It seems that Eddie McGuire is incapable of moderating his language in a way that reflects the powerful positions he holds in the community. It turns out that in an AFL General Meeting in March of this year, McGuire referred to Victorian Sports Minister, John Eren, as a ‘soccer loving, Turkish-born Mussie’.
It has resulted in a national debate about whether the term ‘Mussie’ is offensive.
Look, it’s a word. Objectively, as a word with six letters, it does not carry any meaning. Coming out of the mouth of a man that has been certified as ‘continual boofhead’ by the NSW Upper House; a man who thought it was appropriate to say that Adam Goodes should be used to promote King Kong – then yeah, it’s offensive.
I think what is more interesting is whether McGuire’s attempt at wriggling away from the controversy is offensive – because it is. Let’s look at the comments he has made to the media in the last 48 hours.
“‘Mussies’ (is) the way that my Muslim friends refer to themselves.”
I’ve never called my fellow Muslims ‘Mussies’. No one has called me a ‘Mussie’ in a way that wasn’t derogatory. I asked my younger, cooler brothers if Mussie is a term that the kids are totes using these days. They had never heard it being used amongst Muslims either and sent me a link to this video instead. Unsurprisingly, my friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, have also never heard it being used and think it’s a stupid term.
The it’s what they call each other!’ defence is a little reminiscent of the defence for the use of another six-letter term that a particular group of people may call one another. You know the word; it starts with ‘n’ and ends in ‘er’. That unacceptability of that defence applies here as well.
McGuire said that he used the term “to emphasise the point that no longer do we have an Anglo Saxon former AFL footballer as the sports minister.” That the point he was trying to make was that “we’ve got a Turkish born soccer loving Mussie as sports minister, (it) shows you how far we have moved, this is what it is all about.”
Now, this is confusing. Why did he want to emphasise that the Sports Minister was not an Anglo Saxon? In what way does calling someone a Turkish-born Mussie reflect ‘what it is all about’? What exactly is it all about? This explanation is just bizarre. It reminds me of my high-school math teacher who would say he purposely made mistakes to see if we were paying attention in class. In this case, Eddie was just trying to show that Australian sports needs to be more inclusive, obviously. And we’re all paying attention.
“I was making a point, that’s the way I talk with people, that is my vernacular, people know that, they watch Hot Seat, they like it, they listen to my radio shows, I’ve been doing it for years, that’s what I am about.”
And that is the exact problem, Ed. People watch Hot Seat. They listen to your radio shows. You’re a familiar face. Your use of language carries so much more than any shallow meaning that our words do. Sure, there is a huge burden in measuring every word you speak; but that’s the responsibility of those with power. Just because my friends could get away with calling me a ‘Mussie’, it does not mean you should.
Minister Eren himself said that he was not offended by the comments but said “This is a timely reminder that leaders in the community need to be careful about how they express themselves.” This is the most important point.
The Islamic community has been the subject of increasingly aggressive community resistance. Groups like Reclaim Australia are getting louder and more ridiculous. The reassuring thing is that community support for the idea that we can all be different AND united is growing. This means that those in the community with the ability to influence the conversation must do so; positively. Down-playing clearly racist remarks to say that they are harmless is not good enough. Eddie needs to acknowledge his mistake, apologise and be more mindful of what slips out of his lips.
“You know what, what we have to do is just calm down, and look at what people actually do in reality. What do people stand for? What are people trying to achieve?”
In reality, ‘Mussie’ isn’t a term of endearment. The only people that have ever called me a ‘Mussie’ or ‘Muzzo’ are racists who spam horrifically violent and derogatory comments on my blog and Facebook page.
Community leaders who stand for unity and cohesion in the community don’t use slurs. They don’t use divisive language.
Eddie, if you want to use a ‘fun’ term to refer to Muslims in the community, how about you swap out the ‘M’ in ‘Mussie’ with an ‘A’. You might find Aussie to be a much more useful term for achieving what you claim you are trying to achieve.