Last night I was reading a book when…..

Last night I was reading a book in bed. When I came across this passage, I stopped in amazement. Something sounded shockingly familiar,

Nothing was as it had been. Martin Place, where once she had happily browsed the fine designer shops, now appeared to her as empty and strange as the ruins of an ancient city that somewhere, sometime long ago, stopped making sense. For a moment she stood surrounded by colourful bunting and beautiful images that communicated nothing. Dolce & Gabbana. Louis Vuitton. What did any of it mean? On vertical banners pushing a designer label, models, no more than kids, were reproduced with their strange unfocused gaze, as if they had witnessed a massacre or horror they still could not comprehend.

p 169. The Unknown Terrorist. Richard Flanagan, 2005.

Although written some years ago, this novel is a timely reminder of the complicit and nasty role that politics and the fear mongering media often play in society, especially after events such as the recent Sydney siege at the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place by a lone lunatic and the tragic outcome for two innocent victims.

I recommend this novel, and as we are saddened by the loss of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, we might also strongly express our opposition to any sensationalist media coverage which, like piranha, feeds off these events.

Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson
Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson

Footnote. from letters to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald. Dec 18,2014.

It ill behoves our Prime Minister, the head of our political decision-making process, to lead the charge of divisive recrimination against the administrative decision-makers, police and judicial officers who have determined matters relating to Man Haron Monis (“Abbott’s open question: how was the gunman ‘at large’ in the community?”, December 17). To second-guess decisions relating to issues as complex as refugee status, surveillance and bail knowing little more about those decisions than that something went horribly wrong at some later time is to succumb to the seductive lure of hindsight reasoning, the most insidious threat to logic and the calm analysis of evidence. This is a time for our leaders to encourage healing and cohesion, not blame.

Justice Lucy McCallum Sydney

26 thoughts on “Last night I was reading a book when…..”

  1. You make a good point about media coverage, the importance and relevance ascribed to it by itself and others with vested interests has gotten way out of hand.
    The book is a timely suggestion… as I have book club today and the Goodreads reviews on The Unknown Terrorist anre entertainly divided but it surely is topical and relevant. I haven’t had much exposure to Richard Flanagan’s writing -I recently read as a book club selection The Narrow Road to the Deep North and could see the merit in it although I wasn’t as moved as some, and I couldn’t manage more than a third of Gould’s book of Fish although I tried.

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  2. I am a big fan of Richard Flanagan’s work. The Death of a River Guide and the Sound of One Hand Clapping are both moving. I also struggled with Gould’s Book of Fish. The Unknown Terrorist is an excellent read, with prose that makes me stop, reflect , then reread. The setting of Sydney might be appealing to you.

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  3. Wow that must have sent chills up your spine. Interesting quote from the Justice-of course that doesn’t come without bias. But I think it’s important to review sentencing and laws – if we can perhaps learn from and prevent something like this happening by asking the question then shouldn’t we ask?

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    1. We should ask. These questions were asked about the parole board in Victoria after the murder of Jill Meagher two years ago. These are matters for the State, not the Prime Minister.
      The passage from Flanagan’s book did send chills up my spine. It is set in Sydney at an earlier date and in fiction form, shows some of the awful things that can happen to a society when the fear and terror pot is stirred- especially from the media. The Daily Telegraph is having a field day, I note.

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  4. Such tragic events. I too am uncomfortable with all of this ‘post event blame allocation.’ I understand that we live in a democracy and it is our right to question, debate and write opinion. And so we should review what can be done differently. But, (maybe I am naive), all the training in the world, all the theory etc etc doesn’t really prepare anyone for situations like this and the myriad of things that can go wrong. Certainly it isn’t the Prime Ministers role to spearhead this debate.

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    1. No, I don’t believe it’s the job of the PM to spearhead the debate. Although, at a dinner party last night, I heard the other point of view put succinctly. We also discussed this massive outpouring of public grief and involvement in tragedy and wondered what it is all about. The grief belongs to family, friends, co- workers and so on. It is an interesting phenonema and one which began with the death of Lady Di.

