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"I'll Ride With You"
by Nikos Laios
2014-12-17 12:16:43
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Tuesday, 16th of December is the day Australia lost its innocence,when a deranged,disaffected  lone-wolf gunman with a criminal record - Iranian born Man Haron Monis - self-identifying with radical Islam,laid siege to the Lindt chocolate cafe in Martin Place Sydney for sixteen hours.

img_0785_400On a bright summer Monday morning in Sydney, the gunman laid siege to a cafe in the middle Martin Place - a mall in the centre of the business district just a brief walk away from the Sydney harbour foreshore - surrounded by grand beige neo-classical buildings dating back to the turn of the twentieth century,laced with lines of bright green trees on either side,with a giant lonely Christmas tree in the centre,and punctuated with an English-style clocktower.

More than a dozen hostages became trapped as the gunman locked the cafe doors, and a black and white Islamic flag could be seen being held up inside the cafe window front.The police quickly cordoned off the whole block bringing the Sydney business district to a standstill,as news slowly filtered out in Sydney,and across Australia, as people where either starting work, having their morning coffee just awakening to the day,builders jackhammering in building sites building new towers,or joggers running across the Sydney Harbour bridge.

The gunman made several demands during the day - communicating through the hostages on social media - of wanting an ISIS flag delivered to him,to demanding to talk to the prime minister, and demanding also to be heard on radio stations.Throughout the day, the police kept a calm vigil,attempting to use negotiation to bring the matter to a peaceful close,when Monday night fell,and Sydney went to sleep with a tension and fear pervading the city.

Then in the early hours of Tuesday morning,the silence was tragically broken when gunshots were heard; where according to accounts, a thirty four year old male hostage attempted to wrestle the shotgun away from the gunman who was falling asleep.The gunman woke up and shot the male hostage, who died  - and where during this chaos - other hostages took the opportunity and escaped; and where a female thirty eight year old mother-of-three hostage also died,as she heroically threw herself on a pregnant female friend of hers to protect her.

The police special forces then had no option but to storm the building,where a thirty four second gunman battle ensued,with the result being two hostages dead and the gunman dead as well;as the first rays of morning summer sunlight drenched Sydney,waking the city to a new day, people waking up to the news of this terrible tragedy,and the resultant reaction was not one of anger,but of shock,and a show of humanity.

This show of humanity came about as the Moslem community in Sydney went about fortifying itself against a potential Islamophobic reaction to this event, which was crystallised in one particular incident on the public transport system in Sydney post the siege.

On a Sydney train, an Anglo-Australian woman img_0789_400noticed a Muslim woman quietly take off her head covering,upon which she said ran after her at the train station and said to the Moslem woman;   "put it back on,I'll walk with you."

Then another woman took to Twitter and tweeted;

 "If you reg take the bus b/w Coogee/Martin PL, wear religious attire, &don't feel safe alone: I'll ride withyou. @me for schedule."

A hashtag was then started on Twitter titled;  #illridewithyou, aimed at Australians uniting in the face of this tragedy,uniting with Moslem Australians to protect them from any racial backlash or Islamophobia by offering to ride with any Moslem person on the public transport system.

Rather than reacting with fear,phobia racial backlash and a 'McCarthyist witch-hunt' against Moslem Australians, the Sydney and Australian public reacted with courage and determination to protect their free and open society ,and it's humane and inclusive nature;and the question has to be asked,why are there not more such similar positive human waves of people power movements around the world?

As I write this tonight,Tuesday night Sydney time,the news comes flooding through across the media of a Taliban massacre in Pakistan that killed one hundred and twenty six people, mostly children; in the US where a gunman has killed six people; a terror clampdown in Kenya; and where the failed London bombers have lost their court appeals.

Has the advancement of human civilisation regressed so much, that we are now at the mercy of solving our existential questions,individual and societal problems through the mediums of violence,hatred,racism and misogyny,instead of love, compassion,dialogue and empathy?

