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Freedom Of Speech Is A White Man's Privilege

Yassmin’s concerns for Manus, Nauru, Syria and Palestine are futile.

28/04/2017 10:15 AM AEST | Updated 28/04/2017 10:15 AM AEST
NurPhoto via Getty Images
The silencing of Yassmin Abdel-Magied began a long time ago.

When Muslim activist and ABC television presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied posted "LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine...)" on Facebook on Tuesday, her lack of sensitivity towards Anzac Day certainly raised eyebrows from her followers, but it was the reaction from the right which was most shocking.

Multiple petitions, with tens of thousands of signatures, called on the ABC to fire her from her presenting role. She was labelled a "bitch" by one of Sydney's most prominent housewives, inciting laughter from Paul Murray on live television. In regards to her comments, the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: "You can't just sweep it under the carpet." Waves of racist, sexist, Islamophobic attacks came her way because she dared to exercise her freedom of speech. She dared to even utter a reference to Anzac Day, an almost religious occasion for most Australians. People lost their damn minds.

Abdel-Magied threatens every conservative Australian who may have reservations about Islam and Muslims because she is willing to engage in discussion and reveal the truth: that Islam advocates for peace and the majority of Muslims want exactly that.

Abdel-Magied is a brown, Muslim woman. Her opinion does not matter. Her right to free speech does not count. Regardless of her values, intellect and demeanour, Abdel-Magied needs to be silenced at all costs because she is a threat.

Abdel-Magied threatens every conservative Australian who may have reservations about Islam and Muslims because she is willing to engage in discussion and reveal the truth: that Islam advocates for peace and the majority of Muslims want exactly that. The truth is threatening as it limits an individual's ability to conceal their racism behind a pretence of national security and 'Australian values'.

It does not matter exactly what she says, the fact that prime-time television provides a platform for Muslim individuals such as Abdel-Magied and Waleed Aly to share their views concerns a lot of Australians. The hate they receive is not due to what they say. It is due to who they are. However, her silencing did not begin after she posted her Anzac Day comment, nor after her declaration that Islam to her is "the most feminist religion" in on 'Q&A' February.

These incidents have proven that speech is a freedom given to the few privileged people who already control the narrative.

The silencing of Abdel-Magied and other Muslim Australians began when conversations relating to Islam or Muslims in any way were being led by totally irrelevant people. A former co-host of Dancing with the Stars does not need to be provided with a national platform to target a community struggling to have their voices heard. Likewise, it is not necessary for Lisa Oldfield's opinions on one of the few Muslim women on Australian television to be broadcast. These incidents have proven that speech is a freedom given to the few privileged people who already control the narrative about issues such as Muslims in Australia. It is not a freedom extended to people who struggle to have their voices heard.

Given the right wing's obsession with freedom of speech and their vitriolic rhetoric defending their right to offend, it is more than just interesting when the tables are turned. When something as holy as Anzac Day comes into the mix, then suddenly free speech becomes hate speech and causing offense is actually a big deal. But when it's Muslims, people of colour, LGBT communities etc. who are the victims, then it's a whole other issue. Their freedom of speech does not need to be respected then.

Ironic? Hypocritical? Call it whatever you desire but the fact is that people such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied need to understand something about Australian society today. If she does indeed lose her presenting role or her DFAT job due to her insensitive Anzac Day comments, it is not really from that moment that her silencing begins. It begun a long time ago. And that is what is truly unforgivable.

Yassmin's concerns for Manus, Nauru, Syria and Palestine are futile. She needs to understand that unfortunately freedom of speech is only a white man's privilege in today's Australia.

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