Siege backlash unlikely

A Latrobe Valley Muslim leader has expressed confidence the community was unlikely to experience any negative backlash from the Martin Place siege in Sydney earlier this week, where three people died including the lone gunman.

United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley president Khatija Halabi said the Muslim community enjoyed a “good and open” relationship with the community, ensuring they had been shielded from repercussions resulting from terrorist actions elsewhere.

“We’ve been spared from it in the past. I think we’ll be spared from it this time,” Ms Halabi said.

Armed with a shotgun, self-proclaimed Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis took 17 people hostage at Sydney’s Lindt Chocolate Caf which resulted in a 16-hour siege and two victims dead, while others were taken to the hospital for injuries.

While expressing confidence local Muslims may not suffer as a result of the Sydney siege, she did advise, especially for hijab-wearing women, to “take vigilance and to be careful when using public transport”.

She welcomed the social media campaign #illridewithyou, which offers Muslims company when taking public transport to protect them from possible abusive behaviour arising from the siege.

Ms Halabi said while this campaign was not necessary within Latrobe Valley, Muslims may need some support once they left the region.

“I think for as long as we are within the Valley we’re okay but as soon as you travel out then the fear may set in,” she said.

Gippsland Multicultural Services director Lisa Sinha said she had previously received reports of abuse on people in the street and on the bus but they were not related to religious affiliation.

“From time to time we do hear people being abused in the street and on the bus. I think it’s the fear of the unknown and of the other,” Ms Sinha said.