The Sydney siege

They say no news is good news and that is absolutely the case in my house. A good day is speckled with opinion pieces and social media, with just a dash of current affairs and events. A bad day is one where the news rolls all day long.

Today was one of those days. When the TV is on all day. A day when Twitter is constantly refreshed and news sites are minimised, not closed.

I thought long and hard about what to write about the Sydney siege. I wanted to write something. There’s a lot that can be said about the media’s handling of this, about the dangers of social media and speculation during police manoeuvres, about how the Australian public will react to these events, about what effects this will have on the Muslim community, about terrorism in the Western world, and if this means Australia is no longer safe.

The journalist in me considers these angles and implications, potential sources of comment and analysis, but it’s not the right time. There will be time for these discussions but it’s not now. Not while the situation is still unresolved. Not while there are still people whose average Monday morning became a waking nightmare. Not while lives are still in danger.

There will be time to figure out what went wrong, there will be time for explanations, but first everyone needs to get home safely.

Stay strong, Sydney.

Rant: ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and the Australian public

Image from the wonderful MDA:
Image from the wonderful MDA:

The only thing to truly fear is ignorance. Ignorance breeds misunderstanding which breeds fear, fear that corrodes logic and common decency and manifests as hate.

I’m talking of course about the recent terror raids in Australia, about ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, and the toxic smog of fear clouding judgement and suffocating tolerance and understanding.

If it were a question of religion, I wouldn’t comment. I’m an atheist and I think you’re all equally insane, but you have every right to be. The thing that gets me the most is that this shouldn’t be about religion. Because it’s not. It’s about extremists and terrorists. This should be a dead giveaway for those who point the blame at Islam. Extremists and terrorists. Not Muslims. Just because those terrorists use Islam as an excuse for their behaviour doesn’t mean it has anything to do with the religion itself. Similarly, Catholic priests under investigation for interfering with children have used their religion as a way of justifying and hiding their actions. There have been no questions around Catholicism following these revelations, about the leadership absolutely, but not about the religion itself and the majority of those who follow it.

Terrorism is about fear. And you know what? They’re winning. Fear is everywhere. Yes, it’s in the news, it’s on the faces of the paranoid among us, and it’s gotten to me too. You know what I’m scared of? I’m not scared for my family and friends back in Australia. I think they’re more likely to be attacked by a drop bear than be exposed to a terrorist attack. No, I’m scared for the Islamic community of Australia. A community that are already subjected to so much suspicion and abuse. A community of normal people being vilified for the religion’s non-existent links to a terrorist organisation.

Why this group of people though? When Anders Breivik slaughtered innocent people in Norway in 2011, we didn’t go around saying, “You can never trust those Christians, bunch of white-skinned, no-hat lunatic”. No. It was a tragedy committed by a mentally ill extremist. A terrorist. His religion barely came into is, his extreme views did certainly, but never once was it ever implied that his behaviour was representative of all Christians everywhere.

The whole issue is completely bizarre. It is a non-religious group of people taking a non-religious issue, terrorism, using it as ammunition against a religious group, Muslims. Because the arguments are never, “I’m a Christian and I believe in Jesus and the Bible as the one true gospel/word/religion” or “Dude, I’m a Buddhist and you’ve got this whole religion thing wrong.” It’s “I’m an Australian, my family’s lived her for generations”.  You know what, champ? Unless you identify as a First Nations Person, being Australian means being an immigrant. An immigrant from England or Scotland or Ireland, or from Greece or Italy, from China or Vietnam, from the Middle East, or even from New Zealand.

The same fear-mongering has happened with each new wave of immigration. First we feared the Greeks and Italians, then the Chinese and Vietnamese, now it’s the Middle East’s turn. I’m sure once Australia is over this, it’s only a matter of time until we turn against the Americans or the Kiwis. The only reason it’s worse now is the unrelenting exposure to a media that is treating this issue with all the sensitivity and tact of a rabid dog. We are constantly exposed, bombarded, with reasons to be afraid, reasons to be outraged. Overblown headlines, misleading causation and consequence links and interview after interview with suburban housewives saying, “They kept to themselves, I always thought they were a bit funny”. Once the media has made us uncertain about what we thought we knew about our suburbs, at the click of a button we can be in touch with people who can feed our fears and help them grow from insecurities into bitter, violent monsters.

It is a vicious, caustic cycle of misunderstanding and misinformation breeding fear and hatred, and it needs to stop. Because when I read those articles, when I read the comments, when I see posts on Facebook and Twitter, I feel ashamed to be Australian. But I shouldn’t because those ignorant, hateful people are not representative of Australia exactly the same as Daesh do not represent the people of Syria or Iran or Afghanistan or Iraq, or the whole Islamic faith.

<rant over>