The Australian community is still reeling after Monday’s incident in which a lone gunman, identified as Iranian born refugee and self-style ‘imam’ Man Haron Monis, held up more than a dozen hostages in a cafe in the heart of the Sydney CBD. Monis was killed after a successful rescue offensive by Australian forces, which also resulted in the death of two hostages. Amidst fears of a backlash towards Muslims, Australians took to social media to get the trend #illridewithyou going; a pledge of support for Muslims fearful of using public transportation in the aftermath of the incident.
Despite the somewhat sombre mood, Sydney based Islamic scholar, Sheikh Afroz Ali, said activities in Australia’s most populous city had return to an almost “surreal” sense of normality. He praised the efficiency of the Sydney authorities in containing the crisis, and preventing chaos from erupting in the streets. Furthermore, he hailed the positive public response towards the incident.
“Today in the aftermath, particularly because of the deaths, there is a lot of support and sympathy. In fact, there is a lot of support for the Muslim community from the wider Australian community,” said Ali, the managing director of SeekersHub Global
Despite fears of a backlash towards Muslims, Ali said the response towards the Muslim community was largely positive amongst the Australian society. The most notable example of this has been the success of the #illridewithyou Twitter trend, which in the direct aftermath of the incident was amongst the top five global trends. He said that many locals had taken to offering their assistance to Muslims fearful of travelling, by supporting and defending them against an anti-Islamic rhetoric.
“Today I went to thank a Christian priest who had put up a large board in front of his road, openly supporting the Muslims of Australia. This is actually at a church that he provides his support for,” he enthused.
The perpetrator behind the hostage siege, 50-year old Monis, is reported to have an extensive criminal record. This ranges from alleged murder, setting a person on fire, accessory to murder, as well as over 40 sexual assault cases.
“He is mentally deranged,” Ali said bluntly.
“We have a person who was going to the court in the next couple of days. His wife in fact was arrested yesterday, which culminated in him snapping and actually taking this action of taking hostage. In order to make a justification and hiding his criminal activity, he tried to make it seem like an act of terrorism,” he said.
Despite reports of an Islamic State (ISIS) flag being present at the scene of the incident, such links to the radical group were played down by Ali who noted that Monis had a publicised Shi’a background. It did not make sense for him to be a member of ISIS, which is a Sunni based group. He suggested the siege was an act of a “highly manipulative person”, seeking to further tarnish the reputation of Muslims.
He added that the flag was used was not an ISIS one, but rather the Islamic Shahadah printed over a black flag. This misunderstanding was largely as a result of the manipulative nature of Western media, determined to link the incident to the radical group, Ali argued.
Since the rise of IS earlier this year, Australia has seen an exodus of nationals departing the country to take up ranks with the group. There has also been a small but growing support amongst certain sectors within Australian society, prompting the country to raise its terror level threat. Ali suggested much of this support was coming from the youth.
“The youth, whether it is (as a result of) an identity crisis, whether it is seeking for attention or some kind of involvement in usurping power, are getting involved in a small but without a doubt definitive number of exploitative elements, connected to the overseas elements of IS,” he added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)