Sadly, a hostage situation in a central Sydney cafe has triggered some prejudice against Muslims on social media.
But Australians determined to rid their country of its reputation for racism and intolerance are banding together in the Twittersphere under a common hashtag, drawing on the old Australian tenet of “mateship” in a time when it is sorely needed: #illridewithyou.
It all began when Twitter user @MichaelJames_TV shared a story from a friend of his, Rachael Jacobs, who saw a Muslim woman take off her headscarf on a Sydney train after hearing the news of the siege. (The gunman in the siege, who has held staff and customers hostage at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe for more than 15 hours as of this writing, appeared to have forced hostages to hold up an Islamic shahada flag, which bears an Arabic phrase to describe Allah as the only god and Mohammed as his messenger.)
This is where it all began:
Another Twitter user, @sirtessa, encouraged Muslims to wear their religious attire on public transport, and suggested other Australians show similar openness under the #illridewithyou hashtag. It became an instant viral campaign, and it even knocked #sydneysiege from the top spot on Twitter’s worldwide trends list.
The hashtag has attracted tweets by Australians offering to sit with Muslims in religious dress on public transport, while others are offering rides to complete strangers to feel united and safe as fears rise over public security.
Jacobs, who seems media shy, may have done more for Australia’s image overseas in a few minutes than the country’s foreign affairs department under a year of leadership by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The country is still recovering from the shame of the 2005 Cronulla Riots, where volunteer lifesavers at the south Sydney beach clashed with young men of Middle Eastern appearance over a week of violent sectarian assaults.
But more recently, Australia has earned a reputation as a racist and heartless nation by implementing some of the harshest restrictions against asylum seekers in the world, many of them Muslims from the Middle East, attracting international condemnation to what was once seen as a friendly tolerant country.
Muslims from abroad are jumping on Twitter to applaud the #illridewithyou campaign, some saying they are “proud” and some joking they would even move to the country over it.
Here's a selection of what Twitter users in Australia and abroad are posting with the #illridewithyou hashtag: