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Anzac, holy days, and minorities

Last year on Anzac Day, ABC presenter, Yassmin Abdiel Magied, tweeted,

‘Lest we forget (Manus. Nauru. Syria. Palestine.)’

Her tweet unleashed a torrent of outrage and vitriol.

One TV host said, ‘Lest we forget Yassmin you are brown, you are Muslim, and you are a girl, and that’s the only reason you have a job at the ABC.’ He then called her an’ idiot’ and a bitch.’

Yassmin took down her post and apologized.

We each have a right to our own response. (I was provoked by her tweet but not offended.) The level of hate evident last year, however, suggests that darker forces were at work.

Anzac Day is arguably the holiest day in the Australian calendar.

Historically, what it recalls is limited in scope - one part of much larger British and French landings that took place on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915.

Symbolically, what Anzac Day conveys is vast in scope, claiming to define Australian identity in terms of qualities of sacrifice, trial, mateship, larrikinism, and the sad loss of life in war.

Precisely because Anzac is seen as delineating our national character, it carries significant emotional and spiritual weight.

The responses that were aroused by Yassmin’s tweet came from this place - the deep instincts that drive and form us as people.

Sadly, when such strong responses are in play, different points of view are rarely welcome, and freedom of speech is limited to those who agree, which is ironic given that part of the myth of Anzac is that our soldiers were fighting for this.

Most responses to Yassmin’s tweet made a mockery of freedom of speech. There was no possibility of conversation and reflection.

I believe those things which convey a deep level of identity and being are recognized, and often experienced, as ‘holy.’(It is not inaccurate to speak of Anzac as Australia’s national religion.)

If Anzac is holy, if it encapsulates our national identity, then why does it struggle to include different points of view?

I have a hunch that what is called ‘holy’ often encrypts the essential beliefs and values of the majority group in a nation.

The fact that Yassmin is a member of a minority group, well known as a young, outspoken, Muslim women is not without significance in terms of what followed.

It is curious that majority groups are threatened by the views of those who have so little power and influence.

This incident highlights that whatever is called holy needs to be harnessed for the good of all.

As a Christian, I turn to the practice of Jesus in thinking about this issue. What comes to mind is the riot Jesus stirred up in the Temple, the holiest place in Judaism.

Following Jesus urges us to ask questions about the way the holy is understood, to engage its power in new ways, and importantly to countenance views expressed by minorities.

In doing so, we may well lose a little, but we will gain much more.