Terrorism is nothing new to Australia. The first such attack took place in 1915 at Broken Hill when two men identified as being Muslims from the British Colony of India (modern day Pakistan) shot dead four people and wounded seven more, before being killed by police. Next came the 1972 bombing of the Yugoslav General Trade Agency; the 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton hotel; the 1980 assassination of the Turkish Consul-General and the 1982 bombing of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club – all of these took place in Sydney. In 1986 Melbourne became the focus of terrorism with the bombing of the Russell Street Police Station and the Turkish Consulate. Since the 1980s we’ve largely seen terrorism as something that happens “over there”. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) (and other security agencies) has worked tirelessly in the past decades to uncover terrorist plots against Australia. This year, due to the rise of Islamic State, the AFP has conducted a number of raids in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane because of suspected plots for acts of terrorism. On 23 September this year an 18-year-old man, Numan Haider, was shot and killed by police after stabbing two police officers.
This week dramatic events unfolded at the Lindt Café in Sydney, as 50-year-old self-styled sheik Man Haron Monis held 15 people hostage. The siege ended in the early hours on Tuesday morning and resulted in the deaths of two hostages and the terrorist. It’s unlikely that this will be the last terrorist attack on Australian soil. So what can we learn from situations such as this? Let me suggest a few lessons.
Lesson #1 – Tragedies bring out the best and worst of humanity
In the midst of the siege people were taking selfies and posting them on social media. Others put Sydney siege jokes on Twitter. There were even a few people around the siege site who were voicing protest against Muslims. This sort of behaviour shows a lack of restraint and just plain bad taste. But there have been amazing displays of love and grace that restore one’s faith in the human race. Concerned about reprisals against Muslims “Sir Tessa” put this on Twitter, “If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.” The hash tag “illridewithyou” went viral trending globally on Twitter rapidly and in response Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said he was heartened by the campaign adding, “let’s not allow fear, hatred and division to triumph”. More than 40 Muslim groups condemned the siege, saying in a statement that they rejected “any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being or to instill fear and terror into their hearts.”
Lesson #2 – We need to be tougher on crime.
The “Fake Sheik” Man Haron Monis first came to attention of police when he penned poisonous letters to the family of dead Australian soldiers seven years ago for which he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond. He was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory before and after the fact to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal. Ms. Pal was stabbed and set alight in a Werrington apartment block. Most recently, he was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” who dealt with black magic at premises in western Sydney more than a decade ago. Why was a man with so many convictions against him out on bail? If our justice system were tougher the Sydney Siege never would have happened.
Lesson #3 – We must be more careful who we allow to be Australian citizens.
Monis was originally from Iran and came to Australia in the late 1990s. He obtained political asylum in 2001. He fled Iran because he was in fear of his life from the regime at that time. Phillip Ruddock was immigration minister across the period in which Monis’ refugee status was being considered. I believe strongly that we should be compassionate and welcoming to genuine asylum seekers, but we must also remain strong and vigilant with those who could be a threat to our safety and values. Australia’s asylum-seeker system has let us down in the case on Man Haron Monis.
Lesson #4 – When trouble strikes most people become believers.
Of all the hash tags that were used during this crisis the one that resonated most with people was #prayforsydney. I find it fascinating that in times of danger and threat to life many people become believers. We have an instinct for something – or someone – greater than ourselves who we perceive as able to help when things appear helpless. I believe it’s a God-given understanding that He is “our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). People like Shane Warne, Jessica Mauboy and Cody Simpson were praying for Sydney this week.
Lesson #5 – We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next minute.
The people who went to work at the Lindt Café this week – or just went in for their morning coffee – had no idea that their life was going to change – or end. While I’m not suggesting for one minute that we live in fear, I am encouraging a life lived with our mortality in mind. The Bible reminds us: “you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
It would do us well to learn these lessons!