In light of the racial tensions in certain US cities;the death,destruction,hatred and bigotry in Syria,Israel,Somalia;the misogyny and mistreatment of women in India/Pakistan;the appalling treatment of refugees by Italy and Greece, vis-a-vis through northern Europe's 'Pontius Pilate' washing of the hands;the uneasy truce in England of its Moslem community; the genocide and mistreatment of Christian communities in Syria,Iraq,Egypt,Africa and Turkey ( in the early twentieth century);the question needs to be asked, where is our humanity? Our compassion? Our understanding?

As a resident of Sydney, and citizen of Australia,this anti-racist people movement via the hashtag #Illridewithyou, has never made me feel more proud to live in Sydney,and be Australian; who showed with determination,unity,compassion and humanity,that when a society bands together in love and light,the symptoms of backward racism, hatred and violence can be banished.

Not just in the treatment of Moslems living in western nations,but also in the treatment of the Christians,and other religious and racial minorities that are currently living in Moslem nations; love and respect is a two-way street, and all nations affected by this cancer of intolerance,bigotry and hatred need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror and examine their societies and get to 'know thyself' in the vain of the Delphic maxim.img_0782_400

Capital western cities like Sydney, can sometimes be hollow,cement pitiless cities; the wind blowing scraps of paper from back-alley rubbish bins over flapping cardboard boxes sheltering the ragged homeless;or the smashed beer debris of some encounter of youths staining the pavement, the only evidence of a violent alcohol soaked night;of the cheap hookers and drug addict dandies and aged lotharios preening themselves in the neon lights reflected in street puddles.

No society is perfect - and indeed the absolute value of perfection is non-existence - in that all a society can be, is the best it can be in keeping with the subjective vision and aspirations that its citizens hold for it.Where this bold and brave display of humanity by Sydney has shown the kinder,gentler side of a metropolis .

The warm crackling hearth that metaphorically exists in its soul;the treelined avenues with the sunlight filtering through the luminous green leaves,shadows dancing on the ground;the colourful  clowns and musical buskers singing in street corners;the haunted glowing red Lautrecesque  lights softly pulsating from Chinese lanterns hanging from tree-branches on a Thursday night in its central park, as couples dance the tango;to the tireless work of volunteers working in soup kitchens and homeless shelters cruising the streets late at night picking up the homeless and destitute in vans and giving them food and shelter for the night.

Yes indeed,Sydney has a soul,a beautiful soul - and I've seen it many times - and the world has now also seen it as well.There is no perfect solution to the many ills facing our overcrowded world today; but a good start is by showing love, humanity and compassion.

Maybe the rest of the world should start by adopting the hashtag #Illridewithyou as a practical banner against discrimination by race,religion or sexual orientation and offering to escort fellow citizens to show solidarity for our shared humanity.

One thing that I do know tonight,Sydney, you've made me a proud man indeed to call myself a member of the human race; and I think that as in the Greek myth of Pandora,hope indeed might be the last immortal gift that has been left for us in the box by the gods.

Nikos Laios

North Sydney,



With a digital drawing from Nikos Laios



All photos by Nikos Laios


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Emanuel Paparella2014-12-17 13:31:57
Indeed Nikos, the above is a wonderful tribute to the great people of Australia and to one’s adopted country. Only one of the five continents on earth is unique for being also a country in its totality. A harbinger of things to come? The silver lining in this tragedy is that while Australia may indeed have lost its innocence, it may also have gained in the maturity and wisdom that arrive together with the awareness that it needs to hold on to its dreams of utopia and peace on earth among all people of good will, especially since we find ourselves in a season celebrating the coming of the prince of peace and his conspiracy of hope. Utopia may indeed exist nowhere on earth but to give up its aspirations, even if they are still in distant future, in our exidingly troubled times is to end in despair. Long live the conspiracy of hope.

Seba Francios2014-12-18 00:00:13
Great article Niko. I am very optimistic about the future of Sydney's beautiful soul.

Leah Sellers2014-12-18 17:58:45
Great and Hope-filled tribute to Australia's Essential Being, Nikos. And to the wonderful Woman who saw a Need and addressed it with Compassionate and Empathetic Action - "I'll Ride With You" ! Because, in Reality we are Planetary Riders upon this beautiful blue-green gemstone we call Earth.
Thank you !!

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