Given the robust discussion which has blown up in the comments section to my last post, and the requests for my opinion (as if I need a request before I give my opinion on something) I thought it would be best to set out my thoughts on Yassmin Abdel-Magied in a separate post.
That will free up space in the last post for comments about my gamebook equipment selection.
On April 25, 2017, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a private Australian citizen, made a seven word post on her personal Facebook page. The post said :
“LEST.WE.FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”
For those of non-Australian background, Manus and Nauru are two Pacific Islands which contain detention centres where people who have arrived at Australia by boat seeking refugee status are imprisoned. This imprisonment is pursuant to a policy of the Australian government which has both passionate advocates and opponents.
The references to Syria and Palestine are, I think, self-explanatory.
Ms Abdel-Magied received significant criticism for this post and, literally hours later, removed the last four words from the post and posted an apology which read thus :
“It was brought to my attention that my last post was disrespectful, and for that, I apologise unreservedly.”
The above are facts which I don’t think could fairly be disputed in any way.
Hardly a massive news story, right?
Alright, everything from here on is opinion.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect storm of easy targets for the Australian right-wing media and politicians. Ms Abdel-Magied is :
- An immigrant (she arrived in Australia with her family at the age of two).
- Born in the country of Sudan, at a time when Sudanese immigrants have been a particular target of tabloid vitriol.
- A woman
- A person of colour.
- Among other roles, is a part-time employee of the ABC, the government-funded television station.
The NewsCorp family of newspapers, controlled by Rupert Murdoch (of Fox News infamy) WENT NUTS.
This brief comment was, apparently, FRONT PAGE NEWS as being the ULTIMATE INSULT.
A search of Ms Abdel-Magied’s name at the Daily Telegraph page (but covering the stable of papers gives 133,000 results. Admittedly, some of those are historical but…..wow.
Members of the conservative government, almost drooling at this easy target, have variously called for the ABC (which is EXTREMELY unpopular with the government, since the easy ride enjoyed from right-wing commercial television is SLIGHTLY less easy on the ABC) to have its funding cut, for Ms Abde-Magied to be fired from her role on various advisory boards and television roles and for other forms of public censure.
Less restrained commenters and Facebook and Twitter have demanded that she be deported, fired, fined, publicly shamed, and, of course, raped and killed.
Let’s talk about ‘freedom of speech’.
Freedom of speech, as traditionally understood, does NOT mean ‘freedom from criticism’. It does NOT mean that you can scream abuse at someone while working at expect to keep your job. It does NOT mean, using the cliched legal standard, that you can ‘yell “fire” in a crowded theater’. It does NOT mean that you are free from sanctions under such legal torts as libel and slander.
It DOES mean that you should never suffer government sanction for saying something the government doesn’t agree with. It DOES mean that expressing a political view should not mean you lose your employment simply because your employer holds a different political view. It DOES mean that expressing a minority view does not lessen the potential validity of that view.
Was it reasonable that the original post was subject to criticism?
Was it reasonable that the original post, clearly referencing refugees resulting from wars, was a valid way of acknowledging Anzac Day, a day for remembering and considering victims of war?
Was the reaction to this post disproportionate?
Was much of the over-reaction driven by the identity and background of the speaker?
Aside : On this point, it is impossible for anyone to rationally deny the racist and sexist component of the criticism.
This article points out the previous contradictory opinions of conservatives on speech which they agreed with, and the comparative lack of outrage over such things as Anzac Day (I kid you not) wet T-shirt contests.
With regard to Ms Abdel-Magied personally, the idea that she is some ignorant buffoon, coasting on sweet, sweet taxpayer welfare, is just absurd. This is a woman who, at age 26, was school vice-captain, first in her class, has received an Engineering Degree with First Class Honours, and has worked as an engineer, on the board of the Queensland Museum and has published a memoir. I’ll tell you one thing – she works harder than most of the Members of Parliament criticising her.
Am I building up to a particular conclusion? Not especially. Although a private citizen, Ms Abdel-Magied is a public figure, and as a published author and television presenter, must be aware that her public statements are open to praise and criticism as people see fit.
Having said that, the abuse which has been hurled in the last couple of days has been bewildering and vile. The anonymity afforded by a keyboard certainly serves to give a certain type of person the perceived license to abuse and threaten others, when in person they were alternate between being terrified and sycophantic.
I also think the collectively encouraged ‘groupthink’ about Anzac Day and soldiers is unhelpful and dangerous. War is hell, and should always be a last resort. The glorification of the military mindset has, ironically, increased as the number of war veterans is reduced. The whole supposed ‘zinger’ of ‘soldiers fought for the freedom for you to say stupid things’ isn’t helpful, and comprises a logical fallacy.
As I close, I remember A.B. Facey’s extraordinary memoir, A Fortunate Life, where he, on returning wounded from World War I, says [paraphrased] :
“Many criticised the men who didn’t go to the war, but none of us [veterans] did. We thought they had brains.”
Finally, you know what my parents tried to teach me?
“If you can’t say something positive about someone, maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all.”
Words to live by.
Screw that guy.