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Yassmin Abdel-Magied (image via Wikimedia Commons).

By vilifying Abdel-Magied, conservative white Australia was making a point for the benefit of migrants and people of colour, writes Masrur Joarder.

EVEN THOUGH it has been 12 months since Muslim activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied posted the now infamous words, 'Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)' on social media, she continues to be hunted to this day by the Australian mainstream media, politicians and others for stepping out of line.

Abdel-Magied has stated publicly in a Teen Vogue op-ed that she intended to encourage “inclusive empathy” instead of disrespecting the diggers, as she was accused of doing, but her social media pages continue to be flooded with comments describing her as being everything from a “pus-filled anal wart” to “useless dog shit”.

The purpose of the abuse is not to simply express how her critics feel about Yassmin and her seven-word post, it exists to make a much broader point. The abuse towards Abdel-Magied continues to make a point to immigrants and to people of colour in Australia. It seeks to make a point to people like me.

Abdel-Magied’s critics have made her an example to other immigrants, to show what would happen to them if they too were to cross the line. A line which represents the standard of conduct expected from us. A standard which has always been much higher than what is expected from the rest of the populace.

The fact that 90,000 words of mostly negative coverage about Abdel-Magied’s post have been written by major publications was a warning to us to stay quiet but most importantly, to remain grateful. As immigrants, we are expected to be nothing but grateful for the rights and privileges afforded to us by this country. Most of us are and most of us express this by entering the workforce and contributing to the wealth of Australia, in addition to adopting its customs and traditions. We integrate.

Shaping a Nation: Population growth and immigration over time, published by the Treasury and Department of Home Affairs, has indicated that from 2020 to 2050, Australia’s current migration program will add up to one per cent to the annual GDP growth due to skilled migrants. The report has indicated that the majority of skilled migrants are neither living off welfare nor stealing jobs, as is commonly believed.

Nonetheless, the reaction from mainstream media to Abdel-Magied’s post proved how this is still not enough for us to have the right to critique. Regardless of how much migrants contribute to the success and flourishing of Australia, the right to speak out and criticise the way it functions seems like a right we simply do not have.

Abdel-Magied was valedictorian of her class, founded a youth organisation at age 16, was appointed to the council for Australian-Arab relations, was a successful television presenter and was even named Young Queenslander of the Year in 2010 and 2015. She was, for all intents and purposes, the “model minority” — she seemed to do everything right. The fact that even someone like Abdel-Magied received the volume of vile abuse she did when she chose to exercise her right to free speech, shows just how difficult it is for other immigrants to speak out.

“Inclusive empathy” also led SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre to write a series of controversial tweets about the Anzacs in 2015.

In one tweet he wrote,

'Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these "brave" Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.'

This sentiment is undoubtedly more offensive to the Anzacs than Abdel-Magied’s post. However, although he was sacked from his job, McIntyre received nowhere near the amount of abuse Yassmin did. He was not referred to as being “full of shit” or a “bitch” on live television and no-one told him to “move to an Arab dictatorship”, or that they would be tempted to run him over. The same cannot be said about Yassmin’s experience.

Unfortunately, a double standard exists. McIntyre was never subjected to the same abuse as Abdel-Magied simply because his allegiance to and love for Australia were never in question. An immigrant’s or a person of colour’s sense of belonging in this country is always up for debate, regardless of how much they have proven themselves as being "worthy" Australians. 

Regardless of how one may feel about Abdel-Magied and her seven words, it is important to recognise that the hate and media circus it generated was always part of a much bigger problem. Conservative, white Australia was making a point, using Abdel-Magied as a scapegoat to do so. It showed the ethnic community that, despite what you have done, your legitimacy as an Australian will be questioned the moment you step out of line. Your humanity and worthiness will be questioned.

Lest we forget that.

Masrur Joarder is a Muslim student from Sydney. You can follow Masrur on Twitter @masrur_writer.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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