Sydney siege: Black flag symbol of fear, but we already have the antidote

19 Dec

Sydney siege: Black flag symbol of fear, but we already have the antidote


December 19, 2014

The more the black flag is used by terrorists the more it comes to symbolise fear. The flower memorial that grew after the siege is a symbol of our shared love and our shared values.

If he carries a gun, it is a siege. But if he also carries an Islamic flag, it is terrorism.

Perhaps that flag was more loaded than the gun. It tainted the tragic story as something borne of a “death cult” rather than a dangerous psychosis.

A black flag was also brandished from a passing vehicle in front of my children’s school in Parramatta on September 16. Verbal threats were made by a 14-year-old about slaughtering Christian children. Again it was the flag that catapulted the incident to banner headlines. As the school spokesman, I fielded media interviews from around the world to put this isolated incident into factual perspective.

And it is the black flag that may be used again to galvanise global media attention. In the wake of Martin Place tragedy, how do we stop “copy-cat” crimes by narcissists who seek to capitalise on the Islamophobia?


From within the community, this may be combated by clerics reiterating that such perpetrators end up going down as criminals, not rising up as martyrs.

From the wider community, we should stop pushing people over the edge. Stop pushing people to denounce every crime committed by Muslims, as if it does not go without saying. Stop pushing people to feel that they are on parole, as if they are collectively guilty until proven innocent. Stop pushing people towards the margins of society, towards radicalisation, towards the IS recruitment propaganda that Muslims are unwelcome and unloved in the West. Using a migration paradigm, the Islamophobes are creating the push factor which feeds into the ISIS pull factor.

The Australian, British and other Western recruits who speak on these slick videos with the black flag as their backdrop tell their Muslim targets that they understand their alienation. “For all my brothers living in the West, I know how you feel … you feel depressed … the cure for the depression is jihad.”

The black flag has morphed into a weapon that is more explosive than the bomb. Yet the shahada on the flag iterates the most basic tenets of Islam: There is no God but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

Imagine waving a crucifix inscribed with a basic Christian creed: “Jesus is the son of God who rose from the dead.” The crucifix in a different context has been misappropriated as a symbol of fear, such as Crusades during the 12th century and by the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s when cross lighting had terrorised African Americans.

The repeated visual juxtaposition of the black flag in the IS beheading videos has been etched as a symbol to fear. The more we are conditioned to panic, like Pavlov’s dogs salivating when they hear a bell ring, the more the flag gains potency.

As with many fears and phobias, our reactions are not always based on fact. Anything resembling the enemy is treated accordingly. Hence, other black flags, Arabic writing, bearded Muslim men with no moustache, and even Arabic speaking people trigger a similar sense of anxiety.

It may take time to deconstruct this damage and reconstruct the reality. Just because an individual waves a black flag does not mean that he is an IS jihadist militant. Their political movement to forcibly recreate a Caliphate has been roundly condemned by Islamic clerics worldwide, including Australia where the Grand Mufti Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed denounced ISIS as committing crimes against humanity and sins against God. The movement thrives on fear and attracts those who love to be feared.

What Sydney-siders have demonstrated this week is that what we love conquers what we fear. Indeed, love is the antithesis of fear. And the epitome of this was the I’ll ride with you social media movement where the Muslim fear of being targeted on public transport was conquered by offers of accompaniment. On Thursday night, Muslim leaders arranged a public vigil at Martin Place to “Stand Together” with all those affected by the tragedy “here and overseas”, They gathered around the symbol of the flower memorial, not flags.

Tragically, this community is no stranger to sieges and fear. I recall Martin Place being closed off on August 3 during the peace rallies over the “siege” in Gaza. Many flags were flown by those empathising with a population on the other side of the world. Operation Protective Edge saw over 2100 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis killed.

No matter how high flags are hoisted, our shared love of our shared values rises higher and looks down on the facts with a fresh perspective.

We see those who exploit flags to foster fear, whether it is those who claim to be Muslim martyrs or anti-Muslim martyrs. Ironically, both share the same philosophy and serve the same master: Muslims are misfits in Australia.

From high above the flapping flags, we see people of all colour congregate around the flower shrine and we know better.


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