State of siege

The city’s largest-selling tabloid even came out with a special edition proclaiming a “Death cult CBD attack”

A terrorist attack had long been feared in Australia, but it would be reasonably safe to say that the events that unfolded in the heart of Sydney took everyone by surprise — not just the public and the authorities but quite possibly even the perpetrators of Islamist violence.

The saga unfolded on Monday morning with a gunman entering a cafe owned by a Swiss chocolate franchise and, shortly afterwards, evidently compelling two of his hostages to hold up a black piece of cloth with an Arabic inscription at the cafe’s window, which led some observers to conclude that the attack was associated with the organisation known as Islamic State or Daesh.

The city’s largest-selling tabloid even came out with a special edition proclaiming a “Death cult CBD attack” (CBD stands for central business district), although by then less sensationalism-driven analysts were already remarking upon the gunman’s bizarre choice of target and his unusual modus operandi. By Monday afternoon, five of the hostages had already fled the premises. As of Tuesday morning, it was uncertain whether they escaped while the gunman’s was concentrating elsewhere, or were permitted to leave.

By the time the siege ended shortly after 2 am local time, two of the hostages were dead, and some others injured. The gunman was also killed in the shootout. As a consequence, precisely what motivated him to undertake an act of monumental stupidity may never be known. A few hours before his demise, the perpetrator was named as Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old deviant of Iranian origin who gained asylum in Australia back in 1996, based on complaints of persecution in his homeland that included his wife and children being taken into custody.

That claim is unverifiable. What we do know is that Monis changed his name from Manteghi Boujerdi, and that his claims to being an ayatollah sparked complaints from Shias in Australia. It was alleged criminal offences, though, that landed him in jail — including being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife by his partner. He also faced charges based on a string of sexual assaults, including earlier this year a complaint by a young woman who visited him for “spiritual healing” after coming across a advertisement in which Monis claimed expertise in “astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic”.

Intriguingly, not long ago Monis also posted on his website a diatribe against “moderate Islam”, and said that he had converted from the Shia to the Sunni version of the faith. In his communications with the police after he “conquered” the Lindt cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place, one of his demands, apparently, was for a genuine Daesh flag to be brought to the premises.

That he liked publicity is evident from the fact that he persuaded some of his hostages to call media outlets. The New South Wales police commissioner has suggested that his troops decided to storm the cafe just after 2 am local time on Tuesday after shots rang out. That seems plausible, although none of the media representatives staking out the precinct were clear about the events. The commissioner has refused to comment on how the fatalities occurred.

Another factor that brought the self-styled Sheikh Haron to police attention was his obnoxious missives to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Australia’s propensity to step in where angels fear to tread is based on the assumption that unless it contributed to wars it would be isolated in a potentially hostile part of the globe, and it was demonstrated once more when Canberra pledged troops to the Western effort against Daesh almost before it got under way.

That’s stupid, and part of a geopolitical cringe relating to Australia’s vulnerability. It obviously does not follow, though, that this should expose Australians to violence from within the community.

The most moving outcome was the “I’ll ride with you” hashtag, prompted by a commuter who witnessed a fellow commuter reluctantly removing her hijab in the interests of safety on public transport. It has evoked a worldwide reaction, putting a damper on contrary trends. It has not been officially endorsed, yet it firmly underlines the resistance to those who have been quick to leap on Monis’ deranged intervention as an excuse for Islamophobia.

By arrangement with Dawn

( Source : dc )
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