When Yassmin Abdel-Magied posted seven simple words on her Facebook page on April 25, she can’t possibly have predicted the furious, frenzied storm of hatred that was about to come her way. In case you’ve been living under a rock (and if so, do you have some room for me to join you?), Abdel-Magied wrote the following:
“Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine.)”
Unfortunately for Yassmin, others don’t consider Anzac Day (that special day on the Australian calendar where our citizens manage to combine the solemn observance of a nation’s sacrifice with getting rat-arsed at the pub and pissing in doorways) to be an appropriate time to ‘get political’ and discuss the conflicts continuing today that have killed or displaced millions of people.
Abdel-Magied very quickly edited the second part of her post out and offered a genuine apology for causing offence to those people who consider Anzac Day an untouchable occasion. Despite this, a veritable storm of abuse has been meted out against her in the days since that brings this entire country into disrepute. She has been hounded by the public, thousands of whom have subjected her to the most vicious of insults and threats. Conservative politicians have sought to make an example of her, presumably because there’s no better way to shore up support for your party than by reassuring Australia’s most virulent racists that you’re on their side when it comes to the migrants.
A guest on Sky News (The Real Housewives of Sydney’s Lisa Oldfield, proving how desperate Paul Murray is for ‘talent’) referred to her on live television as a “bitch”. Her husband, David Oldfield (one of the founders of One Nation), used his Twitter account to call her a “bint”, the Arab word for woman that was long ago appropriated by the English as a derogatory term.
All over Abdel-Magied’s public Facebook page and the rest of the internet, you can read comments telling her she ought to be stoned in the street, that she should be deported, that she is an “Islamic piece of shit” who should be “beaten and sodomised”, that she should jump off a bridge, kill herself, that she is an “ugly dog” who should “get ready to be unemployed”, that she is an “Islamic extremist”, that she supports the mutilation of little girls, and that, above all, if she doesn’t like it here in the land of freedom then she can f–k off.
All that, for a seven word Facebook reflection that acknowledged the ongoing impact of war on a national day of remembrance. How un-Australian.
Jane Gilmore has already written astutely on the racism and misogyny underpinning the vicious attacks on Abdel-Magied, and there is no doubt these two things have been leading the charge. Disagreement is one thing, but the repeated references to Abdel-Magied’s religion combined with the specifically gendered threats of violence that women are subjected to in ways men aren’t mean there’s something more indulgent going on here. Who wants to pass up an opportunity to use their most visceral insults about women and/or people of colour? Not Australia’s patriots, that’s for sure.
This is the curious thing that I keep returning to in battles between the left and right sides of politics. In all the vitriolic responses to Abdel-Magied, a clear theme emerges – go back to where you came from and just see how well you like it there, you ungrateful bitch. It doesn’t matter that Abdel-Magied has done everything required of migrants to prove her commitment to Australia, achieving success in the fields of education, the workplace and community service. Like all migrants, she might love Australia – but Australia is only willing to love her back if she plays by their rules. Show gratitude. Be humble. And never forget how lucky you are that we aren’t like Those Other People.
I have often theorised that the most vehement of the west’s racists and misogynists enjoy pointing to the treatment of women in various parts of the Middle East not so much as a comparison but as a threat. They seem to be suggesting that women in their own countries are enjoying a conditional benevolence that could be withdrawn at any time. Certainly, many of them appear to enjoy discussing the finer details of brutality that are meted out to women in regions where misogyny has been legislated more crudely and forcefully than in those places careful to keep it hidden. I have entire folders full of emails from white Australian men describing in precise detail what they think ought to be done to me to put me in my place and what in fact would be done to me if we weren’t so civilised in this country. Still. Watch your back, bitch.
I have no doubt that there are people in this country who would quite happily line up to watch women like Abdel-Magied dragged into the street to be stripped, whipped and stoned to death as both a punishment for blaspheming against the nation’s myth building and a warning for anyone else thinking about doing it themselves.
It’s hypocrisy at its finest to pretend that half of the people baying for Abdel-Magied’s blood aren’t experiencing an almost euphoric rapture at being given the green light to wield their bigotry freely and without fear of censure. These are the people who consider the term ‘political correctness gone mad’ to be a legitimate response to anything that codifies kindness and inclusivity rather than hostility and oppression. They are the ones who’ll spit poisonous, violent invective at women in the same breath as angrily declaring Islam to be fundamentally misogynistic. They celebrate free speech when it suits them and tell you to shut your fat, ugly, f–king mouth when it doesn’t.
I have entire folders full of emails from white Australian men describing in precise detail what they think ought to be done to me to put me in my place.
Bizarrely, many of these online haters are now calling for the deportation of a woman because she exercised the right to free speech that they claim Australia’s veterans fought and died for. And while not all of them would turn up to watch her publicly flogged for what they see as her thought crime against the state, there are still people here who would consider it a good and just day out. The truth is that the public have always loved a public execution.
But whether you agree with Abdel-Magied or not, the reaction has been entirely disproportionate and embarrassingly parochial. A friend of mine referred to it as ‘patriotic correctness’, and I thought that was an apt description. We are at the point in history where a national day of remembrance for fallen soldiers is not just considered the wrong time and place to bring up discussion about the ongoing trauma and impact of war, but where the people who attempt to do so are a whisker short of being hung, drawn and quartered on the street. This is not honouring the sacrifice of people who supposedly died so we may live in a free nation.
I keep hearing that the Anzac soldiers sacrificed their lives so that we could enjoy freedoms that are denied in other countries all over the world. If this is true, the response to Abdel-Magied wouldn’t be so gleefully descriptive of the ways in which she should be comprehensively punished for daring to challenge Australia’s own myth about itself. There are words for regimes that impose such restrictions on thought, and I was under the impression we had sent thousands of military personnel into battle over the last century to oppose such totalitarianism.
Lest we forget.