There are two words that we all use so much, they have lost their meaning – “Don’t judge”.
We beg it of others and we claim not to do it ourselves.
And yet it’s an impossible ask. We make judgements about every piece of information that enters our crowded brains, every moment of every day. Of course we do, and of course we should.
Questioning is powerful, automatic acceptance is foolish.
But there are some circumstances, some experiences, about which there is no alternative: Do not judge.
Until now, the Australian people and the Australian media have held themselves to that position when it came to what happened to 17 Sydneysiders on December 15, 2014. The day of the Sydney siege.
But then the Reverend Fred Nile – a caricature of a religious extremist, yes, but still an elected member of the New South Wales Parliament, a person who holds considerable power – opened his mouth and unleashed his judgement on the way the male hostages behaved that day.
On Sunrise this morning, Nile made the astonishing assertion that, “The only man really there [in the Lindt cafe] was the man with the gun.”
“Usually men try to protect the women,” he went on to say. “But it looks like the men were trying to protect their own skins.”
The day before, talking to 2UE radio, he addressed the issue, raised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, of whether the siege hostages, those that died, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, and those 15 that survived, should be awarded medals for bravery.
“Obviously they [the hostages who fled] were wanting to escape and save their lives, but normally bravery awards are given for an act of bravery, that somebody actually does something, and they haven’t done anything.
“But I think the awards, as Tony Abbott suggested, for the two hostages that died, I think they certainly should be given the awards.
“I just don’t think it’s something that should be rewarded with a bravery award…
He went on to add, “Maybe they could have done something more to protect the women, but I guess when you’re with a dangerous Islamic terrorist with a shotgun, you’re not thinking about protocol, you’re thinking about how to save your own life.”
There are only 15 people in the world who know what it was like have been at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place on December 15 at 9.45AM when Man Haron Monis stopped chatting to the staff and pulled out a gun.
There are only 15 people who know how it felt to have an ordinary day, of mundane errands and work commitments, of school drop-offs and medical appointments, lurch dramatically into a waking nightmare.
These are those 15 people: (post continues after gallery)
It should go without saying – but I will say it, all the same – that no-one expects sensible commentary from Fred Nile. This is a man who is most famous for leading prayers for rain at the start of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras every year. This is a man who is on-the-record with his rampantly anti-abortion stance, and with his abhorant views on Islam. Fred Nile is not a reasonable man.
But his words are dangerous, because saying them out loud gives them weight, gives them currency, and sends them out on the ether to be discussed. Today, because of his comments, people are talking about the actions of the escaped and surviving hostages, and bringing their judgement.
The people Fred Nile has accused of doing nothing will have heard him say that. They will hear the consequent debates. They might read this column.