SYDNEY (Reuters) – Hours after a self-styled sheikh and two of his hostages were killed in a gun battle in a Sydney cafe, inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia’s biggest city, a social media movement showing solidarity with Australian Muslims was gathering steam.
Inspired by the Twitter hashtag “I’ll ride with you”, some commuters heading into the city for work on Tuesday gave their support to Muslims who might feel vulnerable amid concerns about a blowback after the hostage drama.
The hashtag was trending around the world, popping up across Asia, Europe, Africa and North America as it featured in more than 300,000 tweets. Actor Russell Crowe, who grew up in Sydney and keeps a home here, added his star power to the campaign.
Sydney is home to around half of Australia’s 500,000 Muslims, with many travelling into the city for work from its western suburbs.
On one train headed into the central business district, a young woman had attached a small sign with the popular hashtag to her handbag.
“I wanted to do something and this seemed like something easy and worthwhile,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.
While police stressed that the man behind the 16-hour siege in the centre of the city was acting alone and had a history of mental instability, his move to force hostages to display an Islamic flag immediately raised hackles in some quarters.
A man shouting anti-Islamic abuse near the cafe during the standoff was moved on by police, while Muslim community leaders reported women wearing the hijab had been spat on.
“We’re still getting reports of incidents coming in today,” said Samier Dandan, a spokesman for the Australian National Imams Council. “But we are quite encouraged by this campaign. It shows the support of the Australian public and how much of a big heart they possess.”