Yassmin Abdel-Magied should be roundly criticised for her ANZAC day comments, but demanding she be sacked only feeds the culture of intolerance that’s destroying free speech around the western world.
Abdel-Magied is again the subject of controversy, this time for an insensitive and politically moronic comment on Twitter. The ABC’s go-to diversity spokesperson, who last year toured the Middle East on the government’s dime, chose ANZAC day to tweet the message: “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”
The now deleted comment landed Abdel-Magied on the front cover of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, and has been widely condemned by political and community leaders across the country, ranging from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to prominent Lebanese Muslim community leader and Australia Day ambassador, Jamal Rifi.
This backlash is hardly surprising. Anyone involved in the public debate should expect to be held accountable for the statements they make, and this is doubly the case for anyone in a taxpayer-funded position.
However, some politicians and commentators, not satisfied with widespread criticism, are calling for Abdel-Magied to be sacked from her part-time role as a presenter on ABC’s Australia Wide program.
Leading the charge, Nationals’ MP George Christiansen responded to the comments with: “Yasmin [sic] should no longer on the public broadcaster’s tax-funded payroll.” This sentiment was echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who said the ABC “can’t just sweep it under the carpet,” while on Sky News’ The Bolt Report former ALP powerbroker Graham Richardson declared “the ABC must do something about this.” A similarly outraged Pauline Hanson said Australians would “Never forgive” and “Never forget” Abdel-Magied’s comments, before complaining that the ABC was too scared to sack her.
Her sacking would be seen as a victory by many Australians. Already more than 38 thousand people have signed an online petition demanding just that.
But all this would do is feed the same culture of intolerance that’s destroying freedom of speech across the western world.
It’s this culture of that the regressive left uses to enforce rigid compliance with their ever-expanding political dogma. In some cases, they use laws like 18C to silence views they dislike. But more often they use online lynch mobs to harass and intimidate people into silence.
In the United States, this tactic was used to force former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich to resign, after it people found out he opposes gay marriage. More recently increasingly angry college students have forced dozens of speakers — ranging from left wing comedians like Bill Maher to conservatives like Ann Coulter — to be disinvited or hounded off college campuses for their supposedly heretical views. In the United Kingdom, a similar tactic of “no-platforming” has gradually spread to the point that even renowned feminist author Germaine Greer has been targeted and labelled a “transphobe” for daring to suggest trans-women might not be real women.
In Australia, this intolerance of dissent is evident in the argument over the gay marriage plebiscite, which critics successfully argued would be too dangerous hold. It’s also evident in the recent banning of a documentary, The Red Pill, at the University of Sydney. According to the student union, screening to film “has the capacity to intimidate and physically threaten women on campus.” This was because the film dared to discuss gender equality from a men’s rights perspective without blaming the patriarchy.
In most cases, this quashing of dissent isn’t about the individual being targeted. It’s about sending a message so that other people are intimidated into silence; and it’s about preventing dissenting views from being heard, lest they slow the creeping march towards whichever dystopia we’re blindly being led towards.
The people demanding Abdel-Magied’s sacking are acting on the same impulse. And it can only backfire.
You can’t fight the regressive left’s culture of intolerance by adopting the same tactics and attempting to enforce a different ideological dogma. It’s like attempting to out-protest the socialist groups whose small band of comrades regularly gather in the hope that the worker’s revolution will finally arrive. They are far more intolerant of dissent and far more committed to enforcing conformity than anyone who entertains doubt or scepticism.
The only effective way to oppose them is to revive a culture of free speech so that debate and dissent are normal.
To be clear, this does not mean Abdel-Magied, or anyone else who makes an inflammatory remark, should be free from criticism — it certainly doesn’t mean they should be celebrated, as one column in The Age suggested. If any employer thinks their employee’s actions reflect badly on them, they can act as they see fit and as the law allows. But loudly demanding the end of someone’s employment only provides ammunition to opponents of free speech who jump at the opportunity denounce hypocrisy.
Even with a taxpayer-funded employer like the ABC, demanding heads roll just isn’t worth the cost. Not when the individual is so insignificant.
Thankfully, several political commentators on the conservative side of politics are more than just opportunistic defenders of free speech. Janet Albrechtsen, Gerard Henderson, Rita Panahi, and Alan Jones all rightly criticised Abdel-Magied while maintaining people shouldn’t be sacked for inflammatory or idiotic remarks made on social media.
As Alan Jones put it on Seven Network’s Sunrise program: “Look, the women is silly, she’s insensitive, she’s inexperienced… But in this country, thankfully, there’s no law against any of those things… She’s lost credibility. She can continue on in her job but no one will take any notice of her.”
Isn’t that more than enough? Abdel-Magied was hardly a highly-respected public intellectual before this incident. The hit to what was left of her credibility is an appropriate consequence for her statement, so they’re really no need to call for her sacking. All it does is feed the culture of intolerance and undermines the case for free speech.
Patrick Hannaford is a Melbourne-based writer. Follow him @PatHannaford
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