I, like all of Australia was horrified by what happened last Tuesday in Martin Place, as a Sydneysider this was my city, this is the place I call home, and these were my people. As an ex-pat growing up in England in the seventies and eighties during the conflicts between the British Government and the IRA, I had seen enough of these terrifying situations to last me a lifetime. I had somehow imagined that Australia would be immune, I don’t know why. Was it because it was so far away from everyone, or its innocence, or the just because the average Aussie’s are just such dammed nice people.
As it unfolded, I felt sick at what those people were going through, but at the same time confident that they would all get out alive, after all this is Australia. I went to bed with that view that it was only a matter of time before everybody was out of there and safe. When I woke in the morning the first thing I did was put on the TV and Koshie was telling me it was all over.
I felt the relief, then I read the headlines scrolling across the bottom of my screen, two people were dead. I know I didn’t know these people, but I literally burst into tears. Feelings of rage bubbled up inside of me, “What gave this hideous man the right to end the life’s of these two beautiful souls Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.”
“What gave this hideous man the right to end the life’s of these two beautiful souls
Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.”
As someone who has struggled with the beast called PTSD, I knew the challenges ahead for the other hostages were great. They have had their vision of life altered, they would struggle to come to terms with what had happened to them, and all they wanted was to go into a coffee shop.
At the same time Sydney is processing these heartbreaking events, there was a movement starting on Twitter #I’ll ride with you. It was heart-warming. It made me so glad I had chosen to make Sydney my home. Because I had lived first hand with hate and fear being the reaction to terrible acts. I knew that reacting with hate and fear creates a negative downward spiral that is hard to stop. To witness people I now call mine, rise above and react with love made me proud beyond what I can put into words. Although the cynic in me thought how much are people wanting to be part of the on-line # and how many are genuinely reaching out.
The answer literally turned up at my door two days later. Anyone who knows me at will know I am not the least bit techy, so I had finally given in and called Supergeek, and that’s how Mohamad came to be sitting in my kitchen/diner two days after the harrowing events in Sydney. My life has taught me that race, gender, profession, religion are an absolutely useless way to decide if someone is nice or mean because the one bears no relation to the other.
My life has taught me that race, gender, profession, religion are an absolutely useless way to decide if someone is nice or mean, because the one bears no relation to the other.
As Mohamad and I were chatting, I asked if he had been treated kindly since Tuesday and the look on his face was one of sadness. His sadness was nothing to do with how he had been treated but rather about his absolute sadness that two people had been killed. He struggled like the rest of us to find the words to match the disgust he felt for the man who had done this terrible thing.
He said there had been a couple of instances where he felt judged but on the whole people had been kind. Then his face softened as he explained that he was worried not for himself but for his sisters. I asked him if they wore the scarves and things – I did apologise for my ignorance. He explained that he had four sisters, three half-sisters from his Dad’s previous marriage to a Caucasian Aussie Mum, two of whom were not practising Muslims and one who wore a scarf. The sister from his Mum and Dad’s marriage had chosen to wear the Niqab (the headdress where you can see only the eyes). As we talked I realised that I too had been judgemental. I had always thought that if one member of the family wore the Niqab they all would. I was learning, as with all things, the way we express who we are is different for everybody.
I was reminded of being in England in the nineties, when to the shame of the nation we were becoming as famous for our football hooligans as we were our Royalty. It became frowned upon to have any form of the English flag. It had become synonymous with violence and hooligans. I was in my twenties and, if I am completely honest, I had never really given that much thought to the Flag of St George. I was once in a pub to watch the English Football team play in the world cup. I was with a friend whose shirt had the flag on the front and he was abused for it because apparently, it was a sign he was a violent hooligan. It was very unsettling.
In fact, this claiming of our flag by the violent few was unsettling for many and a movement started for law-abiding English people to reclaim their flag. It was my flag, it represented to me everything in my heart that made me proud to be English. So I would proudly display my flag of St George even when it wasn’t socially acceptable to do so. I am so happy to say that England did claim back its flag and all the good it stands for, and us English can once again be proud of it.
This experience had in a small way helped me to understand how Mohamad must have felt to have that dreadful, defective, selfish individual in any way claim to represent the religion that to him and his family represents all that is good. That his sisters wear the scarf and the Niqab because it represents their love of Allah. I respect his sisters for continuing to wear it when it is frowned upon by so many.
There are many that will look at this picture of Mohamad and I ask, “Why is that Aussie woman standing with that Muslin?” Yet Mohamad is the Born and Bred Aussie and they could just as easily be asking, “Why is that Aussie bloke standing with that Pomme?” Of course, both Mohamad and I are so much more than being a Muslim and a Pomme.
Mohamad is the Born and Bred Aussie, not me.
When Mohamad entered my house I had given him two labels Supergeek and Muslim, as he left I had many labels for him, funny, intelligent, kind, loving to name but a few. Ask him about his family and the love and pride shines out of him. If my son grows up to be a man like Mohamad, I will be one very proud Mummy.
If someone had asked me to use one word to describe Mohamad when he arrived at my house I would have said Muslim. Ask me now and I will say, Friend. I hope that ours is one of many friendships that will be formed and that love and compassion will ultimately win the day.
If my son grows up to be a man like Mohamad, I will be one very proud Mummy.