On Facebook the other day, someone suggested it was time to get serious about terrorism. I’m not sure what exactly they want us to do. More air strikes in Iraq? Greater powers for the police to randomly (it sometimes seems) harass and spy on and arrest people who might, maybe, be somehow connected to terror? Or not.
Or we could do what Australia did. Respond to the act of a lone-wolf whatever (this guy seems to be a combination of radicalized religious fanatic, madman and regular thug) with appropriate use of police power and carry on as a civilized society.
Once the hostage taking began, the police arrived in force and began to — negotiate. For a long time they prevented any deaths. Maybe they were making progress, maybe they were trying to exhaust him. It is still uncertain why that broke down but it may have happened when one of the hostages tried to wrestle the gun from the hostage taker. If so, it was heroic but it cost him his life. Maybe the hostage taker snapped. In any case, shooting started. The police moved in at that point — they have to, once guns go off — and three people including the hostage taker died.
I suspect if the response had been more forceful at the outset, more people would have died. Violence always escalates.
Questions will be raised — especially by Mr. Abbot, Australia’s PM, as to why something wasn’t done sooner. Why wasn’t he locked up before he committed this crime? It’s called the rule of law. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t being watched. He had been convicted of some crimes and served time. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we can’t predict future actions — even of a villain.
More impressive than any of the formal state response to this crime was the response of a large group of ordinary citizens. Recognizing that the act of one violent person does not vilify an entire group they reached out to their neighbours with the Twitter campaign #Illridewith you. Knowing that there would be those among them who would ‘want to get serious’ by harassing or assaulting anyone they could identify as Muslim, these citizens offered their support and protection.
They made a clear statement to ISIS and to lone wolf terrorists everywhere. We are bigger than you. We are stronger than you. We understand that freedom requires sacrifice. But we won’t sacrifice our freedom and we won’t sacrifice our dignity and we won’t sacrifice everything that you hate about us.
Be strong, Australia. I will ride with you.