I’ll Walk/Ride With You….

I probably wouldn’t have followed the hostage-taking incident in Sydney, Australia so closely, but my middle son is currently visiting the city. (Knowing his mother–and being a good son–he called even before I’d heard the  news reports, telling me “don’t freak out, I’m nowhere near where this is occurring.”)

We now know that this horrific episode, which cost two innocent people their lives, was not a terrorist act, at least in the political sense; it was a solitary crime comitted  by a mentally-deranged individual. Still, as Reuters reported, the perpetrator’s 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.

Then something heartwarming happened:

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.

The hashtag began trending on Twitter ahead of the evening commute on Monday, sparked by a Facebook post by Sydney woman Rachael Jacobs who described her encounter with a Muslim woman who took off her head covering: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with you’.”

That prompted other Sydneysiders to take to Twitter, detailing their bus and train routes home and offering to ride with anybody who felt uncomfortable, using the hashtag “Illwalkwithyou”.

On Tuesday morning, Jacobs said she was overwhelmed with the campaign she had inadvertently started: “Mine was a small gesture because of sadness that someone would ever feel unwelcome because of beliefs.”

I’d like to believe that something similarly spontaneous and reassuring could happen in the United States–that enough of us would put aside the stereotyping and suspicion of people with whom we don’t share beliefs or skin color or other tribal markers, to see each other simply as humans to whom we should offer reassurance and support.

I’d like to believe that, but given the animus permeating today’s environment, I’m not sure I do.


  1. A movement started by a woman; Rachael Jacobs is a stong soul who never hesitated but stepped out in public to offer support to a frightened stranger. A dangerous situation for herself and the Muslim woman she befriended. Have you noticed that it is the mothers, wives and girlfriends of the victims of racist police here who are the ones in the forefront? The same seems to be true regarding support for LGBT rights. I’m not surprised; I only wish I were physically able to join the local protests for civil and human rights, pitifully small as they usually are here.

  2. We all decide moment by moment who’s going to think for us. Decide for us. Move us towards action.

    I or “them”.

    “Them” can be a nasty lot. Armies hating armies. Mob ignorance. Strangers acting, dressing, eating, praying in weird ways.

    But I’s tend towards empathy. The family of man. He really isn’t a load, he’s my brother.

    Be very quiet and listen. Can you hear that heart beat? What’s it saying?

  3. Sheila – Thank you for publicizing goodwill. There is considerable goodwill and caring for each other in our community and around the world. If only the media appetite for it were at least as great as for horrific behavior.

    The holiday season does give rise to more stories of goodwill than at other times of the year, and I wish those stories were reported all year long. They renew, refresh, and inspire. Thank you for spreading the good news.

  4. Being very cold natured, I found that wearing a headscarf in the winter keeps me much more comfortable. However, my 88 year old mother had one cranky comment after another about what was the point I was trying to make wearing a head scarf. She seemed to take it as a personal insult. If that was my mother’s reaction, I can only imagine what Moslem women face on a daily basis.

  5. This is truly heartening.

    I am reminded of the aftermath of 9/11. The Detroit area (where I grew up and much of my family still lives) is home to the largest Arabic speaking community outside of the Middle East. For the past couple of decades, Arab-owned Middle Eastern restaurants (for lack of a better description) have sprung up in the heart of Detroit’s Jewish community. In the aftermath of 9/11, a major local Jewish organization provided the restauranteers with letters stating “these are our friends” and “please continue to patronize this establishment”. A small gesture, but a worthy one.

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