Support and strength are emerging as strong factors binding the world together against terrorism
Random acts of terror have shaken the complacency of the world lately. First it was the siege of the Lindt Café by a single, armed, self-styled terrorist, that ended in a shootout and the tragic loss of two innocent lives and that of Man Haron Monis, the terrorist. Sydney was overwhelmed with a feeling of loss and anxiety, as the incident made headlines across the world.
“If only….!” In the aftermath of the, this is the one statement that Australians are making with regret. “If only this evil person (Man Haron Monis) was not on bail..”; “If only he had not been allowed to move freely, this tragedy could have been averted!” But the deed is done and Australia’s most tragic hostage incident that unfolded at 9.44am on the busy Monday morning of December 15 at the popular Lindt’s Café in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD, will not be easily forgotten. The siege ended in tragedy after 17 long, stressful hours at 2am on Tuesday, December 16. Two hostages Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson lost their lives in their prime, and the gunman was also killed.
On December 17, in a heartrendingly tragic act of terrorism, 148 people including 136 children were massacred at an army run school in Peshawar, Pakistan by the Taliban.
Andt on January 9, 2015, a daring attack by three terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, France saw a total of 12 dead, mostly staff at the publication and a policeman. Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly ruthlessly attacked the office of the magazine. In a separate incident, Coulibaly killed 5 innocent shoppers at a kosher supermarket in the city. All the attackers were shot dead by the police.
The gunmen are alleged to have had links to militant groups in the Middle East and were said to have ‘avenged’ cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed that were published in Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Support and strength
However brutal and ruthless these attacks may have been, the underlying global message has been that of unity and support. Thousands of people attended memorials, candlelight vigils and marches of solidarity to honour the victims, and to stand united in the face of such atrocious acts of terror. In Sydney, the area outside the Lindt Café transformed into a veritable shrine with hundreds of bouquets and mementoes, candlelight vigils and peace marches were held across the world for the victims of the Peshawar and Paris attacks. Countries across the globe showed unanimous support and empathy for the victims and their families.
European states have now agreed to launch antiterror initiatives with Muslim-majority nations to improve an understanding of Islam and dispel growing fears of Islamaphobia.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated that security officials would be appointed at some EU foreign missions and Arabic-language capacity would be boosted. The EU would step up intelligence-sharing both internally and with countries affected by terrorism, and increase its work to prevent funding for terrorist networks. The European Parliament would be asked to work on legislation covering the sharing of airline passenger data.
With the Lindt Café siege, Sydneysiders felt that this was terrorism coming to their backyard and the reminder was a potent one, reminiscent of 9/11 and 26/11. The emergency services rallied immediately, with police, special force personnel, fire & rescue services and ambulances on standby, and constant monitoring of the situation by both the Government and the media. The area around the café was cordoned off, offices in and around the vicinity went into lockdown, and many companies simply sent their employees home immediately or after a few hours when it was safe to travel.
The location itself was very important considering that it is very close to the Premier’s Office, NSW Parliament and financial institutions including leading banks, government offices and the Indian Consulate. Martin Place is also a tourist attraction. After the NSW Police Force moved in to the location to diffuse the crisis, almost the entire country was glued to the television sets or radios or computers anxiously waiting minute by minute, praying for a peaceful outcome with no harm to innocent hostages from different backgrounds and professions. The Australian media responded very cautiously and responsibly in their reporting, downplaying over-speculation and maintaining a high degree of transparency for the families involved, the public and the wider global community.
In India the concerns were closer home as two hostages were employees of renowned IT company Infosys, who had been assigned to Westpac in Sydney. Commendably, the Indian government was quick to react, swiftly opening up emergency contact lines to assist. The Indian media too, offered on the spot reporting and developments with a full understanding of the hostage crisis. In a particularly perceptive and thoughtful gesture, the Parklea Gurdwara organised a prayer meeting on the eve of December 15 for a safe solution, while the hostage situation was still ongoing.
Naturally, sentiment against the siege has been running at fever pitch, with emotional outbursts, condemnation and anger at the incident. However, Sydneysiders united in a show of solidarity, and the creation of the hashtag ‘#I’llridewithyou’ movement on Twitter showed incredible support for Muslim
Australians, downplaying any anti-Muslim sentiment that may have been experienced in the aftermath of the incident.
In retrospect, investigations are now on, not just to find out the motives of the killer Mons Haron Monis, but also to enquire why he was out on bail in the first place. Premier of NSW Mike Baird has already taken steps to review and correct the system, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a thorough investigation. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has called for transparency in the investigative process, and it is hoped that answers will soon be forthcoming.
People across the country were vocal in their condemnation of the event, their sympathy for those affected, and their sentiments in relation to the incident.
In a moving tribute on the morning after the incident, Premier Mike Baird offered strong words of support. “Our first thoughts and prayers this morning are with the innocent victims their families and friends of this vicious, horrendous attack. I want to say to their family and friends, everyone in NSW stands beside you. This morning. Tomorrow. Forever.” he stated..
“There is not one person or family which is not affected by this tragedy. Diversity is our strength in handling such situations. Appreciate the efforts of the Indian community in supporting and such unity by the community will further strengthen our multicultural base,” stated the Hon. Anthony Roberts MP, Minister for Energy and Resources, NSW Government.
“Today is a Sad Day and emotions are overflowing. Never happened in NSW. This incident has united all Australians and has given them more strength (to deal with such unfortunate situations),” said the Hon. Shaoquett Moselmane, Member, Legislative Council, NSW Parliament.
Said Pandit Shri Ramachandra Athreya, General Secretary, Australian Council of Hindu Clergy, “We should remain responsible and united irrespective of religious and ethnic backgrounds, and weed out such bad elements affecting the community harmony. Interfaith dialogues must happen more frequently than before. It was a touching moment for me personally to be with the family of Tori Johnson under these trying circumstances and share their feelings. Praying for the departed Atma (self) of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson to Rest in Peace.
Imam Nazeerul Hasan Thanvi, Muslim Community Leader condemned the event saying, “It is sad. Un-Islamic and un-Australian. This is an isolated incident and not political.”.
“Australia has woken up to a new way of life. We need to be more careful and vigilant. This is an isolated incident and we will not allow such incidents to affect our unity. We also need to relook at our bail laws,” advised Sumati Advani, Past President, United Indian Association.
Aruna Chandrala, also a Past President of the UIA said, “It is unbelievable and should not have happened in beautiful Australia. We all came to live here peacefully and this should have never happened. We all need to stand together and be united in such a moment.”.
“Shocked to see this. I was continuously watching the developments on TV. As a community, we must be together in support of the Government in such situations,” said Prabakar, an executive at Infosys. Details keep emerging piecemeal of what transpired during those crucial hours of imprisonment, and it will be a while before the public is made fully aware of the intricate details of the incident. But tributes have been pouring in, with the street outside the café literally transformed into a sea of flowers as each day, more and more people visit the site to pay their respects to the victims and survivors.
Sadly this incident occurred during the busy period in the lead up to Christmas, when the entire community celebrates the spirit of peace, forgiveness and harmony. But Australia remains determined to stay strong and united in the face of acts of terror, no matter what form they take. It is this solidarity of multicultural Australia that gives us the combined strength to face up to any challenges, as well as to offer support to the rest of the world.