There is an increase in the incidents where citizens take matters into their own hands if they are physically threatened.
News reports and evidence show that this has been occurring since 9/11 when the brave passengers on the hijacked plane headed for the White House overpowered the hijackers and crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania even though they realised they would also die in the crash.
It is amazing that this brave act was facilitated by modern electronic communications, because family members had texted and called some of the passengers on the plane on their mobile phones, telling them of the planes that had already hit the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. They knew that they were saving many lives by being vigilantes in that situation.
Since then, there have been many other reports in the international news, and this probably only represents the tip of the iceberg. It is because of those incidents, too, that most airlines now have plain-clothes security guards on international (and some domestic) flights.
There was the infamous 'shoe bomber' who tried (unsuccessfully) to ignite a bomb in his shoe, and was dis-enabled by passengers and crew. This man was an Anglo-Saxon Englishman, and no 'racial profiling' in the world would have indicated he was a risk on an aeroplane!
There have also been incidents of individuals of all races becoming violent due to illness, stress or alcohol, and being restrained by other passengers some involving Australian sportsmen behaving abominably towards other passengers. In former days, this would have been tolerated but complained about: today, the passengers and crew take it into their own hands to restrain anyone who is violent or suspicious in the name of safety for everyone else.
This reminds me of the story in the Book of Nehemiah 4: 17-18 where the people rebuilding city walls were instructed to carry their swords, in order to protect themselves from any attackers from outside the city.
Since the death of Osama Bin Laden, the world has understandably become more aware of possible retribution attacks by his ideological supporters. Whether it is journalists looking for stories, or whether there has been more vigilantism, it is impossible to know.
One involved the suspicious behaviour of a passenger with a Yemeni passport (but that was not known at the time) who was seen rushing for an airline door during a flight, and was detained by passengers and crew members. He was handcuffed.
What is happening? Whenever there is something significantly suspicious or seemingly untoward going-down, citizens are taking matters into their own hands, with or without the authorities being complicit, to ensure their own safely and the security of others.
Even closer to home, there have been reported incidents where people have thought that vigilantism was necessary. For example, you may recall 72-year-old AFL legend Ron Barassi tackled the man who was striking a young woman in a Melbourne city street.
However it is sometimes not a good idea to intervene; a couple of years ago in a similar incident, a Dutch tourist died while protecting another woman who was being attacked. Commentator Andrew Bolt was attacked on a Melbourne street in daylight and he fought back with the cowards running away.
In Sydney recently, three family members held down a home invader until police arrived. Yet recently, when a young man tried to stop his friends fighting on a suburban railway station, two of them fell onto the tracks and one of them died. This is reminiscent of the character Mercutio in the Shakespeare play 'Romeo and Juliet', who died when trying to stop a fight between Romeo and Juliet's cousin. This fictional incident led to the famous quote 'A plague on both your houses!'
Woken up private citizens
I surmise that recent world events have 'woken up' private citizens as to the danger they and their fellow-citizens may find themselves in, and have alerted people to be more pro-active in defending themselves (and those they see weaker than themselves) more than in recent decades. Many of these actions have been seen as good and heroic, for the benefit of society as a whole
However, whenever this vigilantism is practised, there are dangers that there will be an over-reaction. The atmosphere can have a multiplier effect, where everyone becomes suspicious of everyone else. As two of the incidents above show, there can be personal danger as well. Moreover, in America where guns are more available, this can have even more disastrous results. Melbourne has many African young people rampant on the streets (unless you talk to the governing politicians who say – no, no, no, no – they are young people without jobs or purpose) – will we see a vigilantism response when it completely gets out of hand.
Australians need to be alert, and to take their duties as good citizens seriously as Nehemiah suggests, but to be aware when they may in fact be either putting themselves or others in more danger, or when they may be over-reacting due to prejudice - without evidence that the situation is in fact out of hand.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html