Letter From New York 12 15 14 Terrorists or madmen…

Last night, my friends Lionel and Pierre came over for dinner – asparagus soup, mashed sweet potatoes, baked squash and a sirloin fresh from the farmer’s market. We were just into the soup course when his phone made a noise; a news alert was coming in.

The alert was that hostages had been taken in Sydney, a drama that would be played out into the morning today. Lionel is from Sydney originally and he excused himself to phone his family to make sure none were involved. All were accounted for and far from the scene.

I arrived in New York this morning and went into the Acela Club at Penn Station as I had a bit of time before I was to meet my friend Mary Dickey for lunch. My arrival at the Acela Club coincided with the moment that the Sydney police stormed the café and I watched events unfold, live and in real time.

It seemed a bit surreal, to be seated in the Acela Club, sipping a coffee, while half a world away this drama was being acted out, in a city I once knew fairly well and which I loved.

Little was known at the time and much is yet to be revealed, even though the crisis is over. There are two dead plus the gunman, an individual who identified himself as a Muslim cleric. He had some of the hostages hold up what appeared to be a black and white Islamic flag in the windows of the Lindt Chocolate Café, an unlikely seeming place for a hostage crisis.

Turns out he was quite the fellow, this Man Haron Monis. He had served community service time for pleading guilty to sending threatening letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers, calling the deceased “child killers.” He called himself a spiritual healer and had allegedly sexually abused some of those he was supposed to be healing and it seems that he was being linked to the murder of an ex-wife. He apparently had no religious training.

A website by Monis or his supporters claim that all the allegations were trumped up.

Some believe he was committing suicide by police, a thing not unheard of. He certainly seemed to have gotten the attention he wanted. From what I can gather, it’s believed in Sydney that he wasn’t really a terrorist but a deranged man.

Whatever the truth, two innocent people are dead.

In a gesture that was affecting, citizens of Sydney began a twitter campaign to combat a potential Muslim backlash. #illridewithyou was the campaign’s hashtag, offering to ride with Muslims needing to get around Sydney on public transportation. It has since gone viral. It seems very Australian.

My eyes watered up when I read the story.

Australia is an “open and generous” country said Prime Minister Tony Abbott and that is how it has struck me and it has struck me as a place removed from the violence of our terror stained world. But it is not. No place is safe from terrorists or madmen, whatever Man Haron Monis turns out to be.

In Pennsylvania, as I write this, a manhunt is ongoing for an individual who apparently killed six members of his family in a domestic dispute. That was happening as I was sitting in the café above the Fairview Market on Broadway, having a delightful lunch, chatting with Mary about the fallout from the Sony hacking scandal.

It is on days like this that I treasure the peace of the countryside and am grateful for the respite it provides from the terrors of the world in which we live, counterbalanced by the incredible human generosity of those who took the #Illridewithyou viral.

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