Into The Arms Of Safety: But what kind of safety? And what manner of arms? How shall this world be healed when the innocent run from the arms of one gunman
into the arms of another? (AP Photo)
into the arms of another? (AP Photo)
IT IS A PICTURE of grief and relief. The fleeing hostage’s pale hands clutch franticly at the arm of the man who is swinging her behind him. The inclination of her body and the agitation of her flailing tresses convey vividly the desperate momentum of her flight. Eyes squeezed shut against the horrors at her back; the first of many gut-wrenching sobs escaping from her mouth, the young woman collapses, weeping, into the arms of safety.
But what kind of safety? And what manner of arms? Because the hostage’s rescuer is barely recognisable as a human being. Like the distraught waitress from the besieged Lindt Chocolat Café, he, too, is clad in black. But there the similarities end. The entity into whose arms the fleeing hostage has fallen might best be described as a weaponised biped.
If the young woman is the symbol of unprotected vulnerability, her rescuer represents the exact opposite. Every inch of him bristles with armour, weaponry and communications gear. And when he lowers the visor of his helmet what little remains of this two-legged tank’s humanity disappears altogether behind tinted Perspex.
Is this what the State has become? A blank and pitiless cyborg bulked up with Kevlar, strapped tight with Velcro and armed to the teeth? Is this really what we, as citizens, have demanded from those set in authority over us? Presented with a threat like the armed hostage-taker, Haron Monis, would we be outraged if the State defended us with anything less?
But if these weaponised human beings are indeed our representatives, then shouldn’t we give some thought to how the rest of the world might interpret what they – and we – truly stand for?
When we allow our politicians to pass laws that tightly circumscribe the limits of dissent and restrict people’s right to cross borders to uphold what they believe to be freedom and justice (as thousands of men did in the late-1930s to defend the Spanish Republic against its fascist enemies) what kind of values are we proclaiming?
And when even more fearsome variants of the weaponised men we send into our streets are deployed abroad to unleash fire and death upon people who have never lifted a hand against them, what should we expect from their families, friends and co-religionists in return?
History suggests that human beings generally respond as they are responded to.
Monday, 15 December 2014 will long be remembered in Australia for the crimes of Haron Monis. But among Australia’s Muslim community it will be remembered for something else. Hashtag I’ll Ride With you.
The Twitter account arose from an incident on a train where a young Muslim woman was observed removing her head-scarf in fear of retaliation for what was unfolding in Martin Place. A non-Muslim Australian citizen, seeing this, followed the young woman and implored her to replace her headscarf. “Don’t worry”, she said, “I’ll walk with you.” This extraordinary display of human solidarity, relayed through social media, saw the creation of #Illridewithyou and very soon tens of thousands of Australians were offering to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim fellow citizens.
Which was the better emblem of Australia? The Kevlar-encased, heavily-armed policemen who thrust a terrified young waitress behind him to safety? Or, the citizen upon whose shoulder a young Muslim woman sobbed her gratitude? Which message offers the better hope of peace and goodwill? The Australian fighter-bombers unleashing fire and death upon the battered remains of Iraq and Syria? Or, #Illridewithyou?
In just six days’ time we celebrate the birth of a Middle-Eastern prophet who instructed his followers to do more than repay like with like.
On a hillside in Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth told them:
You have heard it said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
For how shall this world be healed when the innocent run from the arms of one gunman into the arms of another? If we would be truly safe, then we must all learn to say: “Don’t worry, I’ll walk with you.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and the Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 December 2014.