Blasphemy & Sacrilege: Freedom of Speech vs. Anzac Day

Credit: Alex Ellinghausen – SMH.

Anzac Day has evolved from a day for remembering the war dead, into an annual battle re-enactment for the Culture Wars. This clash is repetitive and tired, and rarely covers new ground and hence follows more like a rehearsed performance than an original drama.

When conservatives demanded that Yassmin Abdel-Magied be censored and deported for exercising her free speech on Anzac Day in 2017, it wasn’t for some new exercise in provocative writing. She didn’t slander the name of the Anzac legacy, demand the celebrations be abolished, cenotaphs bulldozed, or even chastise the actions of soldiers past and/or present. Her simple offer to remember those neglected by Australia, or currently languishing in Australian detention camps, proved too triggering for the right and campaigned for her to be censured and fired. This is despite many of those same voices endorsing the freedom for offensive speech, i.e. that you can only take offence, not give offence.

2018 followed a similar pattern, with conservative blogger Andrew Bolt moralising about Anzac Day as a unifying occasion, Peter Dutton using the day as a marketing exercise on radio and TV, and triggered haters frantically tweeting at Yassmin about her previous year’s audacity for daring to open her mouth. Whether these frail voices were begging her to offend them again, out of some masochistic desire to be triggered, or were trying to tweet her into silence, is hard to discern.

Either way, we’ve scarcely had time to ask actual questions about Anzac Day, such as whether the Aboriginal warriors fighting colonial invaders should be honoured, what real legacy this day is seeking to promote, or how it could be promoting an empty jingoistic, Hansonite nationalism. Instead, we’re now left squabbling over whether young black women should ever be allowed on Australian TV again, or if their voices are just too problematic for us to hear.


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