Georgina Guedes

In the wake of the Sydney siege

2014-12-16 15:07

On Monday, 17 patrons in a coffee shop in Sydney were subjected to an unimaginable terror as a gunman held them hostage for 16 hours. The gunman was Man Haron Monis, a self-styled Muslim cleric, and it seems that he was an on a crusade of one rather than representing an organised movement.

When something like this happens, we’re always desperate for someone - some larger organisation - to claim responsibility. Naming an enemy helps us to be able to make sense of it all.

We’re then able to corral our hatred and our anger and our fear and direct it towards a group that’s deserving.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we struggle with subtleties. And in many cases, we even struggle with blatancies. That there is no link between a Muslim person trying to get on with their lives, and a militant fundamentalist willing to take lives for an unrealistic cause, is a fine point indiscernible to many.

When these kinds of things happen, there are frequently requests that all Muslims, if they don’t associate themselves with the actions of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda or any other fundamentalist movement or individual, must actively dissociate themselves, daily.

This is an onerous and almost unachievable requirement. Whites who descend from Christian backgrounds feel very little pressure to do the same when the Westboro Baptist lunatics incite violence or white police shoot the heads off young black people in the States.

Sure, some of us feel inclined to post some comment about #notallwhites or #notinmyname, but the overall public opinion doesn’t require us to daily flagellate ourselves in penitence for the behaviour of someone to whom we have some vague cultural link, sometimes a continent away. And yet this is expected of Muslims.

All of this is why it was so incredible to see the #illridewithyou hashtag emerging from the horror of the Sydney hostage situation (what are we calling this? 12/15?). Australians who knew that there would be a backlash against Muslims in their city have offered to ride home with anyone fearing for their safety.

This is awesome stuff - acknowledging that things are only going to go one way in the wake of a disaster like this, and making the effort to change the outcome.

The subtext of the hashtag is: “Dear human, I don’t know you, but I know that the colour of your skin and the religion you believe in and the culture you hold dear have marked you as a target. Your life now is far more dangerous than the lives of all the non-Muslims living in Sydney. So I will put myself in the line of fire. I will ride home with you to make sure that you don’t feel alone, and that no one’s got your back. I acknowledge your humanity first, and any tenuous connection you may have to this insanity is irrelevant to me.”

Tragedy has a powerful capacity to rip relationships and people apart, but it also has the ability to bring people together; to build bridges on exactly the ground that they were destroyed.

I don’t understand what’s happening in the world right now, and I don’t know how we can fix it, but I hope that those who would build those bridges outnumber those who would destroy them, so that in the end we build something rather than reducing it all to rubble.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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