Canberra: ‘racist’ mosque pamphlet probed

The ACT government will refer a pamphlet opposing the construction of a mosque in Gungahlin to the Human Rights Commission for investigation amid concerns that the flyer was racially motivated.

The flyer was distributed to Gungahlin residents this week, urging them to oppose the development on The Valley Avenue because of its “social impact” and raising concerns about traffic and noise, “public interest” and size.

In a multi-party post-budget estimates hearing yesterday, Labor backbencher John Hargreaves said the pamphlet should be “condemned by the entire community of Canberra as a KKK attack on the Muslim community”.

The flyer, by an anonymous group called the Concerned Citizens of Canberra, asks recipients to attend a secret, closed-door meeting tomorrow about the development. The pamphlet says the address and time of the meeting will only be given to residents who register by email to attend.

“The ACT government, with apparently no social impact assessment, has agreed to the establishment of a mosque with a capacity of 500, to be erected at 140 The Valley Avenue Gungahlin,” the flyer states. “This 500-capacity mosque will dominate the viewscape and will impact on you and all other residents of Gungahlin.”

The pamphlet continues, saying: “Honesty and transparency in communicating with others whom your actions may affect is the accepted way that Australian neighbours treat each other. This developer and its client, appears to have made little effort towards this. Therefore, it is doubtful that they will be a good neighbour to the Gungahlin community.”

Multicultural Affairs Minister Joy Burch said she was disappointed Gungahlin’s Muslim community had “yet again been ostracised”.

“We have an ACT ministerial Muslim Advisory Council that I talk with regularly about matters that affect them and sadly that group is continuing to be in existence because, unfortunately, of things such as this,” she said.

“If my memory serves me right, when I went out to celebrate the claiming of the block, so to speak, in Gungahlin, it is within a stone’s throw of a church. I do not recall the same sentiment around traffic, social impact, traffic noise, public interest, bulk, scale and height, which seem to be the concerns applied to that.”

Ms Burch said she wanted the matter investigated. “To have a location and time for this to only be provided for those who register is not the way that Canberra operates and I am more than happy to refer this to the HRC for investigation,” she said.

Ms Burch later attacked the Canberra Liberals for failing to criticise the flyer during the estimates hearing or show their support for the Muslim community’s right to pursue the mosque development.

Canberra Multicultural Community