On Monday, like most people, I was gripped by the horror unfolding inside an Australian chocolate store where 17 hostages were being held captive by a nameless, faceless aggressor. Around 45 minutes into the Sydney hostage crisis, the aggressor revealed himself to be affiliated with (or at least ideologically aligned with the ideas of) ISIS when he unfurled a black flag with a white inscription of the shahada from the window of the Lindt store. Like the grim reaper with his scythe, the flag has been all too familiar this past year as a sign of death, of the indiscriminate violence against humanity in the name of a grossly hijacked use of "Islam." But it was around three hours into the crisis that my stomach lurched all the more -- when the nameless aggressor was revealed to be Iranian.
"You absolute fucking wanker." That's what ran through my head when social media confirmed Man Haron Monis as the madman whose actions would eventually lead to the deaths of two hostages. Not only had this man committed a heinous act, but he'd thrown Iranians under a bus. His nationality was part of this narrative now.
As an Anglo-Persian, I wasn't the only one who felt like this. Within minutes of the news circulating that Monis, a Shia Muslim who had converted to Sunnism, was the hostage taker, the hashtag #IraniansAgainstTerror began to crop up on Twitter. People began to express their own frustrations and concerns. Silvia Robinson, one of many who chose to tweet, wrote:
— Silvia Robinson (@Silviarobinsons) December 16, 2014
Another person to use the hashtag was Chicago-based attorney Sam Sedaei, who had a different message, tweeting:
Iranians: No need for the #IraniansAgainstTerror campaign. No one whose opinion matters judges a whole country by the actions of one person.
— Sam Sedaei (@SamSedaei) December 16, 2014
And Sedaei's underlying sentiment is absolutely spot-on -- except when people do. Narrow-minded worldviews like those of Michele Bachmann (who called for the bombing of Iran this month) can have an outsized effect on those who otherwise trust the judgment and politics of those expressing them. There is value in challenging sentiments of misunderstanding.
Judgment and the actions of one to smear the many was partly the catalyst behind another prominent hashtag on Monday: #IllRideWithYou. That Twitter meme was started by a young woman who was concerned that the Australian Muslim community would fear for their safety and be unable to express their faith publicly after the media revealed that the hostage taker was a self-styled cleric purporting to represent some higher form of Sunni Islam. That hashtag got over 350,000 tweets, according to the BBC.
My feeling of frustration on Monday was the same feeling I'd had when I'd heard that -- in the middle of what are the most promising nuclear discussions between Iran and the P5+1 in recent memory -- the Iranian government had imprisoned a Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, for allegedly being a spy. It's at moments like this that you want to slam your head against a wall. How can we move forward when some Iranians -- in this case, members of the government and Revolutionary Guard -- want to push us back? (A note on Rezaian: He is still in prison based on unsubstantiated accusations of espionage. His last major story, before he was effectively abducted into custody, was about baseball.)
After the Sydney crisis, Australia and the world are mourning the loss of two lives: a mother of three and a beloved son. Iranians here in the diaspora mourn too, for the lives taken, and for the as-yet-unknown loss of momentum toward a harmonious peace and place in the world untainted by the actions of a few (whether it be hostage taker Monis or the Iranian government). I don't profess to speak for all or any other Iranians. But I held my breath on Monday, and it feels like we're all waiting -- and hoping -- to exhale one day soon.