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May 08

Town moves against Islamic school

I was born and grew up in Camden. My parents still live there. It’s a peaceful country town, pleasant, but not particularly newsworthy. But now it’s making the news, and for all the wrong reasons. In particular, this BBC news article about my hometown is very discomforting. I find it especially discomforting as an Asian Australian and as a former “local”. In a nutshell, a proposal to construct an Islamic school for about a thousand Muslim students has been met by huge local opposition, culminating at one stage in one rabid nationalist (or group of nationalists) sticking two pig heads on pikes with an Australian flag draped in between on the site of the proposed school. The council has rejected the development application based on “planning grounds” and submissions from thousands of people. But the bitter truth is that local opposition has been predominantly based on racial reasons. Here are some choice quotes from the article:

“This has to be one of the nicest places in New South Wales,” said one woman, who has lived in Camden for the past nine years. Everywhere is being destroyed. Why don’t we tell the truth. They’re wrecking Australia. They’re taking us over,” she said. “Why hasn’t anyone got any guts? They’ve got terrorists amongst ’em… They want to be here so they can go and hide in all the farm houses… This town has every nationality… but Muslims do not fit in this town. We are Aussies, OK.”


“Can I just say this without being racist or political?” he said. “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.”

Hint: whenever someone says something like, “I’m not racist but…” they are absolutely about to say something racist.

To be fair, I can totally understand how people would oppose such a development because it would tend to change (perhaps irrevocably) the character of a town which has had a very consistent pastoral, settler-type history since it was founded. There’s a distinct tension between preserving the status quo, and moving with the times. Suburbs do change over time – for instance, predominantly Vietnamese Cabramatta used to be predominantly Greek several decades ago – and there are both positives and negatives associated with that change. I believe there are valid arguments on both sides, but what is not a valid argument, is the one that seems to be the prevailing one among the locals.