The Twitter hashtag #IllRideWithYou had been used more than 90,000 times as tweeters tried to allay fears of anti-Islamic attacks on Australia’s streets.
Hostages were held for more than 16 hours inside Sydney’s Lindt Chocolat Cafe by a gunman who had a flag bearing an Islamic declaration of faith that has been used in jihadi imagery. That prompted speculation that the siege could ignite retaliatory violence against Muslims.
Sydney resident Rachael Jacobs wrote on Facebook that she had seen a woman on the train remove her headscarf and offered to walk with her.
Ms Jacobs said on Facebook: “...and the (presumably) Muslim woman sitting next to me on the train silently removes her hijab.”
She added: “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.”
That spurred a Twitter campaign in which users offered to travel on public transit with those in Islamic dress who felt insecure. Users were encouraged to supply details of their travel routes to ensure that their online gestures were practical.
Kristen Boschma, a social media manager in Melbourne, printed out a sticker with the hashtag and stuck it on her bag. Her photo of the sticker was retweeted hundreds of times.
She said she wanted to send a message of support “not just for the Muslim community, but for anyone who feels a bit scared or insecure about taking transport or being out and about”.
Ms Boschma said she hoped the siege would prove “galvanising rather than polarising” for Australia.
“We very much believe in looking out for our mates,” she said. “And I think this situation has widened the definition of what is a mate.”
Sydney-based lawyer and prominent Muslim woman Mariam Veiszadeh said the movement was “heartwarming”.
She was in a morning conference when news of the siege broke, and said she burst into tears when she learned there was a possible Islamist link: “I said, I’m sorry, and I know it’s obvious, but I need to say these lunatics don’t represent my faith.”
She said she was unable to find a taxi to take her all the way home from work as demand surged in Sydney on Monday afternoon, but that another office worker — a stranger — insisted on driving her the final stretch to her door.