A woman I know called me yesterday morning in great distress.
Even on the phone it was obvious she was shaking and near to tears.
She had known Tori Johnson since he was four years old and now he was dead, killed by Man Haron Monis at the Lindt Café.
I’d spent the previous night covering the siege on my program for Fairfax Radio, crossing to reporters on the scene and taking calls from listeners.
One of those reporters was Leonie Ryan who had already learned that the hostage taker was well known to police.
Now we all know who he was but at the time it was requested of the media by police not to make it public.
In a powerful conversation on the air with Leonie last night, she and I discussed the aftermath of this atrocity and asked the question so many – including the Prime Minister – are asking: How is it this man was free to walk the streets with his history and the charges against him?
Leonie told me that at one of his court appearances which she covered, outside in the street she just had to walk away from him.
The picture that emerged was of some kind of vile clown – a serial pest shouting, demanding, exploiting the freedoms this country offers in his mad drive for attention.
Lawyer Manny Conditsis who had previously represented Monis told the ABC “His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness.”
So – he was a deluded fanatic, but as to his “ideology” there has been a great deal of ducking and weaving.
He’s been described as a “hate sheikh” and a “fake sheikh”.
Overwhelmingly Islamic leaders have now condemned his actions and made the point emphatically that he was “a self appointed cleric”.
But how is it that he was able to continue to be that for so many years?
I spoke to Dr. Rodger Shanahan the author of Clans, Parties and Clerics: the Shi’a of Lebanon.
Dr Shanahan is a former army officer with MA’s in International Relations and Middle East Studies from the ANU and a PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies from the University of Sydney.
He told me that Monis was really just “dressing up as a cleric”.
I made the point that if this criminal had been dressing up as a Catholic Priest for advantage, at the very least when word got back (and how could it not if someone pretending to be a priest had been in the news as much as Monis) the Church hierarchy would ask him to cease and desist.
In essence the answer is that, depending on the circumstances, who’s a cleric and who’s not can be a very loose arrangement.
But in the case of Monis, even though it seems to have been well known that he was a “fake sheikh” and a “hate sheikh” no one in authority seems to have called him on it: no one in the senior ranks of the Islamic community and no one in Australian courts.
Why? Political Correctness? Let’s not make a difficult situation worse? A left leaning judiciary prepared to bend over backwards to make allowances for the refugee from a strife torn land?
We now know that he was a criminal who misappropriated $200,000 of his client’s money from a travel business.
We have known for years that at the very least he was a particularly nasty individual, from the grossly offensive letters he sent to the families of dead diggers.
He was facing proceedings for more than forty sex offences and most recently on bail after being accused of colluding with his girlfriend to murder his ex-wife in a particularly brutal killing.
After Magistrate Daryl Pearce granted bail “as a simple matter of fairness”, saying that Monis and his girlfriend were not a threat to the public, his lawyer Conditsis said outside the court the magistrate had “made a courageous decision”.
Former New South Wales DPP Nicholas Cowdery has been quite clear that presumption of innocence is paramount and that it’s not possible to say in advance what criminal act someone might commit.
But Magistrate Pearce apparently felt able to predict that Monis would not be a threat to the public after he freed him from his courtroom despite his history and the charges against him.
It’s in the nature of court proceedings that they have a very narrow focus, but who is to consider the bigger picture and place greater emphasis on the potential impact of an individual’s actions on the community at large?
In this case obviously not Islamic community leaders and apparently not Australian courts, so who then?
During the course of my conversation with Dr Shanahan he referred to Musa Cerantonio.
Cerantonio was recently in the news for assuring potential ISIS fighters that “You can go to paradise even if you are killed by a woman” – this in reference to Kurdish female fighters.
Cerantonio is variously described as a “Muslim Preacher” and a “fake sheikh”.
He was deported from the Phillippines in July and brought back to Australia.
This is in contrast to the situation with Monis where Iran wanted him back to face criminal charges.
But the end result has been that we ended up with both of them here.
Unlike Monis, Cerantonio is said to be under surveillance and police say that although his postings are “offensive” they have not breached Australian law.
Not even 18C?
So even more questions: how many Cerantonios do we have in this country and what will be their next moves, particularly if they have no fear of death (even if killed by a woman) and they are inspired by the media coverage and public shock and reaction generally to what Monis has done?