Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Sydney Postscript

Dying Day by Day, One Way or the Other

The dust has started to settle in Sydney, after the Islamic hostage drama.  We are now in a position to reflect upon what happened and upon the wider implications.

Here is a summary of events as they unfolded:

• Siege ends after police storm building

• Gunman identified as Haron Monis - a self-styled cleric - accused of being an accessory to the murder of his former wife and once notorious for sending poison letters to the family of deceased Diggers.

• Events sparked by gunman shooting hostage

• Police confirm gunman Haron Monis is dead, along with 34-year-old man and 38-year-old woman

• 17 hostages confirmed, including five who escaped yesterday [NZ Herald]

One columnist said that civilians remained calm and did what they ought to have done.  They refused to become terrified.  The police acted with professionalism throughout.  Less professional and more histrionic were the politicians who made sure the world understood they were shocked, outraged.  Peter Hartcher had this reflection:

Why do political activists turn to terrorism? Australia gave the world a lesson today.   They turn to terrorism to win attention, to cause fear, and to use that fear to produce an overreaction. That overreaction is the measure of their success.

Terrorism is a tool of the weak against the strong. It is designed to turn the enemy's strength against itself.  One man showed how to get extraordinary attention and inflict serious disruption using only a gun and a Muslim prayer banner.  Successful terrorism is so rare in Australia that the overreaction is perhaps understandable. The police response seemed exactly right. But our political and media systems need to get better at measured reaction.
Two innocents died.  They started their day as they had done thousands of times before.  They had no idea they would die that day. We do not know whether they were ready and prepared to die that day.

The perpetrator was not mad, but evil.  He appears to have acted alone.  But he did what ISIS has been calling Islamic believers in the West to do: engage in individual acts of mayhem and suicidal death. The man's former lawyer commented:
It's a damaged goods individual who's done something outrageous," his former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, told Australian Broadcasting Corp.  "His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness," Conditsis said.
The inevitable question became, What ought we to do now?  In some senses, very little, we believe.  Hundreds of people die on our roads every year.  We mitigate the risks by road rules, policing, education, the courts and criminal sentences.  In this fallen world evil things happen.  Calamities occur.  But we adapt.  We mitigate.  We prepare.  We learn.  We respond better next time.

In New Zealand criminal gangs perpetrate crime on an industrial scale.   Some say they run and rule the prisons.  Does this prevent us going out our front doors?  Not at all.  But we citizens participate in the community responsibility to combat such evils.  We are the eyes and ears of the police.  We inform.  We let them know what we see going down.  It is a vital tool in combating such crime.  The evil is restrained.  Its effects are mitigated.

Should the community turn against Islamic people?  Of course not.  Islamic believers are above all human beings, made in God's image.  They deserve--even command, therefore, our respect, friendship, and support as citizens.  But if any amongst them were to conspire to commit crimes the normal processes to confront crime or other similar threats must apply. That is, society must treat all Islamic people normally, not as a special case.

We live in a world filled with dangers and threats.  Islamic terrorism is just one of them.  It is not to be singled out as qualitatively different from every other mortal threat we face.  We acknowledge that in the struggle to mitigate and resist the threats we will "win some" and "lose some".

If politicians arose to promise us citizens that they would ensure a crime-free society we would dismiss them as idealistic idiots.  They would lose all credibility.  Similarly, if a politician were to claim the government would deliver a terrorist-free society, we need to dismiss them as flakes.  That means we, as citizens, are accepting the intrinsic and unavoidable risks of living in a fallen world.  That means we are grown ups.

The society which fears Islamic terrorism so much it would demand of its government a cocooned, cotton wool certainty that "it will never happen here" might as well self-immolate, since a government that attempts to deliver on such nonsense, and a citizenry which demands it, will end up killing us all in one way or another.

In the coming month, all over this country, people will be waking up in the morning not realising that this is the day they will die (whether from a road accident, exposure on a mountain face, or shot in a drive-by gang shooting, or a heart attack--or something else.)  None of these folk will have been expecting it to happen.  None of them will have seen it coming.  That's what it means to live in a fallen, sinful world.  

The man who is ready to die today, if God so wills, is a free man.  It's the best response possible to the threat of terrorism. 

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