A key figure in the opposition to the Gungahlin mosque is a Christian fundamentalist activist who lives at least 15 kilometres away from the proposed site.
The secretive participants in the campaign against the mosque have consistently told media and government that they are concerned with local planning issues including traffic and noise.
But The Canberra Times has established that the spokesman for the group “Concerned Citizens of Canberra” describes himself as a pastor with Olive Tree Ministries and hosts fortnightly meetings at a prayer house in Yarralumla.
Irwin Ross, a Higgins resident who lives a 20-minute drive from the proposed mosque site, hosted last Sunday’s closed meeting at Gungahlin Library, but it is unclear whether or not he organised the meeting. The meeting was held after the Concerned Citizens of Canberra distributed anonymous anti-mosque flyers to homes in the northern suburb.
A biography for Mr Ross posted on the website of Canberra’s Christian radio station 1WAYFM says he has ministered in churches in Australia, the Philippines and Russia and has “a passion to teach and preach on the Hebrew roots of Christianity”. Mr Ross hosts fortnightly Passover dinners for a group at the Canberra House of Prayer in Yarralumla.
The Canberra Times contacted Mr Ross yesterday and asked about his activities as a pastor of Olive Tree Ministries but Mr Ross said he did not want to comment.
Associates and acquaintances of Mr Ross in the Christian community said Mr Ross was known around Canberra’s churches for his stridently pro-Israel views.
The Canberra Times attended Sunday’s Concerned Citizens of Canberra meeting in Gungahlin, but was asked to leave after participants opposing the building of the mosque said media should not be present. After the meeting, one of the participants made threats of physical violence to a Canberra Times photographer.
A detailed document by the group has since emerged that instructs Gungahlin residents on how to lodge objections to the proposed mosque plans. The document asks the ACT government to take into account the long-term effect the mosque may have on social harmony, and states a mosque “seeks to dominate the area in which it is placed”.
Submissions to the government in response to Canberra Muslim Community’s development application closed yesterday.
“There are processes in place for people to have their say,” Multicultural Affairs Minister Joy Burch said. “Everybody has a legitimate right to raise concerns about various projects, but to guise concerns about faith, religion or culture through other things such as traffic – that is not the way we do it here. To me, anything that is biased against developments based on culture or faith is unacceptable.”
Canberra Muslim Community president Borhan Ahmed said the organisation had been transparent in its development plans and just wanted to be given “a fair go”. He said the development application addressed planning concerns such as traffic and parking and any noise would be minimal because the mosque would not broadcast the call to prayer.
Mr Ahmed said Canberra Muslim Community was happy to meet with the Concerned Citizens of Canberra to discuss any issues they had with the development proposal.
“I would like to say to them, I don’t know them, but we don’t want any problem with anybody around us,” he said. “We are a very peaceful community and we are prepared to have discussions with them if they are open and come to embrace us. We are always prepared to talk to people and address any concerns that they might have.”
Mr Ahmed said he believed the group represented a minority of views and he had received “overwhelming” support from the Canberra community for the mosque.
The Olive Tree Ministries to which Ross is attached is presumably the Australian section of this Minnesota-based Christian Zionist outfit. Its founder Jan Markell defended the killing of nine people during Israel’s May 2010 attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on the grounds that this was part of “a spiritual battle between God’s people and the satanic forces controlling Israel’s enemies”.
See also “Flyers in the face of a fair go for all?”, Canberra Times, 7 July 2012