THE SYDNEY SIEGE: WHY IT’S TIME FOR SILENCE

We need to stop talking about the “Sydney Siege”. Just move on. Talk about the myriad of other topics that pre-existed December 15. Enjoy Christmas / Boxing Day / New Years. Hug your loved ones. Enjoy some roast chicken and your Mum’s trifle. Have a beer. Talk to your uncle Frank.

But not about the Sydney Siege. Not yet. Maybe not for a long time.

Why? My reasons are threefold.

First and foremost, the events that unfolded 11 days ago in that fated Martin Place cafe simply do not warrant the enduring attention they have received.

Man Haron Monis was a mentally unstable man; with a history of sexual offences; an accessory to his wife’s murder; and a conviction for sending offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. He held up a Lindt cafe at gunpoint for 16 hours demanding to talk to Tony Abbott (I can’t imagine why – he’s not great at holding a conversation) and a piece of cloth with some writing on it. He was absolutely, unequivocally, no-doubt-about-it, a dangerous individual with a personal agenda against the government. He should not have been out on bail.

Leave the story at that and you my friend do not have headlines lasting nearly two weeks. There would be no ‘special edition’ papers coming out on a Monday afternoon. Days Of Our Lives would not be steamrolled by a cumulative 30 hours of media coverage across the major TV stations. You would not see hyperbolic headlines claiming that “Hell has touched us” or the Prime Minister flying out to Sydney for the memorial of the unfortunate victims.

Sure, there might have a few extra “news updates” in between Deal or No Deal and an extended episode of The Project. The newspapers and telecommunications industry would have had a good day – at least for the Sydney market – and there would probably still have been some snappy twitter hash tags out there in support of the hostages.

But the nation would not have stopped. Because crazy never stops the system for long.

Islam does. I wonder why?

“DEATH CULT CBD ATTACK” Screamed Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph, who released a 2PM print edition of their paper chock-a-block with sensationalism, half-truths and outright lies. They claimed – amongst other things – that the Islamic State was responsible for the hold up (Monnis was a lone wolf); that the flag was theirs (the flag read “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of God” and has never been used by IS); and that 13 hostages had been taken (there were 16) by two men (nope, just Monnis).

“Islamic State – you mean those bastards in Syria beheading Western journalists?” “Yeah they’re the ones” “Oh s**t they’re in Australia?” “They’re attacking Sydney!” “OH S**T!!”

1. Daily Telegrap

Fairfax and the ABC were more restrained, but still contributed to the panic. Some networks broadcast police tactical moves in real time so as to hype up the ‘stand-off’ – literally informing Monis if he’d bothered to monitor the media. Others interviewed some dubious “experts” that pontificated on the gunman’s motives to fill dead air time – doing literally anything to keep the average viewer tuned in to what was, in all honesty, a very slow piece of television.

The reality is that what captivated the audiences most was not that innocent people were at risk of losing their lives. An Australian is murdered almost every day and that barely gets a mention in the papers. The narrative that people were tuning in for was that an Islamic radical was threatening Australian lives; there was a chance – miniscule in retrospect but undoubtedly serious at the time – that there were bombs placed around the city; and if something bad went down it was going be caught on live television.

In light of that, it is really no wonder friends of mine who have never read a newspaper in their lives were up till 2am watching the “drama” unfold. No wonder people with literally no understanding of Islam and Sharia law were suddenly popping up on my Facebook with a lot to say about the whole situation. No wonder there was competition between networks to get the best footage of the fatal climax of the whole event – at times at the expense of public safety.

And I’m not saying that the majority of the above – save for the sensationalism and bigotry – is in any way unexpected or unreasonable.

But now, a full 11 days after the Siege, it really is time to cool it down. I mean what more is there to talk about?

We know now that Monis was an amateur, without accomplices, and didn’t even have the contacts or the resources to get an IS flag or a more appropriate firearm. For better or for worse, he is dead. And for all the speculation around his motives, the only facts we can be sure of were that he wanted to scare the crap of the Australian public (hence the bomb threats); was damn good at getting it done (hence the media coverage) and believed – in his wacko brain – that what he was doing all this in the name of Islam.

We’ve publicly commemorated the victims – with thousands of flowers, Koori healing ceremonies, commemorative bike rides, newspaper front pages and a live stream of their funerals, and now is an appropriate time to leave their friends and family to mourn in peace.

We’ve also levelled the big questions at our authorities, who have yet to explain to the public how Monis was kept on bail, and the proper inquiries have been launched. Whilst due pressure should be placed to ensure that they are fully brought to account, broad generalisations – “our judges are too soft”; “we need to stop Muslim immigration” – are ignorant, unhelpful and expedite equally as troubling incidents. Like train-ride attacks on Hijab-wearing women and right-wing groups publicly calling for the Cronulla Riots 2.0.

