Sunday, February 8, 2015

Recounting the Sydney Siege

Channel 9's 60 Minutes special on the survivors of the Sydney Siege was distressing but necessary. Difficult as it would have been for the survivors to recount every moment of that nightmare, they did it with maturity, insight and fortitude. The documentary did justice to their harrowing tale. Their warmth, intelligence and courage shone through. Their bravery in the face of danger, their compassion for one another and their ability to remain composed under pressure struck me as extraordinary. What was most heartening and powerful was the fact that they completely understood and empathised with each other's predicaments. Confronted with the sheer impossibility of knowing what would unfold as that horrific situation progressed, those who saw an opportunity to escape had no alternative but to grab it. It was an impossible situation. As one of the survivors who remained trapped till the very end of the siege said, it was impossible not to feel gratitude for the good fortune of those who managed to escape early. Everyone involved in that terrifying situation behaved with great care and concern toward their fellow sufferers. Their instinctive drive to protect one another was really moving, and the documentary distilled the essential compassion and solicitude that emerges in moments of shared turmoil and despair. A documentary like this is important because there is a tendency, in today's political climate, to see 'events' such as the siege as excrescences of an opaque political problem that refuses to go away. The media see these events and 'incidents' in political terms, which of course they must do, but these events then become part of multiple disjointed conversations about what's going on, why it happened, how people should react, etc. - all very necessary conversations but disjointed nonetheless. Divergent claims and counterclaims about the incident are then settled by a kind of artificial consensus that simultaneously appears on various platforms. The terrible reality of the lives lost and the lives transformed by the incident somehow disappears into the background and becomes immaterial. Because the experts and the lay commentariat (we) understand these things in strictly political terms, and our interpretations (with our favoured protagonists) must take centrestage. Well, here is the reality of the individual lives that were transformed by the event. And it is painful and distressing, yet hopeful and inspiring. The real impact of terrorism lies not in its capacity to induce fear and sow disharmony in society, which of course it does, but in the suffering it causes in individual lives. The fear and disharmony will somehow be managed, sublimated, repressed or manipulated but the lives that are destroyed will remain destroyed forever.

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