‘He Must Have Loved Ones, Too’: Pathological altruism in Sydney

“Two hostages and the gunman at the centre of a siege at a cafe in Sydney’s CBD [central business district] were shot dead when armed police stormed the building,” the Australian Broadcast Corp. reports. The victims were a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman; the number of surviving hostages is “as yet unknown.” The siege—at the Lindt Chocolate Café on Martin Place, a pedestrian mall—went on for more than 18 hours and ended at 2:10 a.m. local time (10:10 a.m. EST).

The gunman has been identified as 50-year-old Man Haron Monis, né Manteghi Bourjerdi, an Iranian native who had received political asylum in Australia. ABC describes him as having been a “cleric”; Australia’s 9News adds that he was of the “radical Muslim” variety. Shortly after the Monday morning attack, a widely circulated image showed a black flag bearing the Islamic Shahada, or statement of faith, which translates from the Arabic as “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” (The Sydney Morning Herald notes that the banner was not, as some had thought, the similar one used by the Islamic State.)

Hours before the siege ended, the Morning Herald rushed out an editorial titled “Martin Place Siege Response Tests Our Humanity.” It’s a textbook example of what scholar Barbara Oakley calls pathological altruism.