In short, there really isn’t that much to say about the whole situation 11 days on. So shut up until there is.

5. memorial

Second of all, there are more important issues out there that should be seizing your attention – particularly your political attention in an era that seems defined by the apathy of the average voter.

In his own words, the Prime Minister’s two biggest achievements this year were repeals of laws introduced under Rudd and Gillard – the carbon tax and the mining tax. That’s right, for all Abbott’s wankery about 2014 as a “year of achievement”, all he really managed to pull off was to undo initiatives that most Australian’s didn’t understand or care about, but were actually kind of important.

You know that whole existential crisis caused by global warming? Yeah, the carbon tax was actually kind of effective in reducing our contribution to the apocalypse, with studies released three days ago showing the biggest drop in emissions in Australia’s history for 2014 (1.4%). You know how we’re barely making any money on our natural resources during a period of “catastrophic” economic downturn? Yeah, the mining tax – for all the failure of the Labor government to sell the damn thing to the public – actually stood to address that, taxing our mining industry (83% of which is monopolised by foreign interests) and thereby helped mitigate the “spending blowout” Joe Hockey loves talking about.

Oh, and he also “stopped the boats”. Spending an extra $1.5 billion dollars we had lying around to ensure that refugees we are legally obligated to protect were either A) detained in offshore detention facilities where they have been neglected, abused or left to die or B) took a leaky boat destined to some other country (probably not a signatory to the refugee convention) without the resources, infrastructure or obligation to take responsibility for them. Slow clap anybody?

2. Tone

By focusing on the Sydney Siege to the exclusion of these, more important, more existential issues, we give old mate Tony a pass on his above failures and, more pertinently we ignore his what has been a truly abysmal year for students, pensioners, aboriginals, refugees, Muslims, the homeless, bisexual or homosexual persons and proponents of free speech, the rule of law and democracy.

It also trivialises other, equally as abhorrent acts of violence, that simply do not move the needle in the same way the “armed terrorist” headline does. Late last week, 8 children were stabbed to death in Cairns, the mother of 7 of those children being the main suspect. You’re telling me if the culprit had committed this act in the name of Islam, it would be more tragic than a case of mental illness or domestic abuse? That the victims would more deserving of our grief? That more resources would be deployed to ensure the incident doesn’t repeat itself, but if its good old familial violence then it’s all good, go about your day?

If you’re not politically informed and think the only issue at stake in 2015 is how Tony responds to the Sydney Siege, then please, for the good of the nation, shut up until you’ve done your homework.

The last reason you should keep quiet about the Sydney siege is an oldie but a goodie and goes back to the origins of “terrorism” and what it needs for its efficacy:

Oxygen.

The more public the story, the more people talking, the more rampant fear and speculation, the more ground the real terrorists – those militant psychos in Syria and Iraq – gain.

Fear makes a wackjob with a shotgun and big balls seem capable of bringing down an entire city; it makes 9 guys talking about beheading an Australian seem more ominous than the threat of nuclear weapons or global warming; it allows governments to stifle debate and take away our liberties; and it erodes our proud multicultural history by inciting racial and religious division (y’know, the stuff that might actually contribute the decisions of young or fiscally disempowered Muslim men turning to radicalism).

Case in point was just last weekend when I was working my part time job at a cinema in a Western suburb. An alarm went off in the attached shopping centre and, without knowing what had set the damn thing off; we were advised by the centre manager to evacuate our theatres for safety reason.

When I relayed the message to patrons in their cinemas, the place went freaking berserk.

Couples were sprinting to the exits; pensioners looked like they were going to have heart attacks; a school group that were in to watch Paddington were in single file marching out that door before I had time to do a head count. “Please do not run” I repeatedly advised. People didn’t even slow down out of courtesy.

“Could it be a bomb threat?” I heard a patron ponder as she hurriedly made her way to the exit. Another mentioned the Sydney Siege – quiet audibly might I add – as he gathered his belongings.

When we opened the doors a meagre 10 minutes after the evacuation (turns out some one burnt some popcorn – as we were informed by some very pissed off firemen), less than half the patrons came back in to get their complimentary tickets.

I expect a good portion got in their cars and got the eff out of there; and given the climate of perpetual fear and suspicion we’ve cultivated, I can really see the appeal in that decision to the average Joe.

3. fear of terrorism

Talking about the Sydney Siege at a time when the majority of us should be enjoying our holidays is bad news. It detracts from the time and energy that should be oriented towards family, togetherness and celebration and bolsters the power of genuine terrorists – both those in Syria and in Parliament house. I reckon we can find better, more constructive things to talk about until we are given an update on the whole situation, because as a country we have a lot to be thankful for.

All in favour of shutting up for awhile?

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