The farce post
Sometimes it comes as numb disgust. There is not much more one can feel when this industry betrays itself, when journalism so forgets its purpose and treats a life as a game.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a person of thoughtful integrity. She approaches life from a place of deeply felt humanity. She has given herself to making the world a better place.
This week, she was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph, superimposed over an image of soldiers in trenches. “Two finger salute,” the headline read. “Un-Australian Broadcasting Corporation backs activist who demeans our war heroes.”
The term for a story such as this is “beat-up”. The phrase correctly evokes the violence of it.
In an editorial, the paper wrote that Abdel-Magied should give back money she has earned from her job as a part-time presenter on the ABC. The logic was simple: you be grateful Australia took you in as a migrant, but you be sure you bow and scrape and never speak your mind. “Abdel-Magied repaid Australia’s generosity with toxic scorn,” the paper wrote. “As the rest of the nation commemorated Anzac Day, Abdel-Magied set out to defile Australia’s wartime sacrifices with a vile Facebook slur.”
The hyperbole would be ridiculous if it were not for the fact a person is at the middle of this story, a good person who works to make this a better country. Abdel-Magied had posted on Facebook a brief message, quickly deleted and for which she apologised. It read: “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”
These words are not words of hate or disrespect; they are a call for peace on a day that remembers wars fought to end wars. They are political: war is political.
But the outrage that has flamed now for a week is not about those seven words. It is about identity. It is about a media willing to draw and quarter a person to make a point about dominance. The Murdoch press has a view of what Australia should be, and it is not a place for people like Yassmin.
Abdel-Magied’s crimes are these: that she is a Muslim, that she is a woman, that she is young, and that she is proud.
According to The Australian, she “demonstrates what is wrong with the ABC”. Both George Christensen and Pauline Hanson called on the ABC to sack her. Barnaby Joyce said “further action” should be taken. Eric Abetz called on her to be removed from the Council for Australian-Arab Relations. Peter Dutton called her view a “disgrace”. Tony Abbott questioned her employment. Without irony, he said: “…this idea that Anzac Day should be turned into some kind of crass political stunt is just appalling”.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a 26-year-old woman whose prominence owes to the volunteer work she has done since she was a teenager. She came to Australia as a child and made a life here. She worked diligently, until her voice grew too loud.
In February, Abdel-Magied was the victim of another press campaign against her. At the time, Susan Carland wrote in these pages to defend her. She wrote: “A person’s life is bludgeoned to make a point and the point is this: you can speak, but we will make the consequences so pernicious you will wish you hadn’t. And we will make any who come after you reconsider even opening their mouths.”
It is hard to feel anything but numb disgust, when that is what we do with the instruments of our press. Journalism is too important to be disfigured this way.
Abdel-Magied is strong, self-possessed. The tragedy is that she has to be.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 29, 2017 as "The farce post". Subscribe here.