Right now, the twittersphere is abuzz with opinions on the Scott McIntyre saga of the weekend, and I don’t know where I stand. I’ve wanted to weigh in on the debate, but brevity has never been my strong suit and I am finding it hard to condense the many thoughts I have on the matter into snippets of 140 characters or less. More so, I have been less inclined over the years to publish opinion columns on anything, but considering I’ve spent most of the day on Twitter reading people’s tweets and comments and articles, I know I won’t be able to file these thoughts away unless I pen something about them, so here goes.
Some months ago, a Saudi Arabian blogger named Raif Badawi was sentenced to (according to Amnesty International) 10 years in gaol, a $300,000 fine and 1000 lashes for inciting social and political debate in his homeland.
Over the weekend, SBS reporter/presenter Scott McIntyre was sacked from his position for tweeting ‘offensive’ remarks about ANZACs, ANZAC day and the people who celebrate/commemorate it.
To many, McIntyre was exercising free speech. That contentious notion of being able to say what you want to say, because freedom and democracy allow you to do so. But, as Muslim writer Susan Carland wrote for the ABC today, McIntyre’s sacking obviously means that there are some things we idolise more than this notion of free speech. Like ANZAC day. In fact, she cited the example that we often deride Muslim communities (and other faith groups) for their “firm attachment to what they hold sacred”, often questioning why they don’t heed our demands to be more open-minded or more reasonable.
Carland’s column spoke a lot of truth. In a largely secular Australia, ANZAC day has become a sacred day of sorts that she believes – based on McIntyre’s treatment – is idolised and held above these ideas of free speech.
But it’s what follows free speech that defines the values of a nation. Opponents of McIntyre’s are reminding him that his ability to exercise free speech filters down from the freedoms resulted to him as a descendant of the diggers who fought in WWI. Opponents of Badawi’s are investigating whether or not he is guilty of apostasy, something which carries the penalty of execution.
Two polar opposite realities for the same exercise of opinion.
McIntyre had a lot to say about the ANZACs. He accused them of ‘widespread’ rape and theft. In He labelled the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings the worst terrorist attacks and he mocked those who commemorate ANZAC day as mostly white, poorly-read drinkers and gamblers.
For the record, this was the first time I really part-took in anything ANZAC day-related. I went to a dawn service for the first time, baked ANZAC biscuits, and researched my husband’s great-grandfather’s role in WWI after inheriting his medals and zero facts about his life.
I don’t gamble, I barely drink and I am neither white nor poorly-read.
But I am a descendant of people who lived in the Ottoman Empire who felt relief at their freedoms when the Ottomans fell in the aftermath of the war. Beyond this fact, I can’t presume to know much about Ottoman Turkey or its empire. Some say it was ruled by Sharia Law, others say that those at the helm of the empire used religion to justify their crimes. In any case, in countries like Lebanon, where my family hails from, Ottoman rule was a mixed bag. Sometimes there were relative freedoms, and others, mass executions on religious grounds. The current plea of the Armenians to recognise the genocide of up to 1.5 million of their own by the Ottomans is one such example of this. If this indeed was the case, then fighting against 400 years of strong Ottoman conquest had its merits.
And this is where McIntyre’s comments were in poor taste. Like every group, the ANZACs probably had among them a minority of soldiers who acted unethically in all manners, but I wouldn’t go so far as to condemn them all for widespread rape and theft. Just as I could not condemn every Muslim person for the actions of a minority group. And I wouldn’t lampoon every person who stops to remember them as some uneducated person who uses this day for token nationalism and booze.
We now have the benefit of hindsight to see how unsavoury war is. The original WWI veterans told us so. But we also have the benefit of foresight, and in this day and age, we can see for ourselves what could happen if we leave evil to flourish. The current state of Iraq and Syria is a perfect example. Australia might have had a choice in resisting the Empire’s call in 1914, just like it has a chance now to resist the call of the minority groups suffering persecution under IS.
But it did intervene, and although countless lives were tragically lost, others were given freedom. Today, many Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria have been annihilated. Men executed, women taken as sex slaves. History that predates most monotheistic religions has been eradicated in the destruction of old temples.
And so we intervene again, because although intervention is not flawless, failing to intervene compromises the rights of those weakest among us. Those who have no one else to defend them. Failing to intervene gives legitimacy to groups wreaking a barbaric havoc on all those who don’t espouse their same values.
For me, ANZAC day is not about drinking or glorifying war. It’s a nod of appreciation for those who run to shelter the rest of us from danger. It’s gratitude. It’s remembering that certain wars stopped evil in its tracks and brought liberation to people who were desperate for it.
Not two weeks ago, Australian Stacey Eden defended a Muslim couple from the racist tirade of a passenger on a Sydney train. One could argue that the prejudiced passenger was also exercising her right to free speech.
But free speech, like everything else, comes at a cost. You just have to weigh up the worth of things you are speaking out against, the things you are fighting for, and what stands to gain from them.
Stacey Eden could have stayed quiet. But she didn’t.
Our soldiers could have stayed home, but they didn’t.
100 years on they are still going out into the world – flaws and all – and doing their best to fight so that all people – irrespective of their colour or creed – are not sacrificed in the name of evil.
Sometimes this is war. Sometimes it’s an order.
But the sacrifice, well, that is ANZAC spirit.