What The Hell Just Happened In Sydney?

by Dish Staff

Monday morning (Sunday night in the US), a man wielding a gun and a black flag similar to that used by ISIS walked into the Lindt Chocolat Café in the Australian city’s central business district and proceeded to hold the customers and staff hostage for 16 hours before police stormed the shop around 2 am Tuesday, ending the standoff. According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ongoing live coverage, the gunman and at least one other person are dead, with several others injured.

The gunman, an Iranian immigrant and self-styled “cleric” by the name of Man Haron Monis, tried to portray himself as an agent of ISIS but came off as more of a delusional, attention-seeking psychopath (though to be fair, those often go hand in hand):

Monis, also known as Sheik Haron, was convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers who died serving in Afghanistan. He is out on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as a string of 40 indecent and sexual-assault charges in connection to his time as a self-proclaimed spiritual leader. Monis used a YouTube account to post a series of three videos of hostages reciting his demands, which included the delivery of the black flag of ISIS. He asked “to please broadcast on all media that this is an attack on Australia by the Islamic State,” and to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The demands would be met with the release of more hostages, according to the videos. YouTube has since removed the videos from the account.

Juan Cole wishes the press would stop playing into the hands of such criminals by hyping them as terrorists, implicitly tarring innocent Muslims in the process:

Sydney had another hostage crisis, in 1984, in a bank. A formerly wealthy (secular) Turkish-Australian became unhinged at losing his fortune. Today’s incident is not more important than that one, which few now remember. Both of these hostage-takers were common criminals. Neither is a “terrorist.” Today’s Sydney hostage-taker is not representative of a new activity. He isn’t important, and ordering a black flag won’t make him so. The only one who can bestow recognition on this criminal is the mass media and the press. They shouldn’t do it. … Criminals and gangsters should not be fetishized as “terrorists.” It is just a way for them to inflate their egos.

Peter Hartcher excoriates the Australian media for doing just that, by rushing “to cheerlead the hype and to provide a ready platform to any politician who wanted to insert himself into the event”:

Terrorism is a tool of the weak against the strong. It is designed to turn the enemy’s strength against itself. One man showed how to get extraordinary attention and inflict serious disruption using only a gun and a Muslim prayer banner. Successful terrorism is so rare in Australia that the overreaction is perhaps understandable. The police response seemed exactly right. But our political and media systems need to get better at measured reaction.

Abbott said on Monday evening that the incident had been “profoundly shocking”. He added: “I think I can also commend the people of Sydney for the calmness with which they have reacted”. With no help from the politicians.

By comparison, this response from Sydney residents was spot-on:

A young Sydney woman, Rachael Jacobs, appears to have inspired the campaign after posting a moving Facebook status about her encounter with a Muslim woman earlier in the day. “…and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab,” Ms Jacobs wrote. “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.” The inspiring status quickly circulated on social media before inspiring the #illridewithyou hashtag.

Uber, meanwhile, came under fire yet again for turning on surge pricing during the crisis, charging users in downtown Sydney a minimum of $100 for a ride (they later backtracked, offering refunds to customers who had paid the extortionate rates and making all rides in the area free). That sounds pretty despicable, but Danny Vinik offers a qualified defense of the rideshare company:

I’m one of the few people here who doesn’t think Uber is actually doing anything wrong. A terrorist attack will understandably cause many people to try to get home at the same time and make many drivers fearful to go on the road. Raising rates will deter some people from using the service while incentivizing more drivers to get on the road. That’s simple supply and demand. Uber almost certainly earns higher profits as well.

Critics are right that this isn’t a fair systemthe rich will be able to get home easily in the case of a terrorist attack and the poor won’t. But you also have to look at the alternative. If rates stayed the same, fewer drivers would go on the road and wait times would increase. It would be harder for everyone to get home. People will differ on which they value more: economic efficiency or fairness. But there is an economic rationale behind Uber’s moves.

Update from a reader:

That’s some unqualified horseshit; Uber isn’t up front about it’s price-gouging. Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty hard to get an accurate estimate of just how much you’re getting screwed by them until after the fact. Passengers generally don’t realize they’ve had their pockets picked until well after they’ve arrived at their destination or checked their credit-card statements. The driver doesn’t tell you beforehand that you’ll be charged 3x, 4x, or 50x the standard rate. Most people treat hailing an Uber as one would hail a cab. Except, unlike with a normal cab, there’s a hidden danger of spending triple-digits on a short ride and not even knowing it, since no physical currency is handed over.

Another counters that reader:

That’s simply not true. Uber tells you when surge pricing is in effect. If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo of the type of message Uber provides its customers when surge pricing is in effect.

Another backs him up:

On two counts your “reader” is grossly misinformed. I suspect willfully so – for people of a certain politics its pretty fun to hate on Uber. But Uber actually does notify users when price surging is in effect. The app uses a surge confirmation screen. The user has to physically type in the surge pricing in effect. (This policy is on Uber’s page.) Pretty hard for people to claim afterwards “they didn’t know”.

And Uber also makes it easy to get an estimate of the fare you’re getting. You see when you get ready to order a car, there is a screen with a button called “Fare Estimate.” And yes, this is also clearly stated on Uber’s page.) After using Uber for several years, I’ve never had a fare be unreasonably outside the fare estimate. It’s probably about as reliable as a yellow cab driver estimating what my fare will be.

I’d give your reader a pass on surge pricing if he’s never used Uber in a New York snowstorm. But when he/she claims Uber doesnt make it easy to get a fare estimate? I’m thinking they’ve never used Uber in their life.