Neighbourhood Character

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.

Postscript

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.

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6 Responses to Neighbourhood Character

  1. “We all know that those who protested at last night’s Council meeting don’t speak for the overwhelming majority of Bendigonians.”

    Empirical evidence? Seems to be a lot of unsupported assumptions in the reporting of this issue.

    “They are mortified at the message it sends to the wider world about this city.”

    Perhaps a room filled with greedy media ‘snapping away’ and gorging itself on every shouted word may have something to do with the “heckling and screaming”.

    When I worked in TV news there was a many a time that a quiet ‘protest’ or picket line erupted as soon as the little red light on my camera started to glow.

    Like moths to a candle flame…

    I learnt very quickly to be unobtrusive so I was able to report on the story rather than instigate a different one.

    • Thanks for the comment Peter.

      There’s always reporters at council meetings, especially for contentious issues. However I’ve never seen reactions in the public gallery quite like last night’s. It really was something else all together.

      In terms of evidence in this opinion piece: if there is any empirical evidence about attitudes to Muslims in Bendigo please send it through. But we’ve both lived here for a long time and got a sense of attitudes in this city. Do you think the majority of Bendigonians are hostile to a mosque in Bendigo?

      • “if there is any empirical evidence about attitudes to Muslims in Bendigo”

        It’s your claim, you back it up.

        As for the council meeting crowd; what a pity local media didn’t bother to inform what council can and cannot consider in a planning application.

        It’s also a pity more of the loopy claims were not exposed to public scrutiny, #nooxygen hasn’t worked very well. Silly claims and statements look even sillier in black and white on newsprint.

        And now the #nooxygen camp is knashing its teeth and wringing its hands because its furious twittering has drawn the national media spotlight onto Bendigo.

        “Beat it up and bash it out” – “all the news that fits”…

      • What I’m saying is that I’ve lived in Bendigo for 25-odd years and I simply do not believe that a majority of people in this city think that 200 local Muslims want the rest of us killed.

        I simply do not believe that a majority of people in this city think any one who is both male and Muslim should be regarded automatically to be a rape suspect.

        And I will not accept the notion that a majority of people think opening the doors to a mosque will see East Bendigo overrun by religious fanatics.

        We all know those who protested at Wednesday night’s council meeting do not speak for all of us. And if I am wrong about that, Peter, I don’t want to be right.

  2. Richard says:

    Well put Tom. I’m proud of those councillors and officials too.

    I guess that working across regional VIC, I can’t help but be impressed by the contrast with shepp. Two mosques, no problems. The impending crisis in bendigo seems a bit more remote in that context. And the bendigo mosque is to be shared between Muslims regardless of cultural and geographic origin. A kind of omni-multi-culturalism

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