Yassmin Abdel-Magied Anzac comments

It should be clear by now that The Australian‘s latest attempt to destroy the career of Yassmin Abdel-Magied has gone over the top, as unwisely as the Anzacs did. The brutal chase began with a seven-word Facebook post by Abdel-Magied: “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)”. The comment was a passing one, and an act of free speech, by someone who is an ABC youf presenter, among other duties. The Australian and the rest of News Corp went her. The management of ABC conspicuously failed to step in and point out that presenters who aren’t doing Lateline etc, should have some leeway for passing comments. Lacking that visible support, and presumably getting the opposite in private, Abdel-Magied deleted the parenthesised words on her post.

That’s when things started to get really strange and nasty — presumably because Abdel-Magied had made a tactical withdrawal, depriving the hounds of prey. For of course Abdel-Magied didn’t say anything about the Anzacs per se, positive or negative. She simply suggested that other people suffered and should not be forgotten. The suggestion that this is, a) a terrible thing for anyone to say, and b) a sackable offence for an ABC broadcaster, is so stupid that it demeans us all to have to even broach it. But we’re at that moment when stating the most basic truths is the most urgent duty, against a push that has become clownish and sinister at the same time.

To put it bluntly: demanding that there be a fixed view of a national military historical event, and that it amount to nothing but uncritical veneration, is totalitarian in its impulse, and has a whiff of fascism about it. This absurd reconstruction of Anzac Day that has occurred over the past decade or so has multiple purposes: the desperate search for a confected national solidarity, a substitute for Australia Day, and as a white-skin rallying point for the right.

It’s absurd and everyone knows it, and in pursuing that absurdity, the right (with exceptions, which I’ll come to) shows its contempt for any notion of free speech, or the genuinely pluralist society that is required to underpin it. Unsurprisingly, both the bullying of Abdel-Magied, and the establishment of some defined and unquestionable set of ‘Australian values’, and state-ordained view of a historical event, gains not a peep of protest from the IPA and other sinkholes of “ferrdom!”.

The “ferrdom!” brigade do not appear to have realised — or perhaps do not care — that any attempt to enforce a set of “national values” around Anzac, has, as its by-product, a reinforcement of the idea that the state could and should be co-opted into doing so. Reinforce “Australian values” around Anzac, and as a consequence you reinforce the cultural legitimacy underpinning 18C: the notion that the state can guard “Australianness” in its current anti-racist self-conception.

How do they miss that very obvious point? Because they (and the cultural left, for that matter) are still fighting the culture wars of the post-’60s era, in which Anzac Day and cosmopolitan, multicultural life were seen as opposed. They no longer are. One gets the other; 18C becomes what the Anzacs fought for, shared meanings enforced by the state, whether through tribunals or sacking people from public broadcasting jobs. With the exception of Helen Dale, who made some of the above points in a piece in the Tele this week, no one from that direction seems to have noticed. Or, as one now suspects, cares. The persistence of Australian cultural statism allows the right to pose as perpetual outsiders — usually in their public university jobs, where they rail against “big government”.

Their acquiescence in the very sinister idea that one should be required to venerate a war of futile waste shows how degraded they have become, and how ready they are to abandon liberal principles for the politics of simple reaction. Strange (not-strange) how so many cowards flock like moths to the eternal flame.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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