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Sydney unites in siege aftermath

The people of Sydney have shown their best in a united response to the siege at Martin Place.

As the crisis unfolded before the world’s eyes, a message by members of the Muslim community in Sydney echoed the feeling among all Australians: “Our immediate thoughts go to the hostages and their loved ones. We pray for their safety and hope this matter is resolved quickly and peacefully.”

The Australian Muslim community was clearly devastated by the defilement of their sacred symbols in the name of violence.

Preacher Jarrod McKenna captured the mood of many Australians, tweeting, “Praying for the hostages in Martin Place. Praying also for the Muslim community in Australia who have had their faith taken hostage.”

Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths came together for an evening prayer vigil at Lakemba mosque. 

"I’ll ride with you."

– Twitter user Tessa Kum

While minority far-right extremists incited hate and violence towards Muslims on Facebook, including the Australian Defence League calling for a protest in Lakemba, grassroots Australia made a stand for peace.

As Man Haron Monis held hostages inside the Lindt cafe and Sydney held its collective breath, a powerful social media campaign had begun. 

The #illridewithyou Twitter trend has shown the world how Australians respond to terror with kindness.

It began with the story of Rachael Jacobs, a Brisbane journalist whose small offer of support to an unknown Muslim woman – “I’ll walk with you” – and has now become a global phenomenon.

Inspired by the story, television writer Tessa Kum’s tweet from @sirtessa read, “If you reg take #373 bus b/w Coogee/Martin Place, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.”

She later tweeted, “Maybe start a hashtag? What’s in #illridewithyou.” Now, 300,000 Australians have volunteered for the campaign.

In an outpouring of compassion, Twitter users used the hashtags #MartinPlace and #SydneySiege to lobby against racist tendencies. David Ahern tweeted, “If people focus blame or hatred against all Muslims for these evil actions then the fanatics at #MartinPlace have already won #SydneySiege.”

The Attorney-General’s Department sent a clear message to the community, "The Australian Government categorically condemns anti-Muslim sentiments. Threatening violence is illegal, totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

By sunrise, two innocent Australians had lost their lives. The gunman was dead. More were wounded. Televisions and mobile devices rang out with the sickening gunshots that echoed through city streets at 2am. One young woman asked, “Is there a war starting?”

A single bouquet began to blossom in an outpouring of sorrow and a floral array of thousands followed.

But #illridewithyou had become the top trending hashtag globally, according to social search and analysis site Topsy, showing the world how Australia stands united in the face of adversity. 

By the windy afternoon on December 16, a day that brought showers and sunshine, the area outside Lindt cafe was sealed off. A temporary fence was covered in flowers, including one that read:

“Rest in Love,

Tori Johnson,

Katrina Dawson,

You’ll never be forgotten.”

Sydneysiders from all communities have paid their respects. A group of Muslim women who laid a hand crafted commemorative wreath were hugged by strangers in a show of spontaneous compassion.

Religious and government leaders came together on Wednesday and issued a joint statement, which in part read, "The deep level of compassion and kindness shown by all Australians at this gravely testing time is to be applauded. We come together to affirm and build upon our call for community harmony and tolerance. These values are the cornerstone of what makes Australia great."

NSW Premier Mike Baird, who attended the meeting, said, "The outpouring of support for members of our Islamic community has been humbling and is symbolic of the values we stand for as Australians: freedom, democracy and harmony."

On Thursday night, a vigil organised by the Muslim community carried the hashtag #standtogether.

The Point

Sydney has united in the siege aftermath, led by the hashtag #illridewithyou

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