What Has The Sydney Siege Taught Us About Racism In Australia? Not A Whole Lot, But It Should Teach Us To Be Less Reactive And Automatically Trusting Of The Media

The last few days have made me proud of how carefully curated my Facebook wall is. As much as that is a sad indictment of our social media-obsessed world, it’s gratifying to not have to see any anti-Islamic sentiments plastered up and down my daily Internet stares. But if the countless comments, I’llridewithyou hashtags and angry outcries against racism are anything to go by, there was plenty of that around. I’m glad I didn’t see any of it, because none of it is that surprising. You can hardly expect such a country-stopping moment to happen and not have uninformed shit flying around. The Internet – or the Australian microcosm of the Internet, at least – has become something of a mess of chucked-together news articles, dubiously sourced information and hastily-planned opinions.

But that’s the Internet for you, and that’s the modern-day news cycle for you. It just so happens that the cafe in which the event took place was directly across the street from Sydney’s Channel Seven offices. Now, allow me to elaborate on something about journalists that you probably already suspect, but try to ignore; this is a dream story. A hostage situation involving an alleged Muslim extremist in an inner-city cafe right next to your news studio? On any day, as a journalist, you can’t wish for better luck. This, in essence, is the driving force of contemporary journalism, and also the exact thing you should be critical about as a consumer of news.

There’s no doubt that what happened in that cafe is a tragedy, and something we as Australians are constantly hoping we do not have to deal with, as ignorant of international affairs as that may make us seem. As a country, the vast majority of us strive to make our home as inclusive and welcoming to all people, and that’s something I’ve always been proud of. I don’t necessarily buy into the entire idea of an underlying taint of racism in this country, at least no more than any other. But when something like the events in Sydney occur, something as surreal and terrifying as a drawn-out hostage crisis, it takes a very small amount of force to change the entire dynamic of how we handle the information thrown at us on a daily basis.

You’ve probably seen that. Everyone’s favourite objective and journalistically-ethical newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, ran a special 2pm edition featuring two hostages holding a black flag with white Arabic writing over it. “It’s an ISIS flag!” was the original scoop the Telly threw out with that “DEATH CULT” remark. Turns out, though, it’s not. It’s a Shahada flag, and has no connection with ISIS. So here’s the first thing that everyone should’ve realised from that moment: when something of this magnitude happens, and all of the news networks jump at the chance to be the first ones to report, someone is bound to fuck up. Then again, look at that picture and try to put yourself in the mind of the editors responsible; it’s immediately powerful and is sure to sell papers. It could be the case – although I’m definitely not saying it is – that that picture was just too tempting to not run with one of the more powerful jingoistic phrases in the Australian lexicon at the moment. That should’ve been realisation number two: there are always people who will try to make a buck out of tragedy.

App-driven taxi replacement service Uber has been killing it in Sydney, but it’s surge pricing policy – increasing rates during busier times to keep supply high – has not. What’s the best way to get people on board? Why, using a hostage crisis to remind everyone of course! Now, whether or not that was the intention here – I’m kinda 50/50 about the charity the company was obviously trying to portray – it’s hard to make a statement like that about your controversial service without it sounding like a thinly-veiled attempt to make money out of tragedy. They did attempt damage control by explaining that they just wanted to help out the people of Sydney, but by then it was probably too little, too late.

It was also only a matter of time until the whole deal pushed the worst of Australia out into Martin Place, as well. Racist piece of shit Ralph Cerminara, the leader of the “Australian Defence League” (obviously a vicarious adoption of the English Defence League, a gang of skinheads) took to the square to rant nonsensically about Islam and “left wing bigots”. A new Cronulla is coming, he says. Oh, good. That’s just what we need.

It’s relatively easy to label Cerminara as the waste of air he is, but it’s important to acknowledge that Cerminara and his ilk have access to all forms of media including the Internet, the same place you’re reading this here relatively more informed – if I do say so myself – blog. He has the same access to information that you do. It’s the way in which we handle that information that usually frames us as a normal, productive human being or an arsehole. I’m sure Cerminara might’ve been a good person before finding out about Stormfront. Just the same, I’m pretty sure the below people are normal and friendly, but shove a mass media event in front of them, and this happens:

There’s an enchanting, brainwashing effect that often washes over us when something like the Sydney Siege happens. It’s a combination of media-driven hysteria, sober reflection on our own personal situations and the uncannily human trait of being absorbed by tragedy and violence. Media is built on this latter notion. Uncle Rupert and the Daily Telegraph would not dare publish something of the shit-stirring quality as they have if they didn’t think a huge amount of people would become transfixed by it. You most definitely haven’t gotten through one hour in the last few days without hearing something about the siege, and it’ll probably be a while before you won’t. It’s because of the simple fact that tragic and/or uncommon news sells, and what sells is what’s pushed. I’m not trying to detract from what news and journalism is when I say this. It’s just simply a fact, a fact that sometimes muddies our understanding of current affairs and the world in general.

I’m not going to go into detail on Man Horan Monis, because there’s plenty of that around. Suffice to say, in my mind, these are the actions of one unhinged nutcase that have unfortunately brought another unneeded level of stigma against a group of people who definitely do not deserve it. Whether or not he could’ve been stopped is a moot point, because he wasn’t. It has to be remembered that this is a tragedy, but do not let the saturation of articles you’re being exposed to make your mind up for you. And as easy as it is to get caught up in the ever-increasing hysteria surrounding the last few days, it’s also worth remembering that humanity in general is always capable of violence. It’s how we react to instances of violence that define who we are as people.

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