The Sydney hostage siege is over and three people — the lone gunman and tragically two of the innocent people he had held captive — are dead.
The people of Sydney and Australia are still coming to terms with what has happened. How Australians respond in the next few days will matter greatly to whether this horrific incident will change this country in any way for the worse. A few things are becoming increasingly clear:
- The response by the security forces was professional and coordinated. It appears that their forceful intervention in the early hours of this morning occurred after the gunman had started shooting and any delayed response would have cost more lives.
- While the Australian media could not help but report the crisis around-the-clock, and this provided the attacker with a kind of publicity, it turns out they showed a commendable degree of discipline and restraint in some areas. Most importantly, the perpetrator's demands were not broadcast. This is an important precedent that will help to discourage future incidents.
- Was this a terrorist act or a crime? The methods were those of terrorism, and terrorism itself involves a whole set of crimes. Once, terrorists did not want to be called as such; the IRA, for instance, insisted on being seen as freedom fighters. Now the language of political violence has changed, and some people see the label of terrorist as almost too kind — providing an unwarranted layer of meaning and purpose to acts of murderous criminality. In a sense, whether this particular instance of criminal terrorism was more criminal than terrorist does not matter. What matters is that it was an act neither of war nor of faith, and should in no way be dignified as such.