and-only language manager is backed up or simply having a bad day. "

When all else fails, Ken throws in more translators, but complains that we are like cats, that is, there is more than one way to skin us. Thanks, Ken. I agree that as a bunch of professionals, we find it difficult to agree on anything, starting from translation theory and ending with which style manual is best to use. Don't worry, though - if the automation market keeps growing at the speed it does currently, our own productivity will kill all cats in the linguistic neighbourhood. That achieved, your only worry will be software crashes.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at