CAIRO - Plans to establish a new Islamic school in Mernda, a suburb in Australia's south-eastern state of Victoria, have received a knockout for reasons seen as resulting from the growing anti-Islam sentiments in the society.
They were afraid there was going to be a mosque there or noise from call to prayers or whatever, Councilor John Fry, who supported the plan, told the Herald Sun newspaper on Tuesday, March 27.
There didn't seem to be an understanding of what the actual proposal was.
An Islamic school was proposed to be built on a heritage site in Mernda by the Great Prophet Center, an Iraqi community group.
But residents objected the Islamic school plans, correcting 2,000 signatures to veto down the proposal.
Only 75 objections came from Mernda area, while more than 90 percent of the total objections were coordinated through a group called Friends of Mernda Heritage Site, according to a report by the council planning officers.
The Friends group has advised planning officers that many of the objections from those not residing in the area have typically been signed by friends and family of those living in proximity to the (heritage) area ... and individuals having an interest in the heritage precinct or heritage issues more generally, it said.
Though the council's planning officials recommended building the school, the council rejected the proposal.
Councilor Fry confirmed that the 125-student school was barred due to anti-Muslim sentiments stirred by ignorance.
There is an unfortunate thing that people who don't understand different cultures can react negatively, he said.
However, councilor Pam McLeod, who voted against the Muslim school proposal, said it was all about traffic and heritage matters.
Nothing that was put in front of me had any element of racism that I could see, she said.
We are one of the most multicultural communities in terms of a municipality in Victoria so how could you possibly be racist or favoring one group over another. It's just not on.
But Victoria Muslims accused opponents and council officials of discrimination.
We believe that strong objections against the school were because of our background, Great Prophet Center spokesman Hassan Al Khirsany told The Herald Sun.
Al Khirsany portrayed the issue as fear mongering by anti-Muslim groups, arguing that if this plan were for a catholic school, it would not have met any objections.
Signatures were collected by old generation people who were telling others that this school might turn into a mosque and the call for morning prayer will cause lots of noise, he said.
Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Nazeem Hussain said it was puzzling that the council had rejected the advice of its own staff on the feasibility of the project.
It would be upsetting and unfortunate if the basis for these objections was due to anti-Muslim undercurrents, he said.
Given that many of these objections came from outside of the Mernda area, it would suggest that there has been a concerted effort to not see this project come to fruition, as opposed to there being bona fide traffic or planning concerns.
He added that Victoria was a vibrant multicultural society that shouldn't succumb to ideas that divide us.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.
In post 9/11 Australia, Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A 2007 poll taken by the Issues Deliberation Australia (IDA) think-tank found that Australians basically see Islam as a threat to the Australian way of life.
A recent governmental report revealed that Muslims are facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment like never before.