A few days ago everybody saw images of the Sydney hostage situation. Endless news reports showed distressing images of people in Australia being held hostage and being used as human shields in the windows of the coffee shop. But as heartbreaking as those images were, another saddening thought went through my mind when I saw the first news report: here goes another tragic event that is going to heighten people’s stereotypes about Muslims and that is going to ‘justify’ Islamophobia.
Negative media coverage about Muslims and the Islam dates back to 9/11 and probably beyond. This year has been the year of the ISIS. From broadcasts of their beheadings on both news channels and social media platforms, to alarming rumours about an average of five British Muslims joining this ISIS every week, the Islamic has received every sort of bad publicity that there is. With all this negative information about Islam and occasional and awful terrorist attacks like the one in Sidney, it is hard for the people who absorb all this to resist the general negative view of the Muslim community. There are differing reactions by members of this community against terrorism and jihadist organizations like ISIS, but them stating that these organizations stand for the wrong things and have nothing to do with their religion seems to get significantly less coverage than the terrorist attacks and fundamentalist actions of a few. Furthermore, their opinion doesn’t seem to have as big of an impact on the White, Western population as the negative publicity and that is unsurprising. If you Google ‘terrorist attack in Sydney’, you will get endless articles about the café siege and countries like UK being worried that they will be the next victim. You need to look in more detail to find the Muslim’s community reaction to it and, in other words, to find the other side of the story.
Given this situation, I was resigned to the thought that people’s reactions towards the Muslim community will be negative. However, after the siege terror was over, I found that things were not going to be so negative. That happened when I saw the first article about the #illridewithyou phenomenon. Reading that first article gave made me hope that people will be able to see beyond stereotypes and will be able to see the human within the race or the religion. And when I read some more about the phenomenon I was assured that I was right to have that hope.
#illridewithyou is a campaign that has taken over the social media. Through this campaign Australians volunteered to walk, travel or offer a ride to Muslims who wear Islamic dress and who are afraid that they might be subjected to abuse due to the sad events that happened in Sydney. The whole thing started when Rachael Jacobs posted about offering to walk with a Muslim woman who removed her hijab on the train because she was afraid she would get harassed. Another fellow social media user followed her example and offered to accompany any Muslim who feels too intimidated to wear religious attire in public, saying: ‘’ I’ll ride with you.’’ And this is how this phenomenon was born. People in Australia were then offering to do the same thing by posting supporting messages on social media platforms and even by putting stickers on their bags to show that they are taking part in this movement.
Now, a few days after the event, the support of Australians has expanded. From the Australian Jewish community showing their support to the Muslim community, to high-profile Australian stars like Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe doing the same thing, Australia has shown that they can rise above the negative media coverage and think for themselves. Furthermore, the Islamic community in Australia is touched by the support they got and showed their support in return by organizing a vigil for the victims of the siege, as part of the #illridewithyou campaign.
The purpose of this article is not to over simplify the situation. I am aware of the tragedy of the Australian terrorist attack and any terrorist attack in general. I do not wish to claim that the life loss is not important and should be ignored. I am also not implying that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist Islam. What I am trying to point out is that the #illridewithyoucampaign can symbolize the beginning of something positive. The beginning of people refusing to be terrorized. This event shows that a nation decided not to be subdued by stereotypes, not to give in to prejudgment and make a difference instead, despite their suffering. It shows that, in the light of a tragic event, people will not be frightened – Islamophobia will not be the general result – and instead they will think for themselves. It shows that a group of people, no matter how small or how big, understood that because there are a few extremists out there it doesn’t mean that everyone should be painted with the same brush. It is an inspiration. It shows that in an era where we are subtly controlled and influenced by the massive flow of information we receive through all kinds of media, people are deciding to be human. They are deciding to focus on our similarities instead of letting our differences tear us apart. And if they can do it, so can we.