by Emily Shurmer
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) December 15, 2014
In the wake of a terrorist attack in a café in Sydney, Australia, thousands joined an online effort to stand in solidarity with local Muslims who were afraid of an Islamophobic backlash.
On 15th December, a gunman took 17 people hostage in a café in Sydney’s city centre and displayed what looked like an Islamist flag at the window, fuelling speculation that this was an Islamic extremist act. After sixteen hours, police stormed the café and ended the siege. Whilst most of the hostages escaped to safety, three people died in the attack, including two hostages and the hostage-taker.
After reports of racist behaviour towards local Muslims following the siege, many Australians took to social media to offer solidarity. Rachael Jacobs, a Facebook user from Brisbane, posted a moving status about an encounter with a Muslim woman earlier in the day.
"...and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab," she wrote. “I ran after her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u'. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute - then walked off alone."
If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule
— Sir Tessa (@sirtessa) December 15, 2014
This was followed up by Twitter user Sir Tessa, who tweeted, “If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.”
Before long, the hashtag #IllRideWithYou (“I’ll ride with you”) was trending globally on social media, as people offered to accompany Muslims on public transport in case they were feeling threatened. Whilst many were expecting a rise in anti-Muslim behaviour, the Australian community instead responded with a profound love for their neighbour, showing that they would support them in the face of hatred and racism.
“I was at church this morning and people were trying to figure out ways they could help let Muslims know that not all Australians think Muslims are all terrorists,” said Ann Scull, a minister in the Melbourne area. “I was surprised at how fast the I’ll Ride With You movement took off on Facebook. It brought tears to my eyes.”
As Christians, we can often look out on the world and despair in the violence, hatred and injustices which often seem to be the product of a godless society. But stories like this are a reminder that God’s goodness can manifest itself in many different ways. Whether they knew it or not, those who started the #IllRideWithYou hashtag demonstrate a very Christ-like love – which resonates with the coming of God incarnate, who came to ride with us through a fallen world.
In this season of “peace and goodwill to all men”, we too can refuse to jump on the media bandwagon of hatred and distrust, particularly of those who might be of a different race or religion to us. Instead, we can affirm goodness where we see it in society. We can follow the example of the #IllRideWithYou movement and look for ways to show God’s love to our neighbour, whoever that might be.