I’m not going to equivocate about this. In my view Yassmin Abdel-Magied made a serious error of judgement yesterday and her words were in poor taste. Some of the reaction was hyperbolic and confected, but that doesn’t change my opinion of the original post.
I have said in the past I really don’t like seeing significant national events used for political purposes. And just as I have criticised right wing ideologues like Roberts, Leyjonhelm and others, I have to use the same standards when judging the behaviour of left wing activists who at other times I have found myself supporting.
ANZAC Day is an important day to many Australians when they feel greatest connection to those lost in war. Abdel-Magied misjudged that badly and her perceived indifference to the sacrifice of our soldiers and their families caused varying levels of unnecessary offense to many.
I fully expect some heated responses that ANZAC Day is already politicised and that the consequences of war, such as refugees, should very much be part of the conversation on this day. I don’t deny this and wholeheartedly agree that the grim reality of warfare is an important and easily neglected chapter of the ANZAC Day story and some of the best occasional addresses I have heard at dawn services have focused on just this. But if you want to have a serious discussion on such a solemn day, don’t be glib or inflammatory about it. Start the conversation in a respectful tone that is mindful of the fact that many of the people you may be talking to may have lost loved ones in war, and consider whether doing it on the day itself is of any benefit.
Whether or not you think she had a right to make the statement in the way that she did, In this case I would say Abdel-Magied has done a disservice to her cause. Her actions feed a false narrative that those of us who do care about refugees do not care about Australia’s history or the sacrifices of our soldiers. She could easily have alienated many with wavering opinions around refugees, pushing them towards the gleeful right, when a more respectful approach might have had the opposite effect.
So I totally get why there is a level of anger towards Abdel-Magied in wake of her actions.
However, amidst outraged calls for her sacking, this should be kept in context. She was disrespectful and insensitive, but she also acknowledged her mistake by deleting the tweet and apologising for causing offence (unlike the doubling down behaviour we usually see in these type of situations). She wasn’t intentionally fostering hate or being derogatory in the style of Pauline Hanson, nor was she dishonest like our Ogre for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton.
It will also be interesting to see how eager ‘champions of freedom of speech’ such as Bolt and Leyonhjelm are to defend Abdel-Magied. If we look back twelve months, Sonia Kruger made highly offensive (and inaccurate) public statements in her position as a television presenter on air, not on her private social media account. Unlike Abdel-Magied, she did not apologise and received considerable public support for her right to exercise her freedom of speech.
This juxtaposition of what does and doesn’t count as ‘political correctness gone mad’ is a valid comment and criticism of the hypocrites who so proudly champion the rights of racists and homophobes to say what they like, but are quick to howl their outrage at a refugee advocate. However, it is not a defence of Abdel-Magied’s actions, unless one actually accepts these flimsy freedom of speech arguments when they are offered in defence of bigotry- and most of us don’t.
I have written previously, I believe freedom of speech does not protect you from criticism for your words so I feel no personal contradiction in criticising Abdel-Magied, but if you have previously excused or defended bigotry on the grounds of freedom of speech aren’t you being a hypocrite? Similarly, if you support Leyonhjelm’s arguments against section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and his assertion that it is our choice whether we take offense, once again can you hold Abdel-Magied to blame for being ‘offensive’ or did you choose to get offended?
I won’t be signing any petitions to see Abdel-Magied fired (Mark Latham has set the bar pretty high for what it takes for a journalist to get fired) and I would be disappointed (but not surprised) if the ABC did capitulate, but that doesn’t mean I condone her actions. When I was a similar age to this young lady I made a few decisions I am not proud of. I can’t undo that, but I learned from them and deliberately became a better person. Abdel-Magied has already apologised and hopefully she has learned from the experience, as I won’t be forgetting it and neither will many Australians.