It’s been three days since Yassmin Abdel Magied had the audacity to type seven words on Facebook: “Lest We Forget (Manus. Nauru. Syria. Palestine).” Seven words. On Facebook.
As a result, she has been slammed on the front page of tabloids, accused of being unAustralian, called a disgrace by possibly the most disgraceful man in the country and is the target of a campaign to get her sacked.
What Yassmin wrote on Facebook – a call to remember the many, many victims of wars that we participated in, and the thousands of those who we then punish in gulags offshore – is hardly the most shocking thing anyone’s ever done on ANZAC Day. But the backlash has been chilling.
In 1983 hundreds of women dressed in black, sang the Judy Small song, ‘it’s not only men in uniform who pay the price of war’ and sat in the middle of George Street in silence mourning the rape of women in war. Over 150 were arrested.
For the last five years Aboriginal people have marched behind the official ANZAC Day march drawing attention to the Frontier Wars which saw thousands of Aboriginal people massacred and ongoing inequality and injustice.
And over the years there have always been a handful of individuals or small groups who use ANZAC Day as a platform to advocate for peace, or against war.
Even people who like ANZAC Day are engaged in the politics of it. It’s a political day. Whether you think it’s about national identity, or the futility of war, or the godawful horrors politicians did – and still do – send young people into; or whether you believe it’s a belated but important victory that Indigenous veterans have finally lead the ANZAC march, or whether ANZAC Day is another sour reminder that the Australian government was prepared to send Indigenous men off to die before it was prepared to grant them even basic rights; or whether you think it’s just a day for a bloody barbeque and everyone should shut up about the ANZAC legend; whatever you think about ANZAC Day it is an incredibly political day.
In this context, the unrelenting barrage of abuse that has been pelted at Yassmin, the fact that members of government have joined in on this deranged baying for blood, and the failure of anyone to do their bloody job to represent the Australian people and put LNP George Christianson back in his box after he called for Yassmin to consider “self-deportation” (not a real thing, George) is both unhinged and seriously concerning.
The treatment of Yassmin should be ringing alarm bells for anyone who wants to challenge the status quo. The crime of challenging institutionalised nationalism, violence and collective identity is apparently particularly egregious if done while Muslim.
All of us should be concerned with this government’s obsession with silencing dissent and its nasty habit of meeting disagreement with threats. If you’re a journalist reporting on national security matters your threat for publishing information the government doesn’t want you to is a prison sentence of ten years. If you’re a doctor or social workers or a teacher working on Manus Island or Nauru and bear witness to the mistreatment and abuse of some of the government’s most vulnerable victims, your threat is being thrown in prison for two years for speaking out.
Yassmin Abdel Magied is being torn to shreds and threatened by some of the most powerful people in the country because she is a young Muslim woman who challenged a pillar of Australia’s precarious national identity. The fact that the government, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop (who is being called on to see her sacked) refuse to stand up and condemn these attacks, despite their purported belief in freedom of speech, is further evidence not only for their disdain of certain ‘types’ of Australians, but their disdain for anyone who disagrees with them.