Down in Australia’s premiere banking district at the heart of Sydney last Monday, Man Haron Monis, a self-styled Islamic cleric took staff and customers of a Lindt cafe in Martin Place hostage and forced them to raise a black flag bearing an Arabic inscription in white that says “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The message is consistent with Shahada, an Islamic doctrine that is one of the faith’s key pillars. Ben MacQueen of Australia’s Monash University refers to it as “the testimony or core statement of belief in Islam.” The siege ended with three people dead — two hostages and Monis.
Up in Peshawar, Pakistan, 141 people of which 132 were children lost their lives to a “revenge attack” perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban yesterday. The attack was, according to a Taliban statement, in retaliation for on-going Pakistani military attacks against them. Some witnesses say that the Taliban attackers who carried out this barbaric execution of innocent children shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is great!”) as they shot kids often at point-blank range. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, was also a victim of a Taliban attack on account of her being a vocal advocate of women’s right to education there.
On both occasions, the barbarity on exhibit was perpetrated on the bases of supposedly perverted interpretations of Islamic doctrine and scripture. The argument of course is that the earlier was the result of the “isolated” actions of a mentally unstable “madman” and that the latter involved the actions of foot soldiers grossly misguided by the vindictive tunnel-visioned zealotry of their charismatic leaders. But the common denominator between the two seemingly unrelated tragedies remained confronting and inescapable.
In Australia, the collective response to that elephant in the debating room was manifest in a Twitter hashtag: #illridewithyou (“I’ll ride with you”). Australians have used this hashtag to rally around the Muslim community here by encouraging people to follow the example of Brisbane woman Rachael Jacobs who, in the days following the violent end to the Sydney Martin Place Siege, posted on her Facebook profile an account of how she spotted a Muslim woman who removed her headscarf as she walked towards a train station and then further writes, “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.” Since then, the hashtag campaign has taken off. A Sydney TV editor tweeted;
If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.
The underlying assumption in this preemptive initiative is, of course, that Muslims will collectively be seen as a target for a backlash coming from a majority presumably furious over the latest acts of “Islamic terrorism”. Actually it’s two assumptions: (1) that there will be a virulent resurgence of islamophobia in Australian society, and (2) that Muslims will be the victims of such a development.
Suffice to say, it is easy to incite such feelings after the fact. In normal times, Muslims and non-Muslims generally try to stay out of each others’ faces and spaces at best. At worst, they shun one another. The continuum between both extremes describes Australian society business-as-usual. An event such as the Martin Place Siege usually sparks a trendy re-evaluation of this normal dynamic. Otherwise, the status quo is a familiar comfort zone for most Australians.
What is disturbing is that underneath both circumstances — normal business as usual or in the heat of emotional upheaval in the aftermath of the next in-the-name-of-Islam atrocity — lies a bedrock of political correctness. In normal times, people are tightlipped about one anothers’ deeply-ingrained distaste for the others’ beliefs and practices. Christians and members of the broader secular society of Australia are baffled and irked by what many regard to be the dogmatic and controlling — often oppressive — belief system of Muslims, while Muslims tend to be judgmental of the infidel’s sinfully-liberated ways. But thanks to political correctness, that is all simply not discussed. When tragedies such as the Martin Place Siege strike, suddenly the violence is an “isolated” incident that has supposedly “does not reflect the broader Muslim community”.
Media are laughing either way, in the case-in-point presented by the events in recent days; flooding the airwaves with inflammatory images of a black Islamic flag being waved in the midst of the unfolding atrocity then suddenly shifting its focus onto a quaint hashtag in its aftermath that aims to whitewash the Islamic imprint on them. Political correctness is the cultural trump card that smoothens the landscape of discourse in both instances.
What seems to escape the attention of many thought leaders today is the very way this painting of Muslims as “victims” by movements such as #illridewithyou contributes to the foundation of most terrorist movements which target marginalised people of society many of whom feel that they are victims of an indifferent or even hostile mainstream. The recruitment initiatives instigated by the Islamic State in the West, for example reportedly attract “the young unemployed and disaffected” who “desire to make their lives, and perhaps their deaths, count for something.”
A campaign such as that of the “I’ll ride with you” movement could possibly further re-enforce the idea of a “them” and “us” in society and heighten a need by individuals within certain high-risk sectors of that society to satisfy a personal craving for a sense of belonging making them more vulnerable to radicalisation. Indeed, small wonder that most terror recruits consist of young men according to a Psychology Today report…
It is very significant that most terrorists are young men, usually adolescents. Adolescence can be a psychologically difficult period, during which a person becomes aware of themselves as a separate individual, with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. As a result, there is a strong need for identity and belonging. This is why adolescents often join gangs, and become followers of fashion or of pop groups. Belonging to a group helps to alleviate their sense of separateness and strengthens their identity.
Political correctness suppresses motivation and courage to enter into the hard conversations. When the hard questions are ignored for the sake of some kind of contrived “peace”, problems fester underneath the seemingly calm surface. Problems like terrorism.
Perhaps we are long overdue for a more realistic and more confronting debate that is way outside our collective comfort zone as a society and certainly beyond anything that could be effected by trendy Twitter hashtags.