I, like many other Australians, woke up this morning with a broken heart. What happened yesterday and overnight in Sydney was something which, realistically, no one saw coming.
Two of our peers lost at the hands of a man who held extremist views and wild ideals. A country shocked by what has just unfolded in front of us. Heinous displays of hatred, and beautiful displays of love, all arising from the same event.
The Sydney Siege that occurred at Martin Place was a reminder that terror threats are real, but it was also a reminder of how much we as a society condemn them. The immediate denouncing of the act from almost the entire country was proof that we will not be broken, yet the amount of backlash that was Islamaphobia-motivated was absolutely horrendous.
A lot of Australians are culturally intolerant people. I think anyone can see that with a quick scroll of social media on any given day. There are ignorant posts from evidently uneducated people, and wild statements and accusations about people who are more than likely just trying to go about their daily lives.
At last census, 2.2% of Australia’s population claimed Islam as their religion. This equals <500,000 people. These people have moved to Australia for various reasons, whether it be to seek refuge, to find work, or simply to give their families better lives. Some of these Islamic individuals have also been in Australia their entire lives, being born here like us, and growing up in the exact same way as their non-Islamic counterparts. They are Australian, in any sense of the word.
Due to many reasons – sensationalism within the media, lack of education and general prejudice to name a few – the Islamic community is often stereotyped and generalised, not just in Australia but worldwide. I don’t need to explain it, do I? We all know it happens, and we all know how awful it is.
Within an hour of the news breaking of the siege yesterday, rumours started flying, and hearsay ‘evidence’ was prominent. “Is it ISIS?” “Are there bombs?” “I hear he has an Islamic State flag” . These ‘facts’ were spreading like wildfire, and it was like the whole of Australia was playing a game of Chinese Whispers.
And just as quickly, the Islamaphobes crawled out of the woodwork. While I refuse to quote some of the disgusting posts I saw on social media yesterday, some things made me genuinely upset and embarrassed to hold the same nationality as these individuals. I even saw multiple people call themselves ‘proud to be racist’, because it’s the ‘Aussie thing’ to do. If that is the ‘Aussie thing’ to do, then let me tell you – I’m glad I have British citizenship, too. Plus I thought Islam was a religion not a race? Silly me.
But then, just as quickly as the hatred began, the country stood up and fought hate with love. A poignant reminder of the true spirit of mateship and tolerance within Australia, ‘#illridewithyou’ spread far and wide.
The concept of ‘I’ll Ride With You’ was simple. It started from a kind gesture – if you are a Muslim in Australia who is now too frightened to catch public transport on your own, I’ll ride with you. I’ll be there for you, so you are not alone.
And as quick as the awful words spread, so did the outpouring of love. People put up their bus and train routes and timetables with the offer of support. Individuals offered car rides. And we, as Australians, proved that we are a beautiful community who is capable of loving and supporting those who have come from far and wide.
The IRWY concept is about more than offering moral support on public transport. It is about Australia standing up, standing together, and showing that we’re not afraid. We’re not afraid of bigots who believe that all Muslims are extremists, that express their horrific views over social media, and who don’t accept that Australia is a melting pot of culture. More importantly, we’re not afraid of terror. Yes, the threats are real. Yesterday was a testament to that. But no, we will not give in to what they want. We won’t give them the satisfaction of showing our fear, because as a country we are better than that. We are stronger than that. We might only be little old Australia, but the way we have reacted to this has shown just how incredible we are. I started the day being ashamed of my nationality, and ended the day being prouder than ever. Because bigots do not represent the views of a nation. And extremists do not represent the views of a religion. And the sooner everyone realises that, the more united we become as a country.
Be kind to one another, stay safe, and stay strong. And if anyone, no matter your religion or race, feels unsafe for reasons they shouldn’t – I will ride with you.