Why we shouldn’t condemn those taking selfies at Sydney Siege

Whilst millions sit glued to twitter feeds and live streams of events unfolding from the so-called Sydney Siege, there has been an enormous outcry on social media against onlookers outside the cafe in Martin Place apparently revelling in the action by taking selfies.

On the surface, this certainly seems like inappropriate, maybe even detestable behaviour. Of course, for the hostages, their loved-ones, and those involved in resolving the situation, the whole affair is a terrifying experience that they have been forced to endure, and sadly will no doubt continue to endure for a long time to come. This is a tragedy, and I say that in no uncertain terms. But I ask you, if we pause in our recriminations for a moment and reflect truthfully, are we not all revelling in the action? Objectively consider our own circumstances and our own interest in the event, and we might be inclined to reevaluate that quick condemnation of selfie-snapping onlookers.

First of all, this is indubitably one of the worst hostage situations in Australian history, and potentially one of the most prominent ‘terrorist’ assaults on the nation, certainly in recent memory. Horrifying though it is, it is now an indelible moment in history and will be recorded as such. This is evident at first glance. News outlets the world over have been gleeful in their speculation, and live video and chat feeds have been watched and commented upon by millions of spectators internationally. Even in the face of explicit instruction to the contrary, and against police warnings of actively endangering lives of hostages, in their eagerness to be first past the post, some members of the press have proclaimed all manner of inflammatory hearsay.

Secondly, ask yourself why you, personally, are wrapped up in the whole affair? Is it empathy? An estranged sense of solidarity? Morbid curiosity? Or, dare I say it, ‘entertainment’? For those of us following closely, it has certainly been an extraordinarily tense and gripping 15 hours. We may not have been there in person, but by Jove we have lived it vicariously.

With this in mind, how many of us, honestly, had we been present in Martin Place today, would have left our phones untouched, burning a hole in our pockets? It is entirely natural that onlookers leapt at the chance to record images or video of the incident as it developed, whether to share with friends, post online or simply retain for posterity. People do this to lay claim to an event, to attest to their presence, to record their own first hand testimony. It is tantamount to saying, “I was there. I witnessed it.” Is that such a terrible thing?