Australia says #illridewithyou in the face of crisis and racial prejudice
Today our nation grieves with the heaviest of hearts following the tragedy that unfolded yesterday on home soil. Devastating news has emerged that two hostages lost their lives to a gunman in the Lindt Café in Martin Place, of Sydney’s central business district. The tragic set of events began yesterday around 9.45am (AEST) and swiftly gripped our nation as it played out live on television, sending shockwaves around the world. As a generally peaceful and harmonious democracy, our nation’s response has been a mixed bag. People took to both mainstream and social media with a combination of fear, concern, loss, hate and, more optimistically, love and a deep sense of compassion.
Fear gripped our nation yesterday as suspicions were broadcast wildly, that the events unfolding could be part of a larger terrorist plot, as hostages were forced to hold a Jihadist flag in the café’s window. Flights were diverted around Sydney’s central business district. As in all times of crisis, people respond differently but I was alarmed throughout the day as anti-Muslim propaganda and racial prejudice entered my newsfeed. Australia’s muslim community instantaneously felt the ripples of a backlash via social media, despite the fact that there was a lone and unstable gunman at the centre of the siege.
The gunman, Iranian born Man Haron Monis, was described by his former lawyer as “damaged goods” and an “ideological fanatic”, after being shot and fatally injured in the early hours of this morning as police stormed the café. Well known to law enforcement, the self-proclaimed Sheikh had periods of mental instability and a violent criminal history. During the night of the siege, as the hostages remained huddled in terror, out of the rubble of a country in crisis, grew a campaign against the tide of anti-muslim racism, (which included a widely circulated post insighting rioting). It was clear that the better part of Australia knew the hatred was unwarranted. As muslim women feared for their safety, and that of their husbands and children, strangers began offering safety for those attempting to go about business as usual.
The twitter hashtag #illridewithyou began trending as people offered their hands to fellow Australians in religious attire to make sure they could travel safely, without fear of backlash. It was as though out of the rubble, genuine Australian mateship prevailed and united in the face of adversity. As hate and fear breeds more of the same this was Australia’s time to say “no more” and a broad cross section of the community jumped on board, to create a show of humanity. Law enforcement agencies played a great hand in the safety of many hostages. Sadly for everyone, the siege still ended in tragedy with the loss of human lives. As a hostage attempted to wrestle the gunman he was fatally wounded. A prominent lawyer and mother of three shielding her pregnant friend also lost her life.
The atrocity of yesterday has left us in mourning, and there is immeasurable human suffering being endured. My hope is that Australia continues to pull together. To alienate more of our own at this time would be so counter- productive. The racial intolerance needs to end and we all need to be more alert to the perils and devastation that mental illness and isolation can create. My hope for Australia is that we gain strength from such terrible adversity. We can do this through compassion, kindness and lack of judgement. Our fellow Australians, irrespective of religion or background, are hurting and need us today, and as we continue to grapple with the tragic events into the future.—We talk about the intersectionality of social issues in popular culture all the time. Want more stories like this? Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.Photo: Nick Perry/AP