A viral social media campaign called ‘I’ll ride with you’ was started merely a few hours after news of the ensuing Sydney hostage crisis broke. The purpose of the campaign was to offer protection to Australian Muslims from potential retaliatory attacks as they traveled on public transport.
‘I’ll ride with you’ was celebrated by many. “Inspiring”, “moving”, a “reflection of Australian tolerance” were just some of the compliments given to the campaign. In reality, ‘I’ll ride with you’ reflects something deeply perverse about modern society.
Firstly, it was a completely unnatural and inappropriate response to the situation. It is not natural to empathize with possible victims of potential attacks whilst a current attack with actual victims is taking place. The hostage-crisis hadn’t even ended before ‘I’ll ride with you’ was off the ground.
Secondly, ‘I’ll ride with you’ turned a tragedy into a platform for self-promotion. It was a case-in-point of the great paradox of social media: on the one hand social media is branded as that which “connects us and shrinks the boundaries between us”; on the other hand, it is clearly distancing ourselves from one another and indeed ourselves. To illustrate the point: a group of innocents are taken hostage – their lives hang in the balance. On the one hand, we are now “connected” to their plight on a second-to-second basis via news-feeds and tweets. On the other hand, their plight becomes our gain: we tell our news-feeds how “heartbroken’ we are, how our “thoughts are with the victims of today’s attack”; some of us (myself included, I admit) make insensitive jokes.
Yet, the hostages themselves were probably experiencing intense fear and trauma – natural bi-products of a sudden, crude encounter with their own mortality. Such feelings and experiences are meant to be highly intimate, personal and vulnerable – somehow I don’t buy that we truly feel their plight when it is pasted on our timelines for thousands to see.
Social media gives us the opportunity to delete and edit the undesirable parts of ourselves. We end up only with a very fake, very detached presentation of what we want to be – not what we are in reality. The more time we spend on Facebook, the more we believe that this, our projected Facebook self, is our real self. Our ideal, Facebook selves take interest in tragedies in far-flung corners of the earth; our ideal selves don’t get angry – not at the perpetrators of attacks nor their co-coreligionists; our ideal selves are universal, tolerant and don’t want to be accused of Islamophobia. ‘I’ll ride with you’ was yet another Facebook campaign that was run not by us, but by our egos.
The third major problem with the campaign is that it reflects a twisted inversion of truth. It gives us the false impression that Radical Islam is equitable in scale and severity to Islamophobia. Radical Islam is becoming a serious global problem. It fuels wars. It flies planes into American towers, rips apart Spanish trains and English buses; it kills schoolchildren in Nigeria and Pakistan; it sells young girls into slavery, rapes them and mutilates their genitals; it beheads foreign journalists and kills cartoonists for expressing their opinions. The same simply cannot be said of Islamophobia.
Of course, moderate Muslims are not the ones that are perpetrating this savagery, yet they are the ones that can be doing something about it – and therein is their unique responsibility.
Moderate Muslims have the right to travel safely and live without fear. But they also have a responsibility to ensure others the same right. Whether they like it or not, this right is being denied of others in the name of their religion. Every time there is a September 11 or a hostage crisis, the onus ought to be on them to object, loudly. We need to be inundated with this response – whether in the form of op-eds, Imams appearing on TV, or entire communities taking to the streets; we need to see strength and courage. I regret to say that thus far, I simply do not get this impression from moderate Muslims worldwide.
Of course, not all anti-hate campaigns are to be written off. On the contrary, the intentions behind this campaign (at least on paper) were admirable; but this campaign, one launched in anticipation of a problem as opposed to the real one taking place inside the chocolate shop, was utterly misplaced.
This article is going to be criticized, yet I believe that the past has been, and future will be, telling testaments to the truth of this article. During the Israeli military campaign in Gaza this July, for example, when actual attacks took place on innocent Jewish Australians, the public did not respond with the same level of concern – never mind with a viral social media campaign. I doubt there will be similar campaigns for non-Muslims in the future. Whether the Australian public and Western society at large will prove me wrong – remains to be seen.