Australia is known for offering a great tourist experience and for its ability to stage spectacular events like the Olympics. It recently moved the world with the way it treasured and mourned cricketer Phillip Hughes.
And this week it impressed again by the exemplary response of its people, media and parts of government to a terror-like situation involving the gunman who transfixed the world by staging a hostage drama at the Lindt café in Sydney. The thing that struck Indian viewers, long used to seeing dramatic acts of violence unfold on television, was the measured tone of reporters — very unlike the breathless commentary we are used to seeing.
There were of course exaggerated assumptions in some quarters but as the Guardian reported, the media largely demonstrated restraint that helps set the tone for public reactions.
One TV station had a direct line of sight into the cafe but very little was shared with viewers. Requests by the police to suppress the identity of the gunman and the hostages were respected — and outlets that violated embargoes on video footage were forced to take them down following public protests. The police and leaders exhibited remarkable calm and professionalism, adeptly informing the public through briefings and social media updates.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came in for criticism for prematurely suggesting that the attack was “politically motivated” but later clarified that Islam could not be blamed for the actions of a “deeply unstable person” just as “we don’t blame the pope” for the (Catholic) Irish Republican Army.
But what really stood out were the active steps of ordinary Australians to ensure that the country did not descend immediately into Muslim-bashing.
One Australian saw a Muslim lady removing her hijab in a train while the siege was on; she asked her to put it back and volunteered to accompany her triggering the hashtag #illridewithyou that trended on Twitter, pre-empting scope for Islamophobia in the public sphere. Australians clearly wanted to avoid the kind of racial attacks that Indians were subjected to in 2009-10 and through this crisis demonstrated that they do certainly value the kind of society they live in.