I was reading Dr Zeus’ Horton Hears a Who to the kids the other night, and I got to the bit where the well-meaning compassionate Horton meets a nasty Kangaroo who laughs at Horton’s desire to look after a “speck of dust that is able to yell”. The speck is of course a tiny planet inhabited by a race of tiny humanoid creatures called Whos, and Horton is their hero.
The Kangaroo rather cruelly tells Horton, “I think you’re a fool” and quite frankly behaves like an asshole stealing the speck of dust and ignoring Horton’s meek request
Please don’t harm all my little folks, who
Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!
It struck me that Horton Hears a Who is a brilliant allegory for how Australia treats Asylum Seekers. It has an angry Kangaroo, a caring elephant, and a bunch of people who need protecting.
I did some Google research and discovered that Horton Hears a Who was written in 1955 by Dr Zeus (Theodore Geisel) as an allegory for the American occupation of Japan after World War Two. Geisel was a famous liberal who wrote the book as a response to changing his original views on the mandatory internment of Japanese-Americans during the war and his disgust at the treatment of the Japanese under US occupation. The book is dedicated to a friend from Kyoto. At its core, the book is about Geisel’s redemption from bigoted hater of the Japanese to compassion at the horror of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.
Importantly, this fabulous book is also one which perfectly represents Australia in 2014, under the conservative Abbott government – except perhaps for the Elephant.
Just like we should protect asylum seekers fleeing terror in their own lands, Horton has a strong desire to protect what he thinks is some “poor little person who’s shaking with fear”. Horton believes:
A person’s a person, no matter how small
Horton is not sure what the story with the speck of dust is. He speculates that there might be more than one person or even a family living on the speck of dust. Despite his lack of knowledge about the beings on the speck, Horton wants to protect them. He believes Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Horton begs the angry Kangaroo not to disturb the small people and does everything in his power to prevent the small world being damaged climbing mountains, sorting through millions of dandelions, and never giving up.
Just as fearful news of “illegal arrivals” has dominated the front pages of News Ltd papers, and the airways of our rascist, radical, radio-shows, news of Horton’s stand quickly spreads through the jungle. The word is that “Horton is out of his head”. Horton ignores the gossip and innuendo, and is rewarded when the mayor of Whoville tells him:
You’ve helped all us folks on this dust speck no end.
You’ve saved all our houses, our filings and floors.
You’ve saved all our churches and grocery stores.
Curiosity and compassion are more important than xenophobic fear and anger.
When the dust speck and clover it is resting on is taken by a black-bottomed eagle, Horton is relentless, following the eagle until his bones are battered and bruised, and sorting through three million clovers to find the dust speck safe but it’s inhabitants upset that all their clocks have stopped. We should all be as single-minded as Horton is in stopping the bullying monkeys.
Finally, the kangaroo catches up with Horton and snaps that she is sick of Horton “chatting with people who have never existed”. This reminds me of Tony Abbott’s fixation on “illegal boat arrivals”, a ghastly phrase which simultaneously denies the humanity of the asylum seekers, and their right to seek asylum. Together with the Wickersham monkeys they decide to lock Horton up and then “dunk that dumb speck in the beezle-nut juice!” Horton asks the Whovians to make as much noise as they can to prove they exist, telling the Mayor:
Don’t give up! I believe in you all! A person’s a person, no
matter how small! And you very small persons will not have to die if you make yourselves
heard! So come on, now, and TRY!
In a gripping conclusion the Whovians make as much noise as they can, but it isn’t until a young bloke yells, “Yopp” that they are heard and the Kangaroo says:
And, from now on, you know what I’m planning to do?… From now on, I’m going to protect them with you!
So what’s the point of all this? Firstly, opponents to the Abbott/Rudd Asylum Seeker laws should never give up, they should makes as much noise as possible, and where there is compassion and integrity there is hope.
I will be sending my local member and the Minister for Immigration copies of the book, and donating money to the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre so they can buy books for the children of asylum seekers.
(Unfortunately, Horton Hears a Who has also been co opted by nutbag anti-abortion fanatics, but that is a story for another time)