01 June 2008

Australian town rejects Islamic school

The city council of Camden, a suburb of Sydney, has rejected a proposal by the Qur'anic society to build an Islamic school in the town. The planned school would have accommodated 1,200 students. The nine city councillors voted unanimously against the proposal, citing reasons such as a risk of increased traffic congestion and parking problems that would result if the project were approved.

During the consultation stage of the approval process, the city council received 3,042 briefs from residents against the proposed school, and only 23 in favour.

After the council voted to reject the application, Camden resident Kate McCulloch said that, although the councillors would not admit it, the main reason for rejecting the school was that many townsmen wanted to keep Muslims out. McCulloch, who supported the council's decision, explained that "They don't like what their culture is about. Look at every news channel overseas -- it is about oppression and it's just not democratic. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation -- I'm sorry, I don't want them in Australia."

In order to explain her reference to Hizbullah, McCulloch said that radical Muslims tended to hide in small towns, adding that "All them terrorist attacks did happen overseas, they were someone's friends, they were someone's neighbours...."

The mayor of Camden, Chris Patterson, said that he fully supported the idea of "multicultural schooling", and had rejected the Islamic school proposal for reasons that had nothing to do with religion (Australian).

During a previous residents' meeting to discuss the Islamic school project, some speakers asked the council to reject the application in order to avoid a takeover of the town by Muslims, of whom there are about 150 families in Camden. One man said "Can I just say this without being racist or political? In 1983, in the streets of London a parade by Muslims chanted incessantly 'If we can take London, we can take the world.' Don't let them take Camden."

Andrew Wynnet, of the Camden/Macarthur Residents' Group, asked a BBC reporter, "When you have no Muslims living in Camden, why have a Muslim school here?" (this despite the fact that there are Muslims in the town). Wynnet went on to explain that his opposition to the school flows from his opposition to other Muslims moving to Camden: "The character of the town will change. When you have a large facility like this, the parents will follow. That amount of parents will change the character of the town. If you introduce 1,500 Muslim people to the town they'd be a majority. And that's not what this town is about."

The right-wing politician Pauline Hanson also visited Camden to campaign against the school, which she had at first thought would be a mosque.

The Quranic Society may appeal the town council's decision to the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales (BBC).

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