Muslims and anti-racists have won a victory in a battle against bigotry in Penrith, outer Sydney.
The Muhammadi Welfare Association’s (MWA) application to build a community centre was approved at Penrith Council on 25 November in the face of a vitriolic right-wing campaign led by a Liberal Party member on council, far right organisation Australia First and local racists.
Over 150 Muslims and anti-racists gathered outside the Council meeting to support the proposal, in the face of a disgusting racist gathering against the proposal. As well as Penrith locals displaying signs such as, “Islam plots our demise” and chanting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”, the group included known neo-Nazi Jim Saleam and fascist skinheads who chanted “white power” and held signs such as “piece of Shi’ite”.
Despite many claiming they were not racist as Islam is not a race, an Asian protestor was targeted with horrible racist slurs about Asians. An African woman was told she had Ebola.
They were countered by chants of “Muslims are welcome, racists are not” and “say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here”.
A member of the MWA told Solidarity, “We are Muslims, not terrorists. Our community is growing and we want a new community centre.” Over 4000 Muslims in the Penrith Local Government Area currently have no local community centre or place of worship.
Abbas Alvi, the Secretary of the MWA and a well-known poet who campaigns for religious tolerance, told the council meeting, “I was very sad … very surprised, by what is happening … people repeating slogans from phrasebooks … This is our home, too. We are exactly like you.” He extended an open invitation to the community to visit the centre when it opens.
Tellingly, the voice of the racist campaign on the inside was a Liberal Party member, Marcus Cornish, elected as an independent, “on a promise to fight any plans for mosques in the area”, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. He is linked to David Barker, another Liberal Party member who was disendorsed as Tony Abbott’s candidate for Chifley for his rants on Facebook declaring there should be no Muslims in parliament.
He was the most vocal of five who voted against the application, aside from another who raised dubious, familiar “planning” arguments. The application was approved seven to five, making it possible Councillors may move to have the decision considered again.
Despite anti-racists and Muslims vastly outnumbering the racist presence, police allowed even numbers from each side into the meeting, so many who supported the proposal were not allowed into the meeting.
The MWA’s proposal is not actually for a mosque. But that has not stopped David Barker, The Daily Telegraph and their far right friends referring to it as such repeatedly. A speaker against the application in the council meeting, May Spencer, one of three members of the community allowed to speak against, linked Abbott’s rhetoric about the danger of “radical elements” and “security issues” to her ridiculous claims that a mass migration of Muslims was coming to install sharia law in Penrith.
The fact that the MMA is comprised of Shia Muslims, targeted by Islamic State inside Iraq and by sectarians inside Pakistan, was lost on her and other racists.
This racist, right-wing fringe has not only been actively encouraged by associates of the Liberal Party, but has been given a new lease on life by the hyped up terror raids, new terror laws and scaremongering about Muslims coming from the mouths of Liberal politicians, barely challenged by the meek Labor Opposition.
Funnily enough, the anti-Muslim protesters held signs demanding “less money for places of worship, more for uni fees and health”. But it is the same politicians spewing racist rhetoric who want to push through a Medicare co-payment, university deregulation and make access to the aged pension more difficult.
On the same day as the Penrith meeting, a pig’s carcass was dropped outside a Perth mosque. This comes after a similar attack in Logan outside Brisbane a few months ago and reports of escalating violence against Muslim women. Unity against racism is will be absolutely crucial to defending Muslims and standing up to the Abbott government.
By Amy Thomas
Image: Penrith Press