The hostage drama in Martin Place has ended, with the gunman and two hostages dead. The loss of innocent lives, and the injuries to others, are a tragedy.
With the siege over, more facts about the events are finally available.
The Daily Telegraph and others have seized on the gunman’s demands, which included a request for an Islamic State flag, to declare confidently “This was an attack by the Islamic State”. Tony Abbott has weighed in too, declaring that the gunman, “sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL death cult”, before resuming his scare campaign by portraying this as proof of a wider problem of, “people in our community ready to engage in politically motivated violence”.
But the gunman’s story speaks of an isolated individual in mental distress.
The gunman, Man Haron Monis, is an Iranian originally known as Ayatollah Manteghi Boroujerdi. The media has made a point of describing him as a refugee, but he is not a typical asylum seeker and did not arrive by boat. He was initially in Australia on behalf of the Iranian regime, and later became a defector from Iranian intelligence. He was seen as a possible source of information about Iran.
In 2001 he staged a protest chaining himself to NSW Parliament, demanding that the Iranian government release his wife and children, who he claimed were being held in Iran. At the time he told the ABC, “In Iran, mostly I have been involved with the Ministry of Intelligence and Security”.
Although as an Iranian he was a Shia, more recently he has tried to build a following by reinventing himself as a Sunni cleric. His efforts to link himself to Islamic State—which has massacred and persecuted Shias—are therefore even stranger than they appear.
The list of previous criminal charges against him, including accessory to the murder of his wife, sexual assault and sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the actions of an unstable individual.
His former lawyer Manny Conditsis, told the ABC this week, “This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-goods individual who’s done something outrageous.”
Yet the Telegraph is more than happy to scaremonger, declaring him an “Islamic hate preacher”. Disgustingly, columnist Piers Ackerman again implied Islam as a whole was to blame, denouncing “a minority self-segregating Islamic community”. Ignoring the fact that Islamic leaders have roundly condemned the gunman’s action, he declared that in recent terrorist events, “All those responsible believed they were acting in accordance with Islamic teachings.”
Don’t let Abbott divide us—the Islamophobia has to stop
This sort of rhetoric can only encourage anti-Muslim racism, and will lead to more of the violent hate attacks that the Muslim community has suffered since the government raised the terror alert level and introduced more so-called anti-terror laws.
Man Haron Monis appears to have been a deranged individual, rather than being an IS “lone wolf” as Sydney’s Daily Telegraph labelled him.
But, if we are to understand the growth of radicalism and even the growth of groups like Islamic State, we need to understand how that radicalism is fuelled by the Australian and US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the demonisation of the Muslim community here. In Iraq one million were killed during the war and occupation and an entire society shattered. Australian warplanes have now been bombing Iraq again for more than three months, as part of the US’s renewed war.
The Abbott government also gave its full backing to Israel’s latest massacre of civilians in Gaza, which killed over 2000 people including 519 children. It should be no surprise that this causes anger and alienation within the Muslim community.
If the tragic deaths in the Sydney siege lead to more hysteria and police and ASIO harassment of the Muslim community, this will only make the situation worse. Anti-terror laws and increasing police powers don’t make the community any safer.
We need to stand against the hysteria from politicians and the media who want to increase the climate of fear. Abbott’s declaration that this event shows we are “vulnerable” can only add to this. He has already shown that he wants to use the threat of terrorism in an effort to boost his government’s authority and standing—and we need to make sure he doesn’t get away with this.
Many in the community have already responded positively, with the Twitter tag #illridewithyou shared widely as a gesture of solidarity against Muslims fearing hate attacks on public transport. We need to stand together with the Muslim community, and oppose both the scaremongering and any further racist attacks.