My first thought on hearing the news of the hostage situation in Sydney’s Martin Place this morning was ‘those poor, terrified people and their anxious families. What a horrible thing to happen!’ and then slightly irrationally (because fear can be irrational), I thought ‘and just before Christmas too’ as if this made the horribleness of the situation more horrible. The next thought I had was condolence to the Islamic population of Sydney and Australia who will, no doubt, be frightened by this situation not just because of the randomness of such an event happening in our peaceful country, but because they know, like they found out after September 11, that their communities will be blamed, hated, abused, discriminated against and generally shunned by large sections of the non-Islamic Australian community through no fault of their own. Perhaps they’re not just scared. If I were them, I would be furious.
I was a teenager when the Port Arthur massacre happened, and I don’t recall there being a backlash at the time against white people with blonde hair. I’m a white person with blonde hair, and no one has ever heaped me into the ‘possibly a mass murderer’ bucket along with Martin Bryant. Or more recently, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who apparently killed 69 young political activists because he didn’t like their party’s immigration stance which he saw as too open to Islamic immigrants. In fact, in neither case do I recall the word ‘terrorist’ even being used to describe the mass murders of innocent people.
As soon as I saw the images of the white Islamic text on a black flag in the window of the Lindt Café on the news this morning, I knew Australian bigots would be singing with the cries of ‘I told you so!’ and I was right. According to The Guardian’s commentary of today’s events, King Bigot, Ralph Cerminara, leader of the anti-Muslim organisation Australian Defence League, hurried down to Martin Place to rant about Muslims and was moved on by police. Charming stuff. But of course Ralph is not alone. I noticed Greens MP Adam Bandt received a series of bigoted responses to this tweet:
Here are 5 of the first 6 responses on the twitter feed:
It’s important to note, not that Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph cares to be accurate, that the flag photographed in the window of the café is not an Islamic State flag. We don’t know anything at all about the hostage takers yet, they may be Islamic State supporters, they may not. But Murdoch’s newspapers, and the bigots who take this news as truth won’t let unconfirmed facts get in the way of a good excuse for some old-fashioned fear mongering and racist bigotry.
This ‘how-much-profit-can-we-drag-out-of-this-tragedy-that-we-know-barely-anything-about’ afternoon edition Daily Telegraph front cover makes the very dubious statement of ‘THE INSTANT WE CHANGED FOREVER’. But have we changed?
The only thing that I can see as having changed in this situation is the level of comfort bigots feel about being openly racist towards people of Islamic faith. And that’s the very real, very scary, very confronting part of this tragedy. Not just that this shocking, violent siege can happen to innocent people on a quiet Monday morning a week before Christmas. The tweets to Adam Bandt show a side of Australia that we all know is there, but we prefer not to think about. These bigots are the reason asylum seeker policy is such a political hot potato in this country, and why Tony Abbott is able to be elected promising to ‘stop the boats’. These nasty racist people aren’t a rarity. And they vote. Welcome to Australia. We haven’t changed a bit.