The recent Melbourne “terror” siege drew national media attention, the kind of dramatic wall to wall coverage that saturates news bulletins, headlines, airwaves and social media feeds. One would think it was the very nature of a “siege” that necessitated such attention and fearmongering. Yet not all sieges are dealt with in this way. Many a siege has occurred within the last year that went virtually unnoticed. Dealt with relative quiet as a regular criminal case and nothing more. The following are five such examples:

ONE. 14 August 2016 – Chief Inspector Ashley Francis Gordon, 54, threatened to shoot police officers and blow up his house during a dramatic siege that locked down part of the Adelaide suburb of Blackwood. The Special Tasks and Rescue group was called in – which Gordon used to lead. He was released on $5000 bail and saw charges downgraded so he only faces a maximum six months’ jail or a $2500 fine.

 

TWO. 28 February 2017 – Police were shot at whilst executing a search warrant on a property in the western Melbourne suburb of St. Albans. Police shot back and the man responsible was arrested after he fled the scene following a five-hour siege that involved heavily armed police and armoured vehicles. Surrounding streets were blocked off and a fence was smashed by police during the course of the operation.

 

THREE. 22 March 2017 – a 27-year-old man forced police into a 17-hour siege in Newcastle after going on a crime spree, which included a triple stabbing. He carried out multiple offences and attacks over a number of hours before being confronted by police and he did not cooperate. Police had to exercise great caution as they said they did not want to endanger the community any further after the string of crimes committed by the perpetrator. He was charged with 20 offences including three counts of causing grievous bodily harm and five counts of armed robbery.

 

FOUR. 17 April 2017 – a machete wielding man brought central Surfers Paradise to a standstill after Gold Coast police declared an emergency situation. Busy streets were brought to a complete standstill whilst the intense operation was ongoing. He was threatening another 35-year-old man, who was badly injured and required surgery after the standoff. The attacker was taken into custody on a stretcher.

 

FIVE. 30 May 2017 (one week before the Melbourne siege) – Senior Constable Brett Forte – a father of two – was shot and killed by 40-year-old career criminal Rick Maddison in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane. Police were shot at with high powered machine gun fire (with some injured) and proceeded to instigate a manhunt. After the perpetrator was found, police were held at bay as he locked himself into a farmhouse and refused to cooperate. Eventually the perpetrator was killed after a siege that lasted over 18 hours.

 

Sieges, gunfire, machetes and even the killing of a police officer but these incidents don’t warrant the wall to wall coverage that “terrorist” attacks do. Why? They are materially similar and equally as violent, in some cases deadlier. But they lack that secret ingredient, the Muslim factor. For that reason alone, these incidents are not seen as events that concern the safety of the whole of society, but as isolated occurrences that should be dealt with as stock standard criminal matters.

The question thus arises: who puts the social “terror” in “terrorist” attacks? The abovementioned cases evidently did not result in the large-scale alarm that similar “terror” variants do, even when they are so objectively comparable. The difference is in the media coverage and the government response. On the media front, we all know how it goes. Sensationalism, headlines for days on end and a general bombarding of the public with reminders of how terrible the “terrorist” attack was and how everyone now needs to be consistently afraid of Muslims because they form the essence of the threat. The government response usually consists of dramatic talk of the ever-present danger of terrorism, new policies, laws and measures to confront it and the effective demonisation of the entire Muslim community.

Any act of violence that disrupts the peace of a community or society has the potential to spread fear and terror. However, as the above shows, the response to any incident plays a major role. In the “war on terror” the political and media response does more to spread terror than any given attack itself.

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