Cry me a river, Yassmin, maybe the White Nile


“Given that I am now the most publicly hated Muslim in Australia, people have been asking me how I am.” So Yassmin Abdel-Magied, “the most publicly hated Muslim in Australia”(TM), opens her new essay in “The Guardian”. Don’t worry, she then spends nearly 2,800 words telling you how she is. If you want a fuller version, you are directed to the latest issue of “The Griffith Review”, from which “What are they so afraid of? I’m just a young brown Muslim woman speaking my mind” is extracted and abbreviated.

While I haven’t conducted any scientifically-valid opinion research, I would venture a guess that “they” are not “so afraid” of Yassmin or anything she says. Annoyed, offended, irritated, yes, but not afraid. And being annoyed, offended, and irritated is part and parcel of any political and politicised debate. As is annoying, offending, and irritating others. I wish it wasn’t so, but you can’t buck the human nature. By the same token I am genuinely sorry that Yassmin has been subjected to threats of violence, and intimidation. Not only is it (at least the former) illegal, it is appalling that some people think this is the way to advance their cause and beliefs.

What I am not sorry for is that Yassmin is subject to criticism like any other person engaging in public debate and her views are challenged openly. This is what freedom of speech is all about. Yassmin has every right to say what she believes, and I have every right to say that it’s crap. Being a “young brown Muslim woman speaking her mind” is not some magic token that bestows upon its holder immunity and shields her from being challenged intellectually. But through quality Australian secondary and tertiary education, Yassmin managed to absorb all the trendy cultural Marxist ideas (wasn’t  all that money well spent!) that tell her the world is divided between white males and everyone else, the oppressors and the victims. The former are always wrong, both morally and factually, and the latter, people like her, “the wretched of the Earth” are always right:

Today’s identity politics are about power – but not “real” or “traditional” power. The reality is, real power – that which lies in financial resources, the mainstream media and politics – is held by hands similar to those of 50 or 100 years ago: white, male hands. Not much has changed. Sure, there are several women and people of colour fighting the fight, and many more making their way up the ranks, but look at the true hallmarks of power. Who owns the media companies, controls the big corporates, runs the countries? If the real, hard stations of power are still in the hands of those who have always had it, why are they so worried?Part of me suspects that the reason these attacks are so vitriolic, swift and all-encompassing is because they are about identity. Identity politics is personal, and that’s why people take it so personally. By asserting my identity in a way that challenges my “place in the world”, I inadvertently challenge the place of those who feel entitled to their privilege and status. That feels not only wrong to such people, but deeply, personally offensive – because what is at stake is who they are in the world. And so they fight viciously, because if privilege and status and wealth and whiteness define who they are, what else could be more valuable?

I disagree with your views, Yassmin, not because by asserting your identity you challenge my privilege and status; I disagree with your views because I think they are wrong, and they are wrong regardless whether uttered by a young brown Muslim woman or by an elderly white male sociology professor. If you think that it’s not OK for a white male novelist to write a story from the perspective of a black woman, if you think that Islam is the most feminist religion, if you engage in politicising Anzac Day with leftist moral equivalencies, if you think that Australian democracy is a sham, I’m going to call you on your bullshit. If it makes you feel better about yourself to think that a nasty white Euro man is picking on you because structural oppression, privilege, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, or whatever – go for it; as you say, “by asserting my identity in a way that challenges my ‘place in the world’, I inadvertently challenge those who feel entitled to their privilege and status.” I wouldn’t want to rain on your victimhood parade. It will be rainy enough in London.