Islamic leaders: Australians rise above fear after Sydney siege

Online pro-muslim initiative shared over 100,000 times on Twitter and Facebook

Muslim men at prayer as the public lay flowers at the Lindt coffee shop in Martin Place, Sydney Australia on Tuesday.  Photograph: Steve Christo/AP

Muslim men at prayer as the public lay flowers at the Lindt coffee shop in Martin Place, Sydney Australia on Tuesday. Photograph: Steve Christo/AP


Australian Islamic representatives have expressed optimism that the Sydney siege will not trigger an escalation of physical and verbal attacks on Muslims, despite sporadic threats made during the unfolding crisis.

Man Haron Monis, long viewed as a fringe figure in Sydney’s Islamic community, held 17 people hostage in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place. Monis, along with two hostages, died in the shootout that ended the siege.

An online initiative using the hashtag #illridewithyou has been shared more than 100,000 times on Twitter and Facebook since Monday. The campaign involves members of the public offering to take public transport with Muslims and to reassure those who may be targeted as a result of the siege.

The far-right Australian Defence League urged people to “converge” on Lakemba, a district of Sydney with a significant Muslim population, and launched its own hashtag #IWillNotRideWithYou. Several Muslim Australians, who asked not to be named, have said they experienced verbal threats in the wake of the siege.

New South Wales police said there had been no reported confrontations but “threats are treated seriously and police will act if the law is broken”.

‘Right-wing groups’

Lydia Shelly, a Muslim and lawyer who set up the Islamophobia Register, said she was aware of threats by “right-wing groups” but that overall the response of the public had been positive.

“We’ve received overwhelming messages of support from Australia and overseas because people know this doesn’t reflect Australian Muslims,” she said. “We realise Australia is mourning and we realise this is something that will change Australia, quite frankly.

“But Australians overwhelmingly have risen above the fear and mistrust. This is a test and we are all responding quite well . . . I think we can unite. Australia is better than this.”

Kuranda Seyit from the Forum on Islamic Relations said he was generally encouraged by the response of the Australian public.

“There are groups like the ADL that are trying to capitalise upon these issues and I’m sure some politicians will go back to the issues of migration and the burqa,” he said.

“The repercussions will be long lasting and it will be a hard climb back from this for the Islamic community. There is worry in the community, especially among women who are conspicuous in the way they dress.

Mr Seyit said Monis was a “disturbed person” who “used Islam as a way to get attention”. But he said more needed to be done to connect with radicalised people.

“The problem has been in our face since September 11th but we failed to act, we were complacent,” he said. “We need to understand the causes of radicalisation and deal with it at its deepest root. We need a long-term strategy, empirical research and data and outreach programmes.”

Iqbal Patel, former president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said he was in contact with Monis for a number of months in 2008 and said he appeared “mentally unstable”.

“He was someone who had a warped view of the place of religion in a country like Australia,” he said.

Iranian-born Monis sought asylum in Australia in 1996, subsequently giving himself the title Sheikh Haron. He was charged last year with being an accessory to the murder of his 30-year-old former wife Noleen Hayson Pal, a mother of two who was allegedly stabbed to death and set alight in April 2013.

The head of the Australian Iranian Community Association, Sam Ghahremin, said Monis was not known to the Iranian community.

“When we found out he was Iranian, we were really sorry about his actions, but he was acting alone and he had a mental problem,” he said. “The community as a whole condemns his actions.”– (Guardian service)