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#IndiaWithPakistan and #illridewithyou show social media solidarity amid tragedy

Yesterday marked the annual Day of Reconciliation here in South Africa, a public holiday founded 20 years ago to encourage healing and national unity after decades of divisive apartheid.

This day of peace was tarnished early on by news from abroad of the horrific Taliban attack in Pakistan that left at least 132 students and nine school staff dead.

The Peshawar attack on Tuesday followed Monday’s hostage crisis in Sydney, where a lone gunman sporting a jihadist black flag killed two people at a Lindt café.

Both tragedies dominated international headlines, but so have silverlinings emerging from the horror.

Sydney’s 16-hour siege, during which Iranian-born gunman Man Haron Monis requested an Islamic State flag, could have devolved into full-blown Islamophobia, as witnessed in New York City post-9/11. Instead, countless Australians piled on the social media hashtag #illridewithyou, offering protection and compassion to Muslims planning to commute by public transport.

Moved by the local and global outpouring of solidarity that followed #illridewithyou and horrified by the Peshawar school attack, Indian newspaper columnist Tehseen Poonawalla started the hashtag #IndiawithPakistan.

Long-feuding neighbors India and Pakistan seldom behave neighborly, making the thousands of mostly positive posts bearing this hashtag, which trended on Twitter in India, particularly significant.

Social media solidarity emerging from these and similar tragedies cannot reverse the immeasurable loss of human life already sustained, but they can jumpstart community rebuilding.

No app will erase the atrocities committed or ease the pain families and communities are suffering, but online expressions of support and compassion that bridge religious, national and other faultlines can serve as stepping stones on the long path toward reconciliation.


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