Waking up to the news that a gunman or several gunmen were holding hostages in one of my favourite cafes in Sydney’s city centre had me gasping. ‘Here it is’ I thought ‘Here is the attack we’ve all been waiting for…’
Except it wasn’t. At least not the overtly sadistic, politically motivated attack the country, and the rest of the Western world, has been dreading for months, if not years. The Sydney siege (more on this choice of term later) turned out to be the act of a troubled man with a shockingly violent criminal past who was allowed out on bail and, quite obviously, should not have been. The fact that he was an Iranian refugee (of almost 20 years) and claimed to have political motivation (if only he’d brought the right frigging flag) seemed to have been relegated to the back burner almost immediately by at least the great majority of the Australian media (Daily Telegraph discounted, of course) and, more importantly, its inhabitants.
I admit. I was shocked…almost as much by the reaction of the country and populace, as by the abhorrent act itself.
Literally within hours of the siege starting, the #illridewithyou movement, initiated by a concerned Australian and meant to retain common sense as well as alleviate any risk of knee jerk reprisals against Muslims in the country, went viral. Not just locally, mind you, but globally as well. In the USA, for example, you mostly see a spike in retaliations immediately after any event perpetrated in the name of Islam. Reprisal attacks are almost guaranteed in a country brainwashed into oblivion in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember reading a very interesting article a few years back, about the psychological impact of the constant, incessant and persistent fear mongering which the American public was subjected to after the event. According to the psychologist-author, had the American President told all the staunch Catholics living in the US’ bible belt that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in the Vatican City, they would have agreed to nuke the hell out of it. They were so enraged, saddened and blinded by fear, they became the most easy to manipulate populace since Nazi Germany. President Bush could’ve done ANYTHING and he would have had the full backing of his people. And he did.
Australia’s reaction was decidedly different. Very few media outlets and individuals flew off the handle. Overall, I’d say, Australia blatantly refused to be swayed by scaremongering. Media outlets played along: they gave the madman no air time, satisfied none of his requests and never allowed him to get his warped, hate-filled message across to the public. Even the Prime Minister, who has received much derision for recent colossal cock ups, had a moment of complete clarity and leadership. ‘Keep going about your business, we have this under control’ was the essence of his message to the nation. And it was a very important one to give. Had the events happened in the US, the identities of the hostages would have inevitably been revealed, their family homes swarmed with TV crews and, undoubtedly, some horrified family member asked to give a televised, heart-wrenching plea to the gunman to release their dearly beloved. None of that happened in Sydney and that’s a good thing. The whole country was almost paralysed enough as it was.
Some Australians even went to the extent of criticising the #illridewithyou movement, calling it ‘sheepish’ and ‘unoriginally PC’. Gotta love that! Aussies are so fervently individualistic and afraid to be swayed by consensus that, sometimes, they even forget that there are a few crucial times when they should pull together as a nation. It’s ok to band together as one sometimes. That’s not what makes one a sheep 😉
The great thing about the movement, in my view, is that it was created before there was ever any confirmation that this was not a full-blown, classical terrorist attack. The public thought it may have been, and still acted instantaneously.
Australia taught the world a very important lesson on the 15th of December 2014.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t let mass hysteria take over, and for god’s sake…keep calm and just move on.
Yet it was a lesson many did not think the country capable of imparting.
So why was it such a great surprise?
Australia is very unique in its history and character; its experience with extreme violence has been minimal and superficial at best. The nation suffered at the hands of the Bali and Jakarta embassy bombers, that’s for sure, but never has the country had to deal with attacks on its own soil. And if Australia has never even dealt with home-grown terrorism (like the IRA in Great Britain or Red Brigades in Italy)…how on earth will it cope with a foreign-grown one?
(For all those who are itching to comment about the Japanese attack on Darwin in 1942…rest easy. I’m talking about events which the majority of Australians can actually remember)
One of the most endearing aspects of travel, is that it grants you the distance needed to view your own country with more focus and objectivity.
Over the last few years I’ve gotten into the habit of asking fellow travellers, who had been to Australia, what they thought of our people. I find it immensely interesting to get a perspective of my ‘home’ from those who have no sentimental affiliations to it. When it comes to the nature, food and people’s friendliness, it’s mostly all good news for Oz. When pressed, however, most people will inevitably respond with very one specific observation.
