As you probably already know, Sydney, Australia has had a crazy few days.
But in case you’re not a participating member of the world, I’ll get you up to speed. Monday, a man named Man Haron Monis held 17 people hostage at gunpoint in the Lindt Chocolat Café; using some as human shields while forcing others to hold an Islamic flag up in the window. After 17 excruciating hours, the Sydney seige ended with three deaths – including the gunman and a police officer.
After the incident, Australian Muslims openly expressed fear of retaliation against them, some going as far as removing their hijabs. But then the Aussie community did something amazing.
They offered their help.
The #illridewithyou hashtag – an offer by Aussies to ride public transport with Muslims who felt unsafe – has gone from local trend to global movement. It’s especially impactful when you consider the racist rep Australia often gets. By now, only a third of the tweets are from Australians, and this local trend has become a global, symbolic movement restoring some faith in humanity after much of it was destroyed.
But of course, some people are using the #illridewithyou hashtag for the opposite of what it was intended for. Some are even going as far as using the tragedy in Pakistan (in which the Taliban killed 132 schoolchildren) as fuel to further villainize Muslims. And that’s ignorant. After all, the Taliban is a radical militant group.
Just like all Christians aren’t homophobic or KKK members, not all Muslims are extremists.
Not to mention, quoting particularly negative parts of the Quran is equally ignorant. I mean look at the bible. If people followed the more outdated parts, we would all be able to own slaves, wearing clothes made of two different kinds of fabric would be a no-no, and parents could kill their son for not obeying them.
Silma Ihram, spokeswoman of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association, summarized it best:
“[Australian Muslims] are as affected as everyone else is…The religion of Islam has nothing to do with this…We’re so proud of the way Australians have responded to this.”
She went on to say that this act was extremely far from their belief. This is only reinforced on the AMWA site in a blog entry discussing how groups like ISIS are “very far from Islam”. It even goes on to say that because of a statement in the Quran, “minority sects and other faiths have always been allowed to live peacefully in Muslim lands – and never treated with the wanton callousness and cruelty as ISIS is now showing.”
If you look at Man Haron Monis – the man behind the Sydney attack – there was way more going on than just “religion made him do it.” He had a record of sexual assault, sent threatening letters to families of soldiers in Afghanistan, and was mentally ill.
The recent Pakistan massacre was not an Islamic act, it was warped extremism. And the recent Sydney attack was the act of one very warped man.
The fact that public kindness is the most shocking part of this story is kind of a wake up call. We live in a world of media sensationalism where we freak out first, and ask questions later. That creates a culture of fear where we villainize anyone who prays, dresses, or looks the same way as an individual of extreme minority.
Condemning an entire group under the label of villains isn’t just unfair – it’s dangerous. Put another way, the last two times that happened, the Japanese were put into internment camps and 6 million Jews died in concentration camps.
A culture of fear and labeling is, in a way, a form of extremism in itself.
This isn’t a case of the white majority valiantly helping local Muslims, nor is it a hashtag for the sake of attention. It’s a case of humans supporting fellow humans, and we can all learn something from our mates down under.
Just like the actions of a few don’t equal the morals of many, the hate of a few doesn’t outweigh the kindness of many. The solidarity and support that #illridewithyou gives is important, but the global reach it’s had shows that kindness continues to outshine recent darkness.
In the end, Australia’s response is truly embodied in this MLKJ quote that may be more relevant now than ever:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
(Featured image courtesy of beckyyyyyx’s instagram)