Residents protest plans to build Islamic school in Sydney Australia
December 22, 2007
Australia: 800 protest against Islamic schoolhttp://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Religion/?id=1.0.1691535784
Sydney, 20 Dec. (AKI) - Police broke up a crowd of 800 protesters in the outskirts of Sydney on Wednesday night as they sought to oppose plans for an Islamic school.
Media reports said officers blocked many of the protesters from a public meeting to discuss the school proposal, held at the Camden Civic Centre and riot police were on standby to prevent any violence.
Police were anxious to prevent any repetition of the race riots that occurred on Sydney's Cronulla Beach two years ago and led to the expansion of police powers.
Men reportedly carried banners saying "Aussie Pride" and shouted at security guards.
Tension is mounting in the semi-rural community over the proposal by the Quranic Society for a 16 million dollar school on Sydney's western fringe.
The local council has received around 2,500 resident submissions on the proposal - 1829 against, 649 in support.
A final decision on the development application for the 1200-student Al Amanah Islamic College is expected to be made in March next year.
The council says staff have made no recommendations about the development which includes a primary and secondary school, a 30-place child-care centre with two residences for caretakers, a reception and convention hall, a sports hall and an indoor pool.
A police spokeswoman said that the organisers of the meeting had sent out 1600 flyers even though the centre could hold only 650 people.
"Organisers had met with police and council officials and it was agreed that once seating capacity was reached, the venue would be closed to those seeking entry," the police spokeswoman said.
"The forum passed without incident, no one was arrested."
Meanwhile, the latest academic results show that one of Sydney's prominent Islamic schools, the Malek Fahd Islamic school, is among the city's top ten schools.
Residents uneasy amid opposition to Muslim schoolBy Tom Iggulden Thursday December 20, 09:08 PM Australian Broadcasting http://au.news.yahoo.com/071220/21/15bzg.html
Tension is mounting in Camden in Sydney's far west as people take sides on a proposal to build a $19 million Muslim school in the area.
The riot squad was reportedly on hand at a public meeting last night. A decision on the school is still more than two months away.
The unease in the area has left locals wondering whether Camden will suffer the same fate as the beachside suburb of Cronulla, where riots broke out two years ago.
Islamic schools aren't exactly a new idea in Sydney. The Malek Fahd Islamic school, for example, was established in 1989 in Greenacre near Bankstown in Sydney's west with just 87 children. Now it has 1,700 students.
When the New South Wales HSC results were released yesterday, the school's year 12 students came in ninth in the state.
Not that any of that is likely to convince many in Camden to support a new Islamic school there, if comments from some gathered outside last night's meeting are any guide.
"I said it's not about racism, it's about doing the right thing for the community," one local said.
"If we go down to Lakemba, Bankstown... you walk through there, mate, they despise you, they don't want to talk to you."
Not everyone in Camden is against the school. But one young man says public support for it is being stifled by the council, which he says blocked his plans for a peaceful demonstration on the weekend.
"I basically just wanted to set up a store and talk about racial harmony in the area, considering the amount of unrest that we have at the moment," he said.
"Basically, I was told, due to the issue of the Muslim school, that I wasn't to go down at all, and if I was, I would be told to leave straight away and basically told that I shouldn't be causing trouble within Camden."
The young man asked not to be named for fear of retribution from others of the local community.
"There's eight Catholic schools, there's three Christian schools within the area, and if you're talking about one Muslim school, I don't see why there's so much unrest. It's quite confronting, really," he said.
He says it's possible the community anger will erupt into violence.
"If somebody stood up and said, 'Look, pro-Muslims, let's go for the Muslims,' I wouldn't be entirely surprised if something on a smaller basis of like the Cronulla riots erupted," he said.
"Because people have so much emotional relation to this project, that, like I said, it is confronting and a little bit scary."
Politicians up in arms
Others have seen a political opportunity in the growing local resistance to the project.
Charlie Lynn is a member of the NSW Upper House and he spoke at last night's meeting against the proposed school, as he explained to Macquarie radio earlier today.
"This is an attempt by social engineers to inflict culture shock, if you like, on Camden," he said.
"There are currently, I think, around 100 Islamic families in Camden, and they want to build the school for 1,200, plus 200 teachers.
"Now this is just being imposed on us without an discussion at all. This is what they're objecting about and the other thing is that the location of the school is totally in breach of the planning requirements for a school of this type."
Mr Lynn is not the only politician publicly opposing the school.
Another NSW Upper House MP, the Reverend Fred Nile, quoted from the Koran last night and accused Muslims of hating Christians.
That brought return fire today from the peak Muslim group, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, accusing Reverend Nile of fuelling misconceptions about the school's intentions.
Education the key
The federation's president, Iqbal Patel, happens to be on the board of the Malek Fahd school.
"If the concern is about the behaviour of Muslims in Australia, then the only way to improve that behaviour is to educate the children in well-controlled environment, mainly under the auspices of various state education departments," he said.
"Then this is exactly what the community, the Islamic community behind this school are trying to do, I believe, in Camden."
Despite the 900 or so people at last night's meeting, a spokesman for the Qur'anic Society behind the school proposal, Jeremy Bingham, says he thinks most people in Camden aren't against the new school.
"I think what you've got is, number one, a relatively small group who are anxious about something that's unusual and different," he said.
"I think you've got a group of people who don't want this big growth of Camden that's going to happen, whether the school happens or not.
"And it seems as though we have a group of Christians who don't yet know that the crusades are over."