…but when it comes to foreign affairs, or discussing major world events, they seem a little insulated…cut off from the rest of the world. They seem to exist in a bubble of sorts. They are almost ignorant…
I never take this offensively. Mostly, because I actually agree with that statement. And I know the interlocutor does not mean ‘ignorant’ in a narky way, but simply in a ‘non-informed’ way. It’s easy to feel utterly detached from the reality of the world we live in, when one builds a fortress of defence around one’s home. The fortress, in this case, is geographical isolation.
Australia, is by far, one of the most isolated developed countries on earth. And it shows.
The aftermath of the recent events have shown that whilst Australia enjoyed a stellar moment of maturity and foresight, it also desperately needs…to get a grip. What happened on Monday is nothing compared to what happens, all over the world, on a daily basis. You think that was ugly and heartbreaking? You ain’t seen nothing yet…
Australians need to gain some perspective and understand that violence, whether politically motivated or not, is the brutal reality for the majority of the world’s population. Many people on our planet are victims of civil unrest; they are oppressed, persecuted, besieged and, quite plainly, live in the kind of terror Sydneysiders felt last Monday…every single day of their lives. And I don’t mean those watching the events unfolding on their TV screens in their safety of their homes. I mean the 13 poor souls who truly felt the horror of being held hostage. Can Aussies REALLY understand what THAT feels like?
Will they now cringe in terror when they hear of 130 children being barbarically murdered in their school in Pakistan? Do they then think of their own children, nieces and nephews? Can they possibly relate at all to what is happening in the rest of the world?
Doesn’t really look like it if the news headlines and my FB feed is anything to go by…and I find that tragic beyond words.
Sydney was not under siege on Monday. A lone crazy gunman who locks himself up in a coffee shop does not a siege make. For the term ‘Sydney siege’ to be used correctly, the entire city would have needed to be surrounded by an enemy military force, supplies cut off and inhabitants either killed or forced to surrender.
This is what I mean by perspective.
There may be empathy and compassion shown when something happens abroad, yet it’s limited and inversely proportionate to how far away the disaster has occurred, and how many Australians were directly involved. When I hear of something like the Peshawar school attack, my heart breaks. I feel for the Pakistanis, because I know that 99% of them just want to lead a quiet and peaceful existence, yet have to pay the consequences of global political decisions, because they (unlike Australians) can’t benefit from geographical isolation. Yet Australia has never had to do that. Australians have never been made to account for what their government has done on foreign soil. And, let me tell you, it’s done plenty. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson the country needs to learn.
Australia, over the last 70 years, has been like the restless teenager itching to get involved in every school yard fight, even if he has no business doing so. The government has involved troops in almost every major conflict this last century and in doing so, has jeopardised the lives of its own people in their own homes. The worst part of all this, is that most Australians are so disinterested in world affairs that they don’t even know they are indirectly being dragged into a ‘war’. Nowadays, however, when the war is more than willing to come to you, it may pay to be a little more conscientious. To protest, speak up and GET INTERESTED because I know that the great majority is peace loving but they just DON’T SEEM TO CARE ENOUGH to do anything about it!
ISIS is what happens whilst you’re too busy to notice what’s going on. ISIS is a by-product of the US invasion, attack and decimation of several Middle Eastern countries over many years. We were involved in that. In our misguided quest to help bring peace, we have supported wars in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people lost their lives. We may not have had combat troops, but we packed military supplies and helped foreign armies. In some countries…WE are seen as terrorists. It’s worthwhile to remember that, next time you want to ask ‘Why us?’
Australia, perhaps it’s now time to burst out of your bubble. Understand and feel what the rest of the world feels, because if you’re asking ‘why?’ then it shows an utter lack of insight. Monday’s attack may have been perpetrated by a disorganised madman with a warped sense of justice, yet the next one may be by a very sane, organised man with the same warped sense of justice. Or many men.
It’s finally time to understand that this is the 21st century. You can’t drop a bomb and retreat back into the comfort of your home thousands of miles away. There are no more front lines, no trenches. War is fought from a cowardly distance or by a man with explosives tied to his chest. The war-zone, nowadays, is more than willing to come into your home. No-one is immune so you must take a stance and be counted, or someone else will count you in without you even realizing it.
By all means, offer humanitarian aid in times of disasters when it’s requested, and always remain in open dialogue with other nations, even if they follow vastly different ideologies. No-one’s ever died as a result of dialogue. But don’t support anything that might result in collateral damage. In your own country…or anyone else’s.
And my guess is…not many Australians are even aware of this.