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"The roughest day in Australian history"
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"The roughest day in Australian history"

AJake Elson hostage-taking in Sydney shook Australia’s sense of security, writes Jake Elson, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, but the response has been respect for quiet heroism and a demonstration of the country’s tolerance.

Shocked, devastated and infuriated. That is how I feel about the Sydney hostage crisis only a few days back.

Shocked, because Australia as a nation has until recently been regarded as a safe nation where these acts of inhumanity rarely happen. Devastated, because we have lost two of our own, and two of our brightest emerging leaders. Infuriated, because of the perpetrator’s hatred and delusionally-skewed view of Islam, and the fact that it was an attack that should never have been allowed to happen. Then again, the way the majority of people have reacted has made me proud to call myself an Australian.

To paraphrase the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “Australians have always assumed that it could not happen here and as a result we are doubly shocked that it has” .

I quote the words of Trudeau because I am still in shock over what has happened. Indeed, he is right. Although the attacks in Canada less than three months ago may have seemed a world away despite our two nation’s brother-like bond, they were a warning. I myself was anxious, knowing if an attack can happen in Canada, it will most certainly happen in Australia. Unfortunately, fate has proven me correct.  And yet, it still shook me to the core how an act of inhumanity and barbarism of this magnitude could occur in Australia too.

I personally could not believe that any person could have died, and it took me a while to accept the evidence. Even worse, the actions of one lunatic have cost us two of our best emerging leaders. The cafe owner, Tori Johnson, has been hailed by those who knew him as a highly humble, respectful and popular manager, with one colleague quoting him as ‘a selfless leader who put others first’. Indeed, his decision to wrest the gun from the hostage-taker enabled others to be rescued. The second victim, Katrina Dawson, was an esteemed barrister and mother of three young children, regarded by her colleagues as an up-and-coming talent within the profession. Her own actions at the time of the siege were to shield her pregnant friend from incoming gunfire. It is saddening, despite their heroism, to see two leaders die in such a manner.

I don’t want to give the perpetrator, Man Haron Monis, any more exposure than he has already has. Indeed, he never should have had any. However, I feel it is my duty to remind anyone reading this who should feel some sympathy to him that he doesn’t deserve any whatsoever. A man with an extensive criminal history in Iran, he fraudulently applied for, and received, asylum in Australia. He continued this life of crime in his new home. In 2009, he reportedly sent threatening and abusive letters to the widows of servicemen who lost their lives. Before the siege, he was on trial for his involvement in the murder of his partner as well as 40 sexual assault charges. In spite of his actions, he played the victim, claiming absurdly that Australian police tortured him, and that he was a man of peace. Unfortunately, it has taken an act of despicable violence for him to put his true colours on show. To make matters worse, security agencies did not have Monis on their watch list. Had they have done so, they most likely would have saved lives. In the strongest possible terms, Monis deserves to be forgotten from history.

And yet, in spite of grief, shock and anger, Australia has united. I will admit Australia has a few far-right fanatics who will try to blame every Muslim Australian for the actions of one man. It should be pointed out the vast majority of Muslim Australians came here, or are descendants of those who came here, to flee some of the worst violence of the 21st century. Thankfully, the vast majority of Australians have stood by their fellow countrymen and women. The social media campaign #illridewithyou received over a million responses.

Also noteworthy is the response of ordinary Australians going to Martin Place to lay flowers in memory of the victims. From people who never knew the two to close friends and relatives, from Christians to Muslims and Jews, Australians remembered. Indeed, there have been calls for both Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson to posthumously receive the Cross of Valour in recognition of their heroism.

We are a nation of people from different backgrounds. We each have our own beliefs, but one of the hallmarks of our society is that we show tolerance to others in spite of our differences. Indeed, it’s our tolerance that will prevent our nation from giving in to disgraceful acts of terrorism. We will ride with our Muslim countrymen and women in this knowledge. After all, we are all Australian.

photo credit: das21 via photopin cc

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About me:

I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day.  I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.

I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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