Screw political correctness

As an aspirant to a modicum of global leadership, Australia gets its hands dirty in a lot of peace-keeping exercises (and occasional wars, it must be confessed) trying to promote democracy and protect the downtrodden. It’s a largely thankless task and not one that all agree with. But we do it because we believe it is the right thing.

It’s frustrating, then, to cop a backhander when you least expect it. That’s what happened this week when a zealous Royal Australian Air Force officer took political correctness to unfortunate lengths.

He emailed his troops encouraging them to send Christmas care packages to Aussies deployed in the Middle East. He advised against sending pornography or alcohol. But then he went a step further and asked for stiff brown paper wrapping and “(no Christmas wrapping due to cultural sensitivities, please)”.

Okay, the dividing line here on cultural sensitivities is very thin but wide enough to be important.  No alcohol and no pornography, I can accept. It is a symbolic gesture of respect (and, I assume, complies with local law, just as importantly). But pretending we are not primarily Christian (or even that any of us is), is a step too far.

I do pity the officer because he is going to want to avoid voiding himself for quite a long time now that senior brass have seen this issue hit mainstream media. Most unpleasant ramifications for him.

Still, it is in the public domain now and it raises serious issues. If it is good enough for us to risk the lives of our military to protect the freedoms our hosts would like to enjoy, surely it is good enough for them to return the favour? Okay, the hosts did not make this request but the fact it was made signifies it IS a hot topic.

I am no longer a Christian, though I was raised as one so I’m not spruiking for a personal cause. The concern is that freedom of speech, thought and expression is what we are committed to support and that concept becomes farcical if we suppress it ourselves in the service of others.

In the scheme of things this is a small issue but sometimes the tiniest of issues carry symbolism way beyond their face value. This is one such.

Nor is it a matter for Australia’s defence authorities and politicians to run around and develop policies and procedures to deal with in the future. All of us just need to be mindful that democracy, for all its flaws, is worth sacrifice and it is suborned by the denial of reasonable freedoms. Eternal vigilance is a small price to pay.