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Sydney Hostage Crisis Spawns #Illridewithyou Twitter Campaign

There is now a predictable cycle that seems to follow every perceived act of Islamist terror: first the attack, then the violent confrontation with police, then the bigoted backlash against local Muslims. On Monday, an Iranian-born refugee and self-proclaimed cleric, Mon Haron Monis, stormed a Sydney cafe and sparked a hostage drama that ended with his ...

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There is now a predictable cycle that seems to follow every perceived act of Islamist terror: first the attack, then the violent confrontation with police, then the bigoted backlash against local Muslims.

On Monday, an Iranian-born refugee and self-proclaimed cleric, Mon Haron Monis, stormed a Sydney cafe and sparked a hostage drama that ended with his death and two of his captives when police executed a raid during the early hours of Tuesday. Though he was brandishing an Islamist flag, it appears unlikely that Monis was in any meaningful way connected to a terrorist group. If history is any guide, all that remains to cap this saga is an ugly backlash against Australia’s Muslims.

In the last 24 hours, the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off in Australia as a way to show solidarity with Muslims who might feel unsafe now. The campaign began circuitously, with a Facebook post that then turned into a Twitter campaign. While sitting on a train, Rachael Jacobs saw a woman, presumably Muslim, remove her hijab while sitting next to Jacobs. “I ran after her at the train station,” Jacobs wrote on Facebook. “I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute — then walked off alone.”

That post inspired Twitter user @sirtessa, whose name is Tessa Kum, to send this message of solidarity to those in Muslim garb who might be sharing the public transportation with her:

Since then, the hashtag has become a Twitter phenomenon, generating more than 90,000 posts:

And there’s some evidence the campaign is making a difference:

Critics of similar Twitter campaigns call the efforts ineffective — consider #bringbackourgirls, which has failed to return Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram to their families — but Australian Twitter users are posting information about their commuting schedule and when and where they might be available to ride with someone feeling threatened thanks to #illridewithyou.

The accused perpetrator of the Sydney cafe incident came to Australia from Iran in 1996. He calls himself Sheik Haron, but his religious bona fides have long been suspect. He has been convicted of sending hate-filled letters to the mothers of Australian soldiers who died in Iraq in Afghanistan. He has been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault while working as a spiritual healer and claiming to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation, and black magic, according to Australian media reports. Monis was also indicted as an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his wife, who was stabbed to death and whose body was then lit on fire.

That controversial background is sure to feed any backlash. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, widespread reports of violence against Muslims — or those just perceived as Muslim — piled up. In perhaps the most infamous example, Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh owner of a gas station in Mesa, Ariz., was the first person killed in retaliation. Similar violence followed the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London and, more recently, the Boston Marathon attack in 2013.

 Don Arnold/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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