Islamic terrorism and Islamophobia are extremes at the opposite ends of the Islam spectrum. Australians have rejected both extremes, as evident by the #illridewithyou Twitter campaign that they started.
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after an armed man who may have links to radical Islam took hostages in Sydney.
Anti-Muslim sentiment flared as chilling images from Australian media showed people, believed to be hostages, with their hands pressed against the glass of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney’s central business district. They were holding up a black flag with Arabic writing on it reading, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.” The gunman reportedly was demanding an ISIS flag.
There were fears that Australian Muslims could become the targets of racially motivated retaliatory attacks.
Instead Australian Twitter users offered to accompany Muslims wearing religious clothes on public transport as a gesture of solidarity under the hashtag #illridewithyou.
The campaign started with a tweet from @sirtessa, a TV content editor and writer from Sydney whose real name is Tessa Kum. “If you reg take #373 bus b/w Cogee/Martin Pl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule,” she wrote.
Kum told BuzzFeed News that “her heart broke” after reading a story tweeted by Rachael Jacobs as news of the hostage siege broke.
Jacobs had tweeted that “….and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab … I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.”
Kum added: “It is hard to feel hope when you feel helpless. #illwalkwithyou is a small act, but might be important for someone one day … For those of us watching; we live in this world. We aren’t bystanders. We aren’t helpless.”
The #illwalkwithyou campaign is an application of the biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
It is refreshing to see that biblical commandment being carried out.
By the way, opposing Islamophobia isn’t the same thing as defending Islam. One can do the former without doing the latter.