Can you feel it? It’s a low rumble and it’s sweeping through Bendigo. It’s the anti-Islam crowd and they’re determined to shout down the mosque planned for East Bendigo.
Since plans were announced for the new mosque at the beginning of the year there’s been over 200 social and religious objections lodged with Council. There’s been a Ward Meeting in Huntly that almost broke down after several demonstrators threatened and cajoled their way through the agenda. There’s been rallies, Facebook pages and an anonymous campaign involving, of all things, black balloons.
Apparently this community is only one or two more Muslims away from Sharia Law. Anyone would think we risk creating some kind of Islamic ‘enclave’ where no woman is safe to walk the streets.
By Bendigo Council’s count 53 of the 253 objections received raise concern about a ‘Muslim enclave’ taking root around the mosque. 171 are opposed to, and concerned over the influence of Islam, defined in the agenda for Wednesday’s Council Meeting as the:
‘root of violence, negative change in communities, terrorist threat, introduction of Sharia law, dilution of Christian values [and] treatment of women.’
All this hyperventilating, just because a group of locals had the temerity to ask for a place to gather and worship.
Local Muslims want to build a mosque so that they can come together and teach their kids about faith, compassion and community. Meanwhile, strangers are calling them wife-beaters and child abusers. Those behind this campaign owe an apology to every local father who wants to take their kids to Friday prayer.
On Wednesday night, Council will consider giving planning permission for the Mosque. It’s highly likely the plans will be approved. The Mosque-haters know this and are no doubt preparing for a challenge at VCAT.
I just hope that when Public Question Time begins after just after 6pm the agenda is not hijacked by people who want to shout and stomp at people whose only crime is to come together and pray.
You can listen to the Council of Greater Bendigo Council Meeting live on 106.7 Phoenix FM from 6pm on Wednesday 18 June. Key debates from the meeting will be replayed from 7-8pm on Phoenix FM next Wednesday 25 June.
There are alot of people digesting the news reports from last nights council meeting. Some are feeling embarrassed to live in Bendigo. They are mortified at the message it sends to the wider world about this city.
I want to shake them.
If you were sitting in the public gallery or listening on the radio you witnessed a handful of democratically elected councillors staring down an angry mob. That crowd wanted to intimidate anyone who spoke in favour of the Mosque. They did everything short of rushing the stage. They interrupted, they heckled, they screamed.
But I saw six Councillors stand up and say ‘no’. I saw senior council staff endure personal insults for daring to give planning advice contrary to the crowd’s liking. I saw a mayor keep a meeting open to the public because that’s exactly how councils should operate, even if it meant police, security guards and a warning to local Muslims that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed.
And I’ll tell you what: I bet there were people across the country who saw exactly what I saw.
As the Mosque-haters are so fond of insisting, they have a democratic right to their opinion. As do you. As do I.
We all know that those who protested at last night’s Council meeting don’t speak for the overwhelming majority of Bendigonians. Let’s not discuss this issue as if they do.
I’m proud to live in a city that’s OK with a mosque. My pride’s enough even for those locals who don’t.