In early December, Sydneysiders and Australians in general will remember the second anniversary of the deadly Lindt chocolate café siege. After a sixteen-hour stand-off, one of the eighteen hostages inside was killed by the Islamist fanatic and ISIS supporter Man Haron Monis, another died from a ricocheting police bullet, Monis himself was dead, several people were left injured and the rest of the country was left to ponder and recriminate about the authorities’ handling of the situation, which continues to this day, as the official inquest rolls on. This was, after all, the deadliest act of Islamist terrorist violence in Australia.
Yesterday, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and his deputy Catherine Burn testified before the inquest. It was a largely post-facto washing hands off exercise, with responsibility for the police conduct being laid at the feet of the operational commanders on the day. But one point in particular stands out, as reported by The Australian: “Ms Burn and Mr Scipione said they placed huge weight on community stability during the siege, fearing a backlash from — they implied but did not state — right-wing anti-Muslim groups, with the Deputy Commissioner describing this concern as ‘paramount’.”
Read it, re-read it, and let it sink in. An ISIS-inspired, armed fanatic is holding eighteen people hostage at a café, making all sorts of demands, from getting an ISIS flag for display to talking to the Prime Minister. The police miss opportunities to shoot him but don’t engage in any serious negotiations either. And meanwhile, amongst all this drama and unfolding mess, the two top police officials in the state are more worried about a possible backlash against Muslim community than they are about the lives of the eighteen people inside.
It’s comforting to know that our safety and lives are in good hands.
Ms Burns and Mr Scipione need not have been concerned. As we can all remember, after the siege was over, some 150,000 Australians used the #illridewithyou hashtag, volunteering to accompany Muslims on public transport should they fall victim to Islamophobic backlash. No backlash eventuated, but a lot of people got a priceless opportunity to feel good about themselves.
Perhaps if a memorial “I’ll ride with you” medal for religious and ethnic sensitivity is ever struck, the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner can become its first worthy recipients. And perhaps the gravestones of Teri Johnson and Katrina Dawson can be adorned with a simple but poignant message: “Their deaths were not in vain; community stability was preserved”.
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk where this piece also appears.