Days after James Gargasoulas allegedly drove his car down Melbourne's Swanston Street and into Bourke Street mall, on 20 January, killing five and injuring at least 30, I still can’t believe something like this can happen so close to my home, in an area I freely walk through almost weekly. Bourke Street mall is my favourite part of my beautiful city, where buskers play piano and perform magic, entertaining our growing children.
Yet if I was going to be completely honest with myself, with all the terrible war in our world and so many people dying, lately, every time I go into the city, the thought crosses my mind: it’s only a matter of time before something happens here. Why should we be immune from the terror in the world?
But no matter how much we prepare ourselves, it still shocks us. I texted everyone I knew who worked in the city to make sure they were okay. But I was ‘lucky’ I wasn’t there, as were so many others who didn’t go into the city that day. We were lucky we didn’t get locked down in one of the surrounding buildings, not knowing what was going on. We were lucky we didn’t get mowed down by James and his Commodore, or that we didn’t die.
As many of us do when terrible things like this happen, as part of trying to make sense of what happened, we obsessively try to find information in the media about the perpetrator. The logic behind it, I believe, is that if we dissect and pick this person apart then maybe we can find the truth, find a reason why. And what’s the conclusion that many jumped to (Senator Hanson included): it was a ‘terrorist attack’, performed by an Islamic extremist.
What a ‘refreshing’ surprise it was, however, to learn that the mentally unstable James was not a member of some extreme ‘terrorist’ jihad group, but just an Aussie, like me, of Greek descent. There were no major bold headlines in the media reading, “terrorist attack in Melbourne CBD”; and still, people dig to try to link this 26-year-old to Islam to prove that he can’t possibly be anything but that faith. Heaven forbid he was Catholic or Greek Orthodox. They search his Facebook page’s incoherent ramblings about God and evil and making people pay, and find one post with the word ‘Islam’ in it and there, we have our answers, right?
I hate to use the word ‘refreshing’ but I feel that is the necessary word to get my point across. That while we sit in our parliaments to try and ‘stop the boats’ to protect our country from ‘terrorists’, or declare we should close our borders on national TV like Sonia Kruger so elegantly did in 2016, we are not only contributing to racism and segregating our community, but we are also dangerously diverting our attention from what is really going on: that anyone who wants to blow people up or run people down with their car is likely to be mentally unwell.
What I have always found so hypocritical and illogical is how some people who migrated to this country in the 60s and 70s, and their children, are also some of the same people who want strict immigration laws. And some of the migrants who came to this country in the 60s and 70s came from Greece.
What a ‘refreshing’ surprise it was, however, to learn that the mentally unstable James was not a member of some extreme ‘terrorist’ jihad group, but just an Aussie, like me, of Greek descent.
Since the day of this tragedy, I have scrolled through my Facebook and have been astounded by the debates erupting among Greeks trying to dissect the perpetrator’s DNA to somehow prove that a Greek man, or a Greek Orthodox man, couldn’t possibly commit this horrendous crime. And here lies the illogical reasoning people apply to situations so they can see and believe what they want.
The truth was James was on ice. He has a history of domestic violence and mental illness. He allegedly stabbed his brother before he went on his rampage in the city. He was known to police. And are we forgetting one of the most terrible crimes in our country, the Port Arthur massacre, was executed by Martin Bryant, years before we even knew of the words ‘Islamic extremists’? The truth is that we invest billions of dollars to stop the ‘bad guys’ from getting into our country when our police officers are underpaid and our mental health services are underfunded. If a younger James got the help he needed then maybe none of this would have happened. But he didn’t get that help. And now the truth is right in front of us. And it has nothing to do with religion or race.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, author, film and screen maker. www.koralydimitriadis.com