Islamophobes are trying to stir up anti-Muslim hatred in Bendigo, but local anti-racists won’t have it. Since plans for a Bendigo mosque were announced in January, church groups, the Muslim community, Labor and Greens representatives, artists and residents have met a Stop the Mosque in Bendigo hate campaign with a strong, united message of support for the mosque and for Muslims.
The secretive hate group has been campaigning since January to block planning rights for a local mosque. So far though they are on the backfoot, with Bendigo Council voting in June to support the mosque, with two against and seven in favour.
After racists mobilised for June’s council meeting, shouting down councillors, many locals took to Facebook to express their horror and embarrassment about the racist protest. Local Elise Snashall-Woodhams organised a Diversity Rally at Bendigo Town Hall the following Friday night.
Cowardly Islamophobes anonymously tied black balloons to the homes of prominent supporters of the mosque.
But the anti-racist coalition countered them, encouraging people to pop the balloons; as the organisers of the Support the Mosque in Bendigo facebook group said, “If we leave them [black balloons] up, it tells everyone that we don’t care. If we take action, it sends out a message that we don’t agree with the lies being spread by the people who are putting these balloons up. If you were a Muslim in Bendigo, what would you rather see?”
Not only did the group encourage people to take down the hate balloons, they responded with an campaign of coloured balloons across Bendigo with tags saying “racism has no place in Bendigo”.
A change.org petition supporting the mosque has collected nearly 2500 signatures so far. Bendigo Bank closed the account of Stop the Mosque in Bendigo group in April.
The mosque’s supporters have rejected the idea that racism is part of the true nature of Bendigo. And as it turns out, Islamophobic organisation Restore Australia is bank rolling the anti-mosque campaign. Restore Australia is headed by former One Nation candidate, Queenslander Mike Holt, and Charles Mollison, also a Queenslander and former Army Lieutenant Colonel.
Far right organisation The Q Society (named after the rich Melbourne suburb where the group held their inaugural meeting, Kew) have joined in too. They held secret meetings and sent “educators” to Bendigo to coach locals in bigotry. The majority of written objections to the mosque came from outside of Bendigo, and Online Hate Prevention Institute’s analysis of supporters of the “Stop the Mosque” Facebook page showed only 3 per cent came from Bendigo. The mosque may now face a court challenge.
Days after the racist protest in Bendigo, Tony Abbott joined the hysteria about Australian jihadis, linking them to refugees: “We have for the last six months stopped illegal boats arriving in Australia and we are determined to be just as tough in stopping jihadists arriving in Australia”. We can all take a lead from the Bendigo anti-racists to stand up to racism and bigotry.
By Lucy Honan