It says a lot about the racist state of Australia that #illridewithyou is a thing.
On 15 December a man took several people hostage in a Sydney cafe. It was 17 hours before the siege was over; the gunman and two hostages lost their lives. The gunman was reportedly an Iranian extremist and self-styled Muslim cleric. But ultimately, he was a lone religious nutter, and the colour his skin happened to be and the religion he happened to follow had little to nothing to do with his actions that day. He wasn’t a “terrorist”. He requested an IS flag at one point, but the police denied throughout that he was acting as an IS representative. He was just a troubled man – on bail having been charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and facing more than 40 sexual and indecent assault charges – with a misguided sense of his own place in the world.
But in the aftermath of the siege, Muslims who lived in Sydney feared a backlash on public transport. And #illridewithyouwithyou was born – used by non-Muslims to show their solidarity with Muslims. I’ll ride with you. I don’t fear you, or wish you harm. And I’ll protect you from anyone who might.
The question most of the western world asks is, why on earth would Muslims fear a backlash because of the actions of one troubled individual who just happened to identify as Muslim, when those actions were neither religiously nor ethnically motivated? This is not another 9/11, where religious fundamentalism and terrorist sensibilities came together, and led to confusion in the greater community for a time about what Islam taught and what Muslims believed.
Why on earth would non-Muslims seek revenge against innocent people because a solitary individual carried out a horrifying act? What has that man’s act got to do with Muslims?
That same day a man in Pennsylvania shot and killed six people. He was a white man, of a ginger persuasion. How ridiculous it would have seemed if white people (or indeed redheads) across the state had immediately feared a backlash.
It’s not exactly like it was a secret before. But for anyone who didn’t already get the memo, #illridewithyou makes it shockingly clear that Australia is a place where racism exists at an extraordinary level. Whether they’re the Muslims who genuinely fear a backlash, or the non-Muslims using the hashtag to support those Muslims, both groups evidently believe that a backlash is inevitable.
And that’s the most horrifying thing to come out of this very tragic ordeal.