By Susmita Abani:
On Monday, Sydney-siders were confronted with a threat they had never witnessed in their lifetime. In a suspenseful, 16 hour ordeal in the heart of our CBD at Martin Place, a lone gunman held 17 hostages inside Lindt Cafe. Police forces surrounded the area till early morning, ending the siege with the devastating deaths of two hostages and the assailant himself. Sydney had been robbed of its integrity, and it will be difficult to recover from the fear of stepping back into the lively city that has always been a focal point of our most treasured moments.
Man Haron Monis, the person behind the incident, turned out to be a known criminal, a self-styled Iranian Sheikh. As Muslim Australians braced themselves for backlash against their community as a result of what appeared to be another attack by a Muslim on the West, an incredible campaign emerged from the tragedy that restored their hopes in humanity. The “illridewithyou” hashtag spread through social network, inspiring ordinary Australians to offer support to Sydney Muslims who now dreaded travelling alone. Our conservative PM, Tony Abbot was also impressively tactful throughout the affair, maintaining the view that the actions of an individual madman were not a reflection of any religious group.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike jumped all over the #illridewithyou bandwagon, and news of the hashtag’s success was as prominent as the siege itself. #illridewithyou had overshadowed the real story, the real issues, and had become the mask of political correctness behind which the two sides were hiding their true faces, blurring the deep lines that separated their conflicting interests.
Everyone was too afraid to offend or to anger one another, while I racked my brain trying to figure out what had happened. Was it merely a failure of our judicial system, which had let a mentally unstable criminal slip through its cracks? Or was it the collective effect of geo-politics, religiosity, racism, society and an individual’s response to all of the above?
Let’s analyse premise 1- that religion, and the Muslim community, is not to blame for the folly of one man. From my own Islamic upbringing, I can testify this to be false. We are talking about a community that hurls death threats at cartoonists for drawing Prophet Muhammad, and at authors for penning blasphemous words. I’ve seen members of this community turn on friends who merely questioned their faith.
On September 19th 2014, Monis was interviewed in a Sydney suburb, in a rally of 400 men whose ultimate goal was to re-establish the Caliphate. Their outlook is not entirely unique. The Pew Research Centre report titled The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics & Society, outlined survey results from 39 countries that found “solid majorities” (greater than 40% and up to 99%) across the “Middle East and North Africa, sub Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia favour the establishment of sharia” laws including severe corporal punishments for theft, stoning for adultery and death for apostasy.
ABC journalist Chris Uhlman asked our PM today if it’s really Islamaphobic to “notice that [Islam] is a religion that is resistant to criticism and scrutiny, that is utterly incapable of laughing at itself and when it is criticised the reaction often tends to be violent?”Are Australian Muslims really the victims here, or are some of them guilty for creating a culture of hostility toward un-Islamic opinions, thereby bolstering extremist mindsets?
And now for premise 2 – As our PM said this morning, Australia has done nothing wrong to deserve a terror attack. But between 2003 and 2011, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have tarnished relations between Middle East and the West. Brown University hosted the Cost of War project, estimating a total of 200,000 civilian deaths as of 2013, and these are conservative figures, with other studies citing far higher statistics. Australia continues to remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite the obvious injustices being committed by the Israeli occupation.
Yet Australia is devoid of fault?
In light of recent IS activities, Australia has renewed military operations in Iraq. It has tightened security legislations, including greater access to computer networks and increased liberty to officials for committing crimes during operations. Internet providers may soon begin to retain customer data for 2 years, and the act of “inciting” terrorism, whatever that means, can lead to 5 years detention. A vicious cycle seems imminent: from strengthening security laws to military intervention in the Middle East, followed by a terrorist response.
All of these factors, among many others, are building up to something potentially dangerous. I want both sides to meet in the middle, admit their own flaws, and look at the trail of disaster behind them. Both the Islamic world and the West need to take strides towards real moderation; examine the underlying issues without bias, and make honesty our policy.