Hysteria over Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s Anzac Day post cannot be separated from racism

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Yassmin Abdel-Magied made headlines in almost every publication in Australia yesterday, over a relatively innocuous Anzac Day post on Facebook. By the time the post made the news, she had already deleted it and apologised.

Despite this, the online rage continues to escalate.


Yassmin’s Anzac statement ‘idiotic’

ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied is labelled “un-Australian” and “insensitive” for using Anzac Day to highlight the plight of refugees. Sunrise

It’s impossible to separate reactions to Yassmin’s post from her public identity as a young woman of colour, a Muslim, and the combination of those selves in a person who passionately defends Islam when we are indoctrinated to fear and hate it above all else. And it would be naive to the point of delusional to think this plays no part in the weight of the rage that has settled upon her.

Many of Yassmin’s critics are using the excuse of her post’s timing to justify their rage, but it’s not unusual for Anzac Day to be a source of controversy and protest.

Nationalism and glorification of war crashes up against the genuine grief for lives lost, and the solemn memory of the broken bodies of young Australia men scattered across the battlefields of Europe. Feelings run high on both sides and public clashes over the politics are standard social media fare every 25th of April.

Scott McIntyre was sacked by SBS in 2015 after a series of tweets in which he described the Anzac campaign as “cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign nation that Australia had no quarrel with”, Anzac supporters as “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers” and actions committed by the Anzacs themselves as “summary execution, widespread rape and theft”. He refused to retract the tweets and was fired for breaching SBS’s social media policy. His case of unfair dismissal has since been settled.

Yassmin’s Facebook post was, by these standards, mild. She didn’t criticise Australian soldiers or comment on the politics of wars Australia has fought. There was no disparagement of the people who remember Gallipoli with pride and sadness, nor did she make a long or public statement about the morality of wars we are currently fighting.

She simply asked that we remember, in addition to past lives lost, the people fleeing, dying and lost in wars being fought today. And she’s hardly the only person to have done so.

Andrew P Street is a well-known columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald; he commonly critiques government and right wing commentators. The post above, far stronger than Yassmin’s, linked to an article he wrote for one of Australia’s most read news sites, in which he described Gallipoli as a “humiliating defeat”, and made a direct link between Anzac Day and a need to examine the pointlessness and politics of war. He did this with specific reference to Syria and the build-up of nuclear rhetoric in the current US administration.

Other than a few irritable comments on Twitter, there was no backlash to this post or the attached article. Street hasn’t been threatened with violence, no one has demanded he be summarily fired or deported, he has not been exhorted dozens of times to kill himself, and not one article appeared to question his integrity as an Australia or his moral failing as a commentator.

Street, however, is a straight, white man in Australia, so making a political statement is something he’s deemed within his rights to do.

And he is certainly not the only left leaning commentator to critique the politics of Anzac Day. Jeff Sparrow’s 2012 article for Overland on the politics of Anzac Day is still shared every year, and rarely are there calls for his deportation or dismissal. Stan Grant wrote an article yesterday for the ABC about the horrors and racism experienced by Aboriginal soldiers in WWI. Grant is Aboriginal, but in drawing attention to an issue that is ignored by the Anzac Day establishment, even he was not subjected to the entrenched national viciousness that Yassmin received.

Yassmin is a woman, she is young, she is black and she is proudly Muslim. She dresses gloriously in the style of her cultural background and speaks passionately about her understanding of a religion we are constantly inculcated to fear and loathe. Merely existing in the world, for her, is a political act. Having a public platform and using it to talk about her experiences and knowledge is not just political, it is exhaustingly dangerous.

Any women in the public eye risks backlash simply by being female, as does any person of colour, and anyone identifying as Muslim. Yassmin is outspoken in the combination of those crosshairs; and adds youth, beauty and association with the national broadcaster to her pile of perceived sins.

She hits every hot button of ideology and it is abhorrent, but sadly unsurprising, that her every action is scrutinised by the right-wing conservatives whose message of exclusion is most threatened by the identity she proudly carries into the public eye.

The lynch mob tactics of conservative press and politics, centred on identity rather than ideas, was on perfect display yesterday. The pile of articles and commentary reached out to a national audience and demanded instant and vicious retribution against a 26-year-old woman who dared suggest that all deaths in war are worthy of remembrance.

Repudiating the politicisation of Anzac Day (as if war is not always political) while ignoring the politics of the lynch mob attack on a young, black, Muslim woman could almost have looked satirical, if it had not been so deeply venomous.

Many thousands of comments appeared on Yassmin’s Facebook page overnight, the overwhelming majority of them complaining about her “disrespect” and lauding “Australian values”.

This is just a tiny sample of the respect and value given a young Australian woman who dared to voice an opinion. And these aren’t even the ones with swear words. 

Yassmin will almost certainly have the courage to maintain her public presence – she is, after all, a woman of remarkable strength. But it shouldn’t require so very much strength and courage to occupy a space in public life without the protections of white, Christian maleness.

Surely the groundswell of enraged hatred in response to one young woman’s opinion is far more of a disgrace than asking Australia to recognise the value of all lives lost to war. 



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