Optus: Collateral Damage from the Paris Attacks

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That could serve as the new slogan for Optus. In what amounts to political correctness gone mad, Australia’s second biggest telco is under fire for making hash of a difficult situation.

The uproar started after customers urged Optus to remove Arabic signage at one of its outlets in Sydney yesterday. Optus caved in, and did just that. Threats made to staff, in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks, was the reason given for this:

Yesterday, following a threat to our store staff, we made the decision to remove some materials that were published in Arabic. The safety and security of our staff is paramount’.

If nothing else, it shows how far reaching the repercussions of the Paris attacks are. Sensitivity to political correctness is high. Sometimes that’s justified. On occasions like this, it’s nothing more than bigotry.

Judging by the outcry, you’d think the signs were ISIS recruitment posters. In reality, all it did was explain that an Arabic speaking rep was available to chat instore. It’s the kind of helpful information that might even help Optus sign up new customers…

But that didn’t prevent some from airing their outrage. They blasted Optus over social media. Here’s a brief selection of complaints (unnamed sources):

What is it? Don’t you think there [sic] any Aussies in Casula. What is with the Islamic writing on the poster to [sic] store. No way I’ll ever use Optus again’.

Or this:

Very poor taste considering the weekend events. Your advertisement people would be looking for new jobs if I was running the show’.

And this gem:

Can I just ask why Optus is advertising at casula mall in middle eastern language and not English?? This is an outrage, this is Australia not Syria. You are hypocrites, saying sorry for Paris etc etc but advertising for only Muslims to read’.

It’s hard to know where to start with this.

For one, Optus advertise in English…a lot. English speakers are their largest market. You can’t miss it, even if you tried. I haven’t been to Casula Mall, but I guarantee you there’s plenty of English language signage in store. Catering to different tongues is just good business practice.

That person does make a point though. We’re not in Syria. But for anyone that doesn’t realise how things work, allow me to explain. Australia is a diverse melting pot of cultures. Walk down any major street, and you’ll see East Asians, West Asians, Latinos, Europeans, you name it. It’s why we hold an international reputation as one of the few multicultural success stories.

Most Aussies are united in outrage against the Paris attacks. But anyone with an ounce of sense knows where to channel that anger. It’s not at Islam, or Muslims. It’s at the handful of men who committed those atrocities. Tarnishing an entire culture with the same brush because of those few men is the height of intolerance.

There’s plenty of violence carried out in the name of other things. Why not boycott the English language too? Like most Aussies, I’m outraged by the killing sprees across the US. What difference is there between the two when it comes down to it? Both are senseless atrocities. The only difference is that we’ve been drilled to believe one is more threatening than the other.

Thankfully, common sense is prevailing. A wave of customers urged Optus to reinstate the Arabic signage. Yet while Optus aims to keep the signs up at other shopping centres, the Casula Mall ones are staying down.

That’s a shame. For security reasons, you can understand why Optus is doing this. But it still represents a win for intolerance and prejudice. We can’t pretend to preach solidarity in defiance of the Paris attacks. Not if it ends up leading to intolerance of other cultures.

Let’s just hope this madness doesn’t stretch beyond this. We speak a lot of languages in Australia. Many of us speak two, with English as a common denominator. Whether you like it or not, many are more comfortable conversing in their mother tongue. And businesses like Optus can’t afford to let these potential customers slip through the net.

As a migrant nation, Australia is unified through values, not tongues. Once the immediate security threats are cleared, Optus would be wise to remember that.

Mat Spasic,

Contributor, Markets and Money

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