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ANZAC Day, Yassmin and Australia's rising xenophobia: Who we are?

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'The recent attacks on Yassmin Abdel-Magied are yet another demonstration that Australia needs to reassess its identity and the value it places on it.'

Australia’s current moves towards more isolationism and greater nationalism is both untenable and corrupt, writes Arrin Chapman.

"Advance Australia where?"

This question has been asked many times with respect to Australia’s relationship with its First Peoples — but it is also pertinent more broadly.

We find ourselves in an increasingly globalised world, where our choices and actions more and more affect people in countries far from our own. There is mass migration of people, both from unstable areas of the world and, in general, towards First World countries such as Australia. Australia’s current move toward greater isolationism and nationalism is untenable in a world where mass migration has become a norm. Moreover, it is a morally corrupt stance that should not be tolerated as it demonstares a lack of empathy toward innocent people caught up in conflicts we are often involved, in either directly or indirectly. The tool most often used to maintain this isolation, as with many nations, is our national narrative. The recent attacks on Yassmin Abdel-Magied are yet another demonstration that Australia needs to reassess its identity and the value it places on it.

Since well before Howard uttered the words that changed the public discourse around asylum seekers and policy to do with them Australia has had a very measured approach to immigration, tied to issues of identity.

It has historically encouraged a largely Anglocentric approach, maintaining it as a little slice of Europe floating at the base of Asia. As Professor Geoffrey Stokes points out, this identity has been crafted since the beginning as a defence against perceived enemies and has largely been successful. Immigration has been measured, whiteness has been maintained and the majority white population generally prospers.

It may be possible to argue that this was a defensible position when it was adopted in the early 1900s, as the new nation began its journey toward what we have today. But even in a pragmatic sense, let alone a moral one, it cannot continue to be maintained. Borders are weakening across the world and an increasingly multicultural world would appear inevitable. While many argue that multiculturalism in Australia has failed and the only way forward is to introduce yet more rigorous integration programs so we can be sure that new immigrants don’t rock the status quo, is this what we need or even possible? Can we really afford to stagnate while the world changes around us?

Historically, isolationism doesn’t last. But is there any other way? Here, Canada is shining a light forward, demonstrating that national narrative is not necessary to the smooth functioning of society. That, in fact, multiculturalism can exist.       

How does this relate to ANZAC Day? ANZAC Day is a cultural artifice of this narrative. One does not have to look very deeply to realise this. Every year, articles such as these are published — a reminder that whilst this is an important commemoration day for most its roots lie in this Anglocentric narrative. Australia Day is the same, an attempt to galvanise the population behind loosely defined ideals. One needs only watch the Prime Minister attempting to defend changes to the citizenship test to see a demonstration of just how tenuous this concept of identity is.

Which brings us to the horrendous attacks on Ms Abdel-Magied, a woman who has invested her own time, both in improving Australia and promoting it positively overseas, and who also happens to be an opinionated brown-skinned Muslim woman. This combination flies in the face of the ingrained narrative of Australia. The reaction to her post demonstrates that, for sections of society, multiculturalism is not only an inconvenience but a very real threat. Australia is proud to have multiculturalism, so long as that multiculturalism doesn’t question the established order of things. To be very clear, national narratives demand an "other", this is inherently what makes them dangerous. They are a tool to push segregation agendas.

This is not to excuse her ill-timing or perhaps poor transmission of ideas. Even though her position is valid, it, perhaps, could have been done with more tactfully. But it needs to be remembered that there is precedent for acts of protest on this day.

Since 2012, there have been Frontier Wars marches, in 2015 Scott McIntyre was stood down from SBS after comments he made on social media about ANZAC Day and, this year, on the same day as Abdel-Magied, Sydney University lecturer Tim Anderson accused Australian soldiers of committing murder. Of these, the only one that has made nearly as many waves is McIntyre. However, comparing his comments to the seven words of Abdel-Magied, the reactions are massively disproportionate. Added to the fact that she almost immediately apologised and McIntrye doubled down on his comments the very next year, one starts to wonder what is truly driving this reaction to her words.

It sends a very clear signal about who is allowed to comment on this narrative and how they are allowed to do it. It is incredibly hard to see this as anything but an attempt to maintain an Anglocentric narrative about a perceived enemy.

This war of cultural retention is one that is playing out across the globe with many countries choosing the route of isolationism. But this is not the 1900s anymore. We are not isolated colonies protecting ourselves from distant enemies. This is 2017 and we live in a world where mass migration is, not only possible, but a reality and multiculturalism a forgone conclusion.

Building walls and offshore prisons is as unrealistic as it is morally indefensible. Perhaps it is time that we shed our colonial narrative, stopped using identity as a weapon and followed Canada into the future.

You can follow Arrin Chapman on Twitter @ArrinChapman.

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