At Mamamia, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the Australian men who are doing good things and trying to make our country a better place. So we came to you with a list of 100 great Aussie men and asked you to decide Mamamia’s 50 Best Blokes. We spent the week counting down your top ten. And today, we’re thrilled to give you your number one: Waleed Aly.
In an era when viral videos tend to involve baby pandas or bizarre dance moves there’s one man cutting through to help remind us what’s really important, what genuinely deserves our attention as we thumb through our feeds.
That man is Waleed Aly.
Television host. Lawyer. Academic. Writer. Radio broadcaster. Human rights advocate. Musician. Father of two. Master of the piece-to-camera. A man who used all that to help make social consciousness palatable to fluff-hungry prime-time commercial TV audiences.
While Aly's fierce intellect (he's got degrees in law and chemical engineering) is probably enough on its own to set him apart in Australia's media landscape, his true distinction is that he manages to speak from both his head and his heart.
That's why Australia turns up the volume every time he's in frame, why last year he was dubbed the country's most popular television personality and handed a little golden Logie statue. That might seem like a fickle accolade to some, but in true Aly style he seized it as an opportunity to share a stunningly poignant take on diversity and discrimination in media. (You can watch the full speech above.)
Susan Carland spoke to The Binge podcast about what happened after her husband Waleed won Gold. Listen here:
We shouldn't have been surprised, really. Since joining The Project at the beginning of 2015, Aly has fashioned himself into a true agenda setter. From monologues on childcare to climate change, his Something We Should Talk About series has become renowned for starting must-have conversations and raising hot-button issues, often on behalf of people who don't have the power/influence to speak up themselves.
When he called viewers to arms to help short-changed dairy farmers, thousands of Australians switched to locally produced brand-name milk and cheese.
When he reminded us that 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody since 1991, he made us contemplate why black deaths barely seem to warrant newsprint.
When he tore apart the federal government's lack of support for front-line domestic violence services last year (note: some 18,631 calls to the 1800-RESPECT hotline were left unanswered in 2014), he had men and women pressuring their representative to #showmethemoney.
But it was his response to the deadly Paris terror attacks in 2015 that got the rest of the world listening. As most grappled with mourning and fear, Aly looked down the lens and plainly declared that “ISIS is weak”.
“We are all feeling a million raging emotions right now. I am angry at these terrorists. I am sickened by the violence and I am crushed for the families that have been left behind, but, you know what, I will not be manipulated,” he said. “We all need to come together. I know how that sounds. I know it is a cliche, but it is also true because it is exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.”
His blistering four-minute breakdown of the terrorist organisation's tactics of manipulation and division ricocheted around the world, being viewed more than 30 million times, shared countless more on social media and attracting headlines everywhere from Canada to Egypt.
And not because it was controversial, but because it was unifying and unafraid.
Aly is not one to be predictable. Take his stance on the Sonia Kruger saga. When the press and large proportion of the public took aim at the Channel 9 personality back in July over her calls for a ban on Muslim immigration, Aly leapt to her defence on The Project and called for an end to "the cycle of outrage".
“Sonia Kruger isn’t evil. She’s scared and she’s trying to make sense of the world,” he said. “Yesterday, she admitted to not feeling safe. How do you think she feels now? And how do you expect her to react?”
It's this kind of rational, poignant debate; this ability to help people see through the fog of anger, prejudice or spin, to consider another point of view; to spark genuine tangible change, that Mamamia readers consider Waleed Aly to be the country's Best Bloke.
Oh, and the fact that he can shred like champ doesn't hurt either.