Wednesday, September 26, 2018

CRIKEY: Is small-minded bigotry how we honour the Diggers? Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s tsunami in a teacup


This concocted mass debate, like those before it and those to come, shows that we, as a nation, have no bloody idea about our values.





Late on the night of Anzac Day 2015, Malcolm Turnbull (then communications minister) contacted the head of SBS to complain about five tweets sent by a sports reporter that allegedly showed grave disrespect to those commemorating the sacrifices and memory of the Diggers.

The tweets referred to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mention was also made of Diggers engaging in rape, torture, summary killings and theft in such far-flung places as the Middle East and east Asia. No Diggers were consulted when Scott McIntyre, the journalist in question, was sacked the following day. Nor were any academic historians, such as Professor Phillip Dwyer of the University of Newcastle.

McIntyre brought an unfair dismissal claim against SBS, which was eventually settled following a hearing in the Federal Court. McIntyre used his SBS Twitter account to send the allegedly offensive tweets. That isn’t the case with the latest “controversy” surrounding Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

If you were to rely merely on the headlines and the remarks of a Tasmanian Liberal senator related to a Nazi war criminal, you would think Abdel-Magied had issued a series of tweets from an ABC account describing the Diggers as rapists and murderers. Well, not quite. Here are her words:
LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)
The “unfortunate and disrespectful … cheap political point scoring” can be found between the brackets. The words first appeared on Abdel-Magied’s Facebook page and were subsequently removed and an apology issued.

Storm in a teacup? More like a tsunami in a teacup, if you ask me. All the major newspapers and media outlets jumped on the story, including Fairfax and The Australian, whose report began predictably with “Muslim activist …”. The Daily Telegraph described her as someone
... who labels herself ‘first and foremost … Muslim’.
Gosh, what else was Yassmin hiding among those three dots?

According to The Oz, Abdel-Magied issued the apology
... as people began to complain she had hijacked the Anzac memory for political and religious reasons.
Apparently, personal and racist abuse and calling upon someone to leave the country is a form of legitimate complaint. Which makes sense, really, as the 1130-plus moderated comments to The Oz story included this gem of complaint:
If she continues her Islamic ABC style left – wing rubbish then suggest she go back to an Islamic middle East blood bath ! Sharia law has NO place within Australian democratic society !
And this:
It seems to me that this woman doesn’t like the culture that was in Australia when she arrived from another whose culture she also didn’t like, hence, she’s here. Personally, I think she should go back to from whence she came. Maybe her whingeing would be of more effect in her old country.
And this:
For someone who arrived her as a two year old, people have a classic example of Islam at its best. Indoctrination is the order of the day Australians should be afraid, very afraid.
Other comments spoke of Abdel-Magied’s status as a member of a minority
YOU ARE A MINORITY, AND NEVER FORGET IT. IF YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU AND YOUR MUSLIM BROTHER/SISTERHOOD WILL TAKE OVER THE LAWS OF THIS COUNTRY ANY TIME IN THE FUTURE …
and why her kind should go back to wherever. The pollies will deny it, but we all know they see such sentiments as those of a key demographic.

It would be nice to dwell on the offensive, bracketed words except that there are just too few words to analyse. I will note in passing that Palestine isn’t exactly an Islamic issue. Israel’s nasty wall passes through numerous Christian settlements, among them the birthplace of Jesus. As for Syria, there are Syrian Muslims who support the Assad regime and Syrian Christians who oppose it. And vice versa. 

This concocted mass debate, like those before it and those to come (Newspoll-permitting), shows that we, as a nation, have no bloody idea about our values. Indeed, those who beat their chests the most tend to know the least. The irony of the most nationalistic papers is that they are almost exclusively owned by a man who gave up his Australian citizenship to become an American. Did he, by doing so, increase the average IQ of both our respective nations? Who knows?

I’ve heard stories about Diggers at Gallipoli who refused to shoot at Turkish troops engaged in nemaz (ritual prayer). Perhaps relatives of these Turks are now settled in Australia. Would it be an insult to the memory of our Diggers to suggest we can learn from them something of how to respect other people’s religious cultures? Or must small-mindedness, bigotry and stupidity be the only way to honour our war dead?

First published in Crikey on 26 April 2017


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