Terrorism has come home.
For all intents and purposes, the first post-9/11 terrorist attack has taken place on Australian soil. A siege at the Lindt Cafe, in Sydney.
I still remember watching the events of 9/11 on TV, those 13 years ago. It was horrifying, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV.
However, I actually found myself being even more emotionally affected by this particular siege. Whereas during 9/11, I was glued to the television and the internet (no Facebook back then!), this time round I’ve had to cut myself off from all media, as I found it very emotionally disturbing…it has felt so much closer than any other terrorist event I’ve ever seen on TV. Understandably so, considering it happened in the city I grew up in, at a cafe that I’ve been to many a time.
And so, in processing this awful event, I’ve come up with 8 reflections: 8 thoughts that have run through my mind, as I’ve grappled with the horror of this situation.
1) We live in a broken, fallen world, where there are no guarantees of health and long life.
Although Australia is one of the most prosperous and secure places in the world, even here there’s no guarantee that we’ll have a long and happy life. Death can come knocking at any time, even when (or especially when) we least expect it. Tragically, early on Tuesday morning death came knocking for Katrina Dawson, and Tori Johnson, the two people killed by gunman Man Haron Monis.
Dying in a siege at the hands of a gunman, in the prime of their lives, would have been the last thing they would have expected as they got up the previous Monday morning. And yet it happened: there are no guarantees.
2) Evil is an objective reality, not a man-made fiction.
In his book Adams Versus God, my favourite journalist at the ABC, Phillip Adams (an Atheist), has this to say about morality:
Morals are simply expedients, rules we set up like traffic lights to try to sort things out.
To prevent collisions. To keep things moving along in a fairly orderly fashion.
(Phillip Adams, Adams Versus God, p177)
In other words, morality, the idea that there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, is simply man-made, like road rules. It’s subjective. It’s a fiction that we make up, to make life work for us.
In which case, at the end of the day, gunman Man Haron Monis didn’t do anything ultimately ‘wrong’: he just happened to do the moral equivalent of driving on the wrong side of the road. Silly him. And so, by this logic, the worst we can say of Monis is: ‘you didn’t play by our rules’. He didn’t do anything objectively ‘evil’: he just happened to follow a different set of subjective moral rules, ’tis all.
Of course, try telling that to the millions of traumatised Australians, who witnessed the siege live on TV.
Try telling that to the hostages who survived the horror of being held captive at gunpoint.
Try telling that to the families of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.
The ‘morality is subjective’ point of view may be what Atheists hold to, but it just doesn’t pass the reality test.
3) The wrong thing to do would be to blame/vilify all Muslims for the action of this man.
As I watched the horrors of the siege unfold, I thought of the anger/anxiety that I was feeling, and that many other people would have been feeling as well. I was hoping and praying that this anger wouldn’t in any way be turned against your average Muslim on the street.
Thankfully, from all reports, this hasn’t happened. While Monis clearly declared himself to be acting in the name of Islam, it does not follow that all Muslims are terrorists who must be punished. The overwhelming majority of Muslims want to live in peace here in Australia, and their rights must be protected, like any other law-abiding citizen’s.
4) Although Monis did not seem to be formally connected to IS, he was definitely inspired by them. People like him are potentially even more unpredictable (and thus dangerous) than networks of terror cells.
It’s reported that former ASIO chief David Irvine warned about the risks of homegrown ‘lone wolf’ attacks as far back as 2012: ‘That is the issue that I think keeps both me and my international collegues awake at night’, he said.
And for good reason. If a terrorist is in contact with the likes of IS, then his communications can be intercepted and monitored. They can be found out, and neutralised (as we saw in the September terror raids). However, a lone-wolf gunman like Monis usually doesn’t talk with anyone: he keeps his plans and intents to himself, and thus is much more difficult to uncover and neutralise. To the best of my knowledge, no one saw this attack coming.
(Of course, the authorities knew about Monis, and he was on bail: and it will take an investigation to discover why the likes of this man was let out into the general public, but that’s beside the point).
In response to these sorts of lone-wolf attacks, the City of Houston in the USA has released a video of what to do in the event of an attack by such a person.
5) Although a religion should not be judged on how it’s misused/abused, this incident inevitably raises larger questions about Islam.
This siege did not happen in a vacuum, but took place at a time of heightened terror alert, due to the likes of IS. And whilst many Muslims, and Muslim leaders have (thankfully) denounced Monis, and his actions, there are some big questions that need to be asked about Islam, and it’s practice:
a) The claim is being made that Monis was nothing more than a ‘sick individual’: maybe so. However, he had 14,000 fans on Facebook. It’s obvious that at least some people liked him. Were they fellow Australian Muslims? ABC reporter Chris Uhlman asked this question, in an interview he did recently with PM Tony Abbott:
‘[…] Prime Minister, don’t Islamic leaders in the West have to have an honest conversation about what it means to their community that significant minorities within them support and sympathise with violent jihadism? Isn’t that conversation one that has to be had?’
b) Monis made it clear that he was motivated by Islam. Unfortunately, he was not alone in declaring Islam to be his motivating factor…Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, IS, Hamas, Hizb’allah, The Taliban…Why do so many violent terrorist organisations claim to be motivated by Islam? Considering there are more people who identify as Christian in the world than Muslim, surely you would expect similar numbers of Christian terrorists, if it’s just a case of ‘extremists’ hijacking a religion like Islam?
But that’s not the case, as far as I’m aware…why is that?
Interestingly enough, the New York Times, a major US newspaper of the secular Left, made a similar point, when it ran an article about how many young Muslims are turning away from Islam (thanks to seeing the atrocities of IS).
Journalist Thomas Friedman of the NYT’s reports:
Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and to expose examples of intolerance within his former Muslim faith community. (He told me he’s converted to Christianity, preferring its “God of love.”)
In this recent segment on YouTube, which has been viewed 500,000 times, Brother Rachid addressed President Obama:
He continued: “I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct — to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. …If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? …
Well said, Brother Rachid. And great reporting from The New York Times!
6) When the poo hits the fan, God gets a hashtag.
According to Channel 10’s The Project, one of the top trending hashtag’s on Monday night was #prayforsydney. It seems that when the poo hits the fan, people still look for comfort and strength from a Higher Power. Even the Sydney Anglican Archbishop, Glenn Davies, got an interview from Channel 7 that Monday night.
This is all very interesting, considering we are the most secularised, least church going, least religious generation in Australia’s history. It would seem secular humanism didn’t exactly provide the comfort and hope that many people craved at such an awful time.
7) We need to be careful about giving the state more power, in response to events such as this.
From a Christian worldview perspective, Lord Acton was onto something very important when he said: ‘Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely‘. I notice that the PM, and other senior officials, are already using this event as justification for more intrusive anti-terror laws.
And so we should be very wary about giving up more of our freedoms/privacy to the state, as rarely do such freedoms ever ‘get returned’…we just start accepting new laws as a new reality, and adjust our lives accordingly. However, since power in the hands of imperfect (sinful) human beings is always likely to be misused/abused, we need to be very wary of handing more power across to the state.
8) Wars and terrorism will continue until the end of history. But eventually Justice will come.
In the Christian understanding of reality, this world is not some chaotic, random accident, that is just going to continue as is forever. No, according to Christianity, 2000 years ago a baby was born, who was promised to be the King of the Universe. The One who would bring justice and healing to this broken world of ours. His name: Jesus of Nazareth.
As it turned out, Jesus lived, he was crucified, and then his disciples claimed that he rose again from the dead, as promised by the Hebrew Scriptures. This Jesus, they claimed, turned out to be the promised King who would live and rule forever: who would bring true and lasting Justice to the earth.
Speaking to a group of Greeks in Athens, Paul, a follower of Jesus said this:
God now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31).
And so Christians have this enormous hope, that no matter how many terrorist acts IS and it’s affiliates committ on Australian soil, we know that it’s not the end: Justice will be one day be done. Healing will come to the earth…and to all those who bow the knee to this resurrected King, Jesus the Christ.
As a Christian, I am neither optimistic, nor pessimistic about the future.
Rather, I am hopeful.
Hopeful, confident, that one day evil will be punished; wrongs will be righted; and peace will rule the earth forever. And so I do not fear; I do not despair; rather, I depend on the Resurrected King, Jesus Christ, to take care of me, and one day bring His people home to His new world. A world in which there is no death, or hate: where even nature itself is at peace:
5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.