We were among many who reported on the big-hearted, soft-headed response to Muslim terrorism in Sydney, Australia, under the hashtag illridewithyou.
As with “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe”, it either didn’t happen at all, or not as portrayed:
As news of the siege unfolded, I scrolled through updates on my phone, searching for the latest information. My brother works in the city of Sydney. My husband’s office is a government building near Martin Place. I knew all were safe and sound, but I wanted to know more.
At this point I saw a woman on the train start to fiddle with her headscarf.
Confession time. In my Facebook status, I editorialised. She wasn’t sitting next to me. She was a bit away, towards the other end of the carriage. Like most people she had been looking at her phone, then slowly started to unpin her scarf.
Tears sprang to my eyes and I was struck by feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness. It was in this mindset that I punched the first status update into my phone, hoping my friends would take a moment to think about the victims of the siege who were not in the cafe.
I spent the rest of the journey staring – rudely – at the back of her uncovered head. I wanted to talk to her, but had no idea what to say. Anything that came to mind seemed tokenistic and patronising. She might not even be Muslim or she could have just been warm! Besides, I was in the “quiet carriage” where even conversation is banned.
By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.
It’s hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.
But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment.
My second status was written as a heartbreaking postscript to my first. While the woman appeared to appreciate my gesture, we had both left defeated and deflated. What good is one small action against an avalanche of ignorance?
What ignorance? She just finished telling us that she barely spoke to the woman, and didn’t even know if she was Muslim. She made everything up.
I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.
WTF? Fellow Australians were being held hostage, some ultimately to die, and she’s apologizing (wordlessly) to a woman who might have been Hispanic, South Asian, Buddhist, or just cold, for a “culture where racism was part of her everyday experience”? Had I been that anonymous woman, I might have let her walk with me, but only out of fear what such a psycho would do if I refused.
Lesson No. 6,348 that liberalism is based on unreality and lies.