Last month, Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi spoke some of the most misguided and divisive words heard in parliament in recent times. … Her speech begins with: ‘We are gathered here today on stolen land’.
Wrong. Australia was lawfully conquered and settled by the British Empire in accordance with the international norms of the old world order. That was a ‘might makes right’ world. Whoever could raise an army and conquer land did so. Muslim Arabs and Turks have had their fair share of conquests, as have Christian Europeans. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 sowed the seeds for the modern concept of territorial sovereignty within demarcated borders. Though it wasn’t until 1928 under the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy that territorial acquisition by force was first attempted to be outlawed through consensus among international signatories.
Otherwise known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact (after its authors US Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand), this 1928 pact of course didn’t succeed in immediately putting an end to all war. In fact, World War II, the most destructive of all conflicts still managed to occur only a decade later. Yet the importance of the pact came in its aftermath.
Shortly after the emergence of the United Nations, its Charter went on to guaranteeing ‘territorial integrity’ to member states. In the process, any territory acquired before the 1928 pact was deemed lawfully conquered under a ‘right of conquest’.Borders essentially became frozen in place and future conquests were made unlawful.
This prohibition was not applied retroactively. Doing so would have thrown the entire world into turmoil since virtually every piece of land has, at some point, been conquered by outside forces — or to use Dr Faruqi’s rhetoric, ‘stolen’.
Since Australia was settled in 1788 — a century and four decades prior to the cut-off point for lawful conquests in 1928 — its territorial legitimacy has never been in doubt. Hence, there are no legal or historical grounds to think of Australia’s founding as land ‘theft’.
As someone who identifies as a Muslim, Dr Faruqi should know of Islamic civilisation’s own territorial conquests far beyond the outskirts of Mecca in the 7th century stretching all the way to Spain in the west and China in the east.
Does she believe the Arabic-speaking Islamic countries that today stretch across North Africa, having conquered and replaced the indigenous Egyptian, Carthaginian, Berber and Nubian civilisations are all ‘stolen lands’? Does she believe that Iran, once home to an indigenous Avestan-speaking Zoroastrian culture, is ‘stolen land’?
There was once an indigenous Hindu civilisation in Dr Faruqi’s own country of origin, Pakistan. Islam was first introduced in the region by Umayyad conqueror Muhammad Bin Qasim in 711. Does she believe that Pakistan is built on ‘stolen land’?
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