Like most of Australia yesterday I was gripped by the unfolding events in the hostage siege at Lindt, in Martin Place, Sydney, an area I know well. When I first heard I thought it was a common old hold-up or something that would soon be resolved. It became very clear very quickly that it was something more than that.
I went about my daily business with the TV on in the background more often than not. Every station had reporters on the scene and had interrupted their regular programs to broadcast this. I came and went, checking in on the developments of which there were few. The TV coverage padded it out, calling in experts, repeating earlier interviews, speculating on the causes and what it all might mean.
At that stage we knew that the hostage-taker appeared to be a middle-aged Muslim. He had somewhere between 10-20 hostages, 5 of whom managed dramatic escapes during the day. The tabloids and the gutter media made much play of these scant facts. Headlines screamed death cult and ISIL. Shock-jocks claimed there were bombs littered around the city rigged to explode, and that they had spoken to some of the hostages. It was irresponsible and reprehensible, journalism at its worst – but what we have come to expect.
The crisis extended into the evening. By now it seemed pretty clear that he was a lone wolf nutter, not a ISIL terrorist as so many had claimed. He was Muslim though, which made him more than just a hostage taker. He was a Muslim terrorist.
Like so many right thinking Australians I feared the worst of what this would mean. Abbott had been reasonable in his comments, but had alluded to terrorism. The tabloids had gone off, figuring that extreme headlines would drive sales and hit a sympathetic nerve. it’s what I feared to, and almost expected, for the right to exploit this to advantage, and for the uneducated haters to take this as another excuse to hate. But then something surprising happened.
In the last few weeks there have been two social media movements which have deeply moved me. #putoutyourbats when Phil Hughes died was a poignant and heartfelt tribute to him. Last night someone, someone with the same fears as I had, and with a sense of community beyond I could imagine came up with the hashtag #Illridewithyou.
Australian Muslims all over the country reasonably feared a backlash after the yesterday. It’s happened all over the world in the wake of events like this, and happened here. Mosques are trashed, everyday Muslims abused and mistreated. It’s the same stupidity that has been repeated for centuries: if one is evil then all are evil. It’s easy and lazy and dumb, and overlooks the fact that any Muslims are here because they are fleeing the same extremists the rest of us fear.
This woman tweeted, if you are afraid of going to work tomorrow then come ride with me – I’ll protect you. Within minutes it was picked up and repeated, not just in Sydney, but all over Australia, and then the world. Strangers revealed their travel routines, look for me, I’ll be there for you. It went of like a bushfire, capturing the imagination and touching our collective compassion.
I watched it develop on my twitter feed and felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I was so proud, and so glad that these common people would reach out at a time like this. It was absolutely the right thing, but it was also absolutely the unexpected thing too.
It became a twitter phenomenon. Not surprisingly perhaps there were some who came to question it later. Some called it patronising, others, misplaced. Many of those complaining were the usual sourpuss and right-wing stooges. It had caught everyone by surprise, even ourselves I think. I believe this was one of those moments that touched a chord in liberal Australia. There was a sense of no more.
The Murdoch papers had gone hard on this, believing I think they spoke for the people. They were wrong, and are wrong. I think people have had a gutful of the toxic politics being played out daily. WE have been represented shoddily by politicians playing with refugees lives, and with the vocal right wings ratbags. The liberal middle has been silent throughout this, and disregarded. Last night it stood up, enough is enough, this is not right, this not what we believe, this is not who we are.
The cynics claim that this movement is a typical product of the latte drinking set. I think it’s the spontaneous reaction of good Australians who want to do right.
Unfortunately there was no such happy ending to this crisis. Overnight three people died, the hostage taker and two hostages. It seems at least one of the hostages died bravely trying to overcome the hostage-taker, and the other was a highly barrister and mother of three. The awful thing about moments like this is that anonymous people become known for all the wrong reasons.
There have been a lot of claims since this went down. What happened was awful, but I reject that this is our loss of innocence as some are saying. Nor is this a sign that we are under increased danger. There are people in the world who will kill us on sight, we know that. This man was a rogue operator though, a man disaffected by life it seems driven to extremes. No more should be made of this than that.
Some of the media have been good throughout this, but some terrible. I hope we don’t forget those who trade in tragedy like this, which includes Rupert Murdoch himself. The NSW Premier Mike Baird was outstanding throughout in a tough position. He said all the right things, and with sincerity. The police were excellent as well.
Are we different after this? There are claims to that effect. Only time will tell. If there is a difference I suspect it may be in a positive sense. We have become activated as citizens. We’ve been made to consider what we believe. The government would do well to consider that.
For those involved in this nothing will be the same again.