#illridewithyou: A simple but elegant display of humanity, that today in Pakistan we need more than ever

It’s not about Muslims versus non-Muslims. It’s about violence versus peace

I watched on television and Twitter, along with the rest of the world, as the Sydney siege unfolded yesterday. A lone gunman took patrons and staff hostage at the Lindt café, unfurled an imitation of an Isis flag, made demands for the proper flag to be delivered to him, terrorised the city and made the whole world witness his Four Lions-esque attempt to go out with a bang, not a whimper.

Yet again “Islamic terrorism” hit the world news and front headlines, even though the gunman was later found to be an Iranian lone wolf with a history of sexual assault and disturbed behavior. Amid an ongoing debate about the tenor of immigration in Australia, coupled with the perennial question of whether or not Muslims are peace-loving or peace-hating folk, emotions on social media were running high, and Australia’s Muslims were already bracing for an inevitable backlash. Some began to phone in to radio stations to talk about how they were afraid of what was going to happen to them when they had to go to work next morning.

Then a curious thing happened. A Sydney woman on Twitter, Sir Tessa, offered to accompany any Muslim to work who wore “religious dress” and might be afraid of retaliation. More and more people began to echo her offer, using the hashtag that she made up: #illridewithyou. People began to tweet their locations, their work schedules, pictures of stickers with the hashtag handwritten and displayed on their work bags. “If you see this, ask me, and #illridewithyou,” they said.

I saw this happening, all the way in Pakistan, and was immediately struck by the simple, yet elegant humanity that this trend signified. Here were people refusing to continue a cycle of retaliatory hate and violence; instead they were offering their protection, like guardian angels, to Muslims, most probably women easily identifiable by their hijab, made frightened and vulnerable by the gunman’s evil insanity.  I tweeted about the hashtag and called it “beautiful” simply because it was such a genuine, positive reaction to a situation that could have easily provoked the opposite response.


Some people opposed this trend, saying that the “victims of Islamic terrorism” deserved someone to “ride with them” more than Muslims do.  But today, the Sydney siege is over, and I’m in Pakistan, where as I write this, Taliban have taken over a school in Peshawar. Latest news suggests that they’ve killed over 100 children and wounded nearly 90 more, while hundreds more are still trapped in the school with the gunmen promising to kill them all.  Those children are all Muslims, all victims of extremist terrorism that has politics at its core, religion as its outer guise.

It’s not about Muslims versus non-Muslims, as they’d have us all believe. It’s about violence and hatred versus peace, tolerance and love. We all fall into one side or the other of this divide. We all need to fight this war together, and give each other protection and succour, whether we’re in Australia or Pakistan or anywhere else in the world.

The most important question of all: no matter where we are, will you ride with us?