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      1. I very pleased you have expressed what the G.O. and I have been privately thinking about “massive outpouring of public grief and involvement in tragedy”, for us both in this case, and in that of Phillip Hughes, the young cricketer. We are geographically close to both tragedies rather than personally although as we had been at our home near Macksville the day before Phillip Hughes’ funeral (and indeed many many years ago the G.O.’s family knew his grandparents) we were asked why we didn’t go, but while we feel for those grieving we feel it’s not our place.

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        1. It is all very odd. we also found that about the public grieving for the young cricketer.And yet, other victims of awful tragiic events, murders, children killed by a crazed father, wives beaten by husbands are not mourned in this way. Not much news space is given to those massacred children of Pakistan either.
          This man was not a terrorist, but a nasty criminal with many mental issues to boot. And yet, many seem to want to cling onto this terrorist notion. That’s a worry.

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  5. I’m with Cheery, i don’t believe that anything can prepare the authorities or anyone, to cope with simialar tragic incidents like that which Sydney witnessed earlier this week. Each perpetrator has their own agenda, their own inner demons. I strongly disagree with the the cross bench senator who today stated that if we all carried guns this situation would never have occurred. Sadly both the press and politicians play to an audience.

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    1. I agree Sandra. Each tragic incident is so different- no one can really prepare for them. A dinner party conversation last night centred around the idea of terrorism. Is a lone madmen a terrorist? Will this incident allow the government to ramp up anti terrorist laws? Is Tony Abbott’s involvement politically motivated? At what point will the media sharks let this rest and ask sensible questions.

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  6. Yes, a very dark time in Sydney. I’m actually glad the PM is asking questions as this terrorist had a very long criminal history and I was so shocked to hear that after all the hate letters he sent to grieving parents of fallen soldiers, the ‘honour killing’ of his former wife and all those sexual assaults (50?) that this man was actually out on bail. You usually get taken off the streets for a lot less than that so we the public, are owed an explanation and if that has to come from the top, that’s fine with me. Pity it’s all too late for the families of the victims xx

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    1. This man was a nasty criminal and questions do need to be asked. As with all other criminals out on bail, reviews of the system need to be put in place. After all the facts are assessed, I guess we will have a clearer picture. At present, terms such as ‘terrorist’ are very misleading and will do nothing to restore a sense of peace to Sydney.

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  7. Last night on 7.30 Report Leigh Sales interviewed the NSW premier. She asked sensible and incisive questions about bail laws, about justice. At all times both showed absolute respect for the victims, freed hostages and their families. Just sometimes there is a glimmer of hope that out media hasn’t gone down the drain, and that politics is about real people, not just power.

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  8. Sorry to disagree with you on this, Francesca. The media called this man a terrorist at first, then he mutated into a lone wolf and then, with a collective sigh it settled on the term criminal. Because heavens above, let’s not call a spade a spade. I don’t particularly care for politicians or their agendas and I don’t care for the type of media that believes it knows the truth so there’s no need to examine an opposing view. Mine is that though not all criminals are terrorists, all terrorists who use or abuse their religion to justify their actions are criminals.

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    1. And I note with sadness that the mentally disturbed woman of Cairns also has used the name of God to allegedly murder her children. So I wonder if she might also be labelled a terrorist? I wonder how the media will deal with her disturbed behaviour.

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  9. I can but agree, wholeheartedly, Francesca. We noted the media seemed to be adding to the horror of it all. We were in Sydney, in Martin Place, when this was happening (we are home now) and we saw things a bit differently, how quietly the city shut down and emptied, how caring people were for each other afterward. That is some quote from Richard Flanagan.
    Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson.

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  10. Yes, the caring side of people is a remarkable thing when these events occur, and it wuld have been better to show more of this. And it was so good to see the emergence of #I’ll RideWithYou soon after that awful event. These buttons have also been distributed at the Melbourne central stations. Of course the right wing media and Sydney shock jocks have a lot of negative things to say about this too. Unbelievable.

    Liked by 1 person

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