Reacting to the Sydney Siege: Thoughts and Lessons

Sydney hostages

by Suleiman Ali Baig

Like most Australians, I was surprised to learn of the recent ‘Sydney Siege’ taking place as I went about my daily routine. For many of us, to hear of such scenarios playing out are chilling. Such scenarios after all are either the work of fiction or so far away from us that they are inconceivable. My initial surprise and disgust transformed into sharpened discomfort when it was announced that the gunman, Man Haron Monis, obscured vision into the Lindt Cafe using a shahadah flag. The shahadah or testimony of faith forms the most important basis of the Islamic faith and is rooted within one of its most essential tenets; the doctrine of tawheed.

After discovering this small yet vital piece of information, I had a sinking feeling of utter disgust, for it was now a ‘double whammy.’ Not only were innocent lives being threatened, they were being threatened in the name of something all Muslims hold dear to them, Islam. Not only was this lost man committing evil in order in the name of Muslims, he was ironically causing them greater harm. The Muslim community, many times over, has been caught in the crosswire between such events and the greater public. What with this new incident, we would be called into account for that which were not responsible for again. Mosques were at risk of being vandalised again. Muslims, especially women, were at risk of being abused in public again.

Given that there was initially very little information regarding what was taking place. Speculation was rife. Some of the reactions were quite predictable. On one hand we had right-wing fringe groups such as the ADL (Australian Defence League) opportunistically using it as a means to further their anti-Islamic agenda. So much so that they were ambitiously using their Facebook page to urge their supporters to descend on Lakemba, one of the most highly populated Muslim areas in Sydney.

On the other hand, we had members of pan Islamic groups such as Hizbut-Tahrir and their sympathisers chastising others online for not giving the Guantanamo bay prisoners or the ongoing difficulties in Gaza the same kind of attention. Although the latter of the two groups may have had a point, it was raised at a most inopportune time and perhaps even diminished their cause. This inability to connect with the greater public, to use such events to unapologetically service a particular agenda, as well as being somewhat antithetical to Islamic etiquette, is a behaviour which indicates one to be slightly out of touch with the mindset and concerns of the greater public.

The irony is that the same may said of the Prime Minister himself. He did not hesitate to use the tragedy to point out that Monis, used the symbolism of the “ISIL Death Cult.” He even went so far as to call the incident “Australia’s brush with terrorism”. Seeing as Monis, as far as we are aware, never claimed any links to the so called ‘Islamic State,’ the fact that the symbolism of black flags has never been specific to ISIL and the fact that several contemporary groups with no links to the Islamic state have used black flags, it is quite disturbing that the Prime Minister would make this poorly-researched or perhaps deliberate conclusion. Such an error is all the more alarming when one article, during the crisis, even explicitly pointed out that the flag was not an Islamic state flag.

To the Prime Minister’s credit, he did point out that Monis was an individual with a history of mental instability. It may additionally be said that Monis also had an appalling history of domestic violence, sexual misconduct and even murder. The question I and several others have asked thus far is, with such a detestable list of offences, murder being the worst of them, how was this man free on bail, for murder no less? The answer: Apparently, Monis’s case was weak. If we, as a community, are to gain a lesson in anything at all, it is that significant action must be taken in order to avoid the likelihood that such occurrences will repeat themselves.

Monis has been under the spotlight of the media for many years, most notably since he began writing inflammatory letters to the families of dead soldiers. Given the amount of attention he has historically received from the media, as well as the courts, the real questions that must be asked is what could have been done in order to much clearly assess his mental state? What processes could have been employed in order to safeguard the community from him? I cannot but help feel that this situation feels all too reminiscent of how Adrian Bayley, the man responsible for the death of Jill Meagher, was all too easily permitted parole even though he would be found guilty of rape and murder not long after.

As people were so curious to learn about another murderer, Chopper Read and his mindset, I fear that the same may conceivably occur for Monis. Perhaps one of the worst things that may have come out of the tragedy is that Monis’s memory will live on in the form of movies and books in the years to come. His spectre may even hang over the heads of Muslims for whatever religious or political gain, not leaving him how he truly should be. Forgotten and not worthy of mentioning.