Our great country, I have been informed, is in peril.
From every side come malign forces to threaten our democracy, our prosperity, our safety, our very existence. The latest spirit of evil seeking the destruction of all we hold dear, is…a nine-year-old schoolgirl.
I know, I was surprised too. But it must be true, because it is this tiny child who is occupying the thoughts of some of our most patriotic and red-faced public figures.
The girl in question is Harper Nielsen, who threw Kenmore South State School in Brisbane into uproar when she refused to stand for the national anthem. Harper declared that the anthem was not inclusive of Indigenous Australians and ignored their presence prior to colonisation, and that she would therefore not be showing it the usual deference.
From here, events moved quickly. Kenmore South gave the pint-sized revolutionary a lunchtime detention for “blatant disrespect”, threatened with suspension and told she could not leave the office until she had signed a written apology.
The Courier-Mail, having checked its news barrel and found it completely empty, decided this qualified as a story and brought Harper to public attention, upon which members of that dank under-stairs cupboard of Australian politics that might be termed “the usual suspects” made their thoughts — for want of a better word — clear.
Political relevance-hunter Pauline Hanson declared her desire to “give her a kick up the backside”. Defamation enthusiast Alan Jones raged against Harper’s views, saying that “colonisation brought the kind of tremendous wealth that all Australians now enjoy”.
Former politician and Facebook video auteur Mark Latham sputtered that “not standing is a behavioural problem, so kick her out” — and he knows a thing or two about behavioural problems. And Queensland’s Shadow Education Minister Jarrod Bleijie highlighted the state opposition’s priorities clearly.
“Shame on her parents for using her as a political pawn,” Bleijie fulminated on Twitter. “Stop the silly protest and stand and sing proudly your National Anthem. Refusing to stand disrespects our country and our veterans. Suspension should follow if she continues to act like a brat.”
So there you have it. Powerful media personalities and elected officials alike find common cause in directing the nation’s hatred onto a girl of nine. A proud demonstration of just how robust and tolerant is our national discourse.
Now, unwashed leftist layabouts such as myself might argue that Harper actually had a point about the anthem, that by taking such a stand she was showing herself as a passionate, principled and intelligent person who is not afraid to speak her mind, and that Australia needs more nine-year-olds willing to stick up for progressive causes.
But I know not everyone thinks like me, and that’s OK. I know a reasonable person could be of the belief that rules are rules and it’s preferable for a student to follow the rules of their school. I know that there are good and decent people who will sincerely believe that the anthem is an important symbol of our nation, and that Harper is misguided to consider it a symbol of oppression. And many fine people will suspect that her parents are indoctrinating her, and disapprove of that.
But if you believe any or all of that, I still have to ask you: why would you care?
A little girl broke the rules at school. As Shakespeare said, big freaking whoop. Is this what makes you angry, in 2018? Is this what you find so offensive it cannot be allowed to pass undenounced?
Are you so easily triggered by the most infinitesimal provocation that a little girl getting her bolshiness on drives you into breathless spittle-flecked fury?
One girl, nine years old, at one school, not standing for the anthem. If you work at that school, this might be something you need to address. But when you’re not connected to that school in any way? When you’re a multimillionaire media superstar? When you’re a shadow minister? When you’re a federal Senator?
People of power and privilege and wealth, blessed with giant megaphones, using all that to slag off a fourth-grader. Whipping up hatred and abuse and death threats — DEATH THREATS — against a child because they are so horribly insecure that even the mildest expression of divergence from their worldview sets their glass-jawed souls aflame.
Harper may have disrespected this country, but how fragile is Australia, that it can’t take a bit of disrespect? What kind of fearstruck populace are we, cowering in terror that someone might come along to hint that we’re not as good as we think we are? What can you say about a country that needs to cry havoc at the smallest slight, except that it is a country that doesn’t truly believe in itself?
Moreover, what can you say about a country that demands public persecution, for anyone who makes use of our treasured freedom of speech for non-approved purposes? What is even the point of standing to honour this country, if we don’t have any choice?
Enforced patriotism is surely no patriotism at all, and a little girl who sings an anthem because she’s been ordered to isn’t respecting anything except the threat of punishment. The fact is, an anthem that you’re not allowed to stay seated for isn’t worth singing in the first place.
Meanwhile on Nauru, another little girl has attempted suicide multiple times and will die if she isn’t taken off the island, according to doctors’ warnings to Australian Border Force.
But it’s the girl who won’t sing who gets us angry.
Because that’s the kind of country we are.
Feature Image: Dingo NewsBen Pobjie
Writer and comedian
Thu 13 Sep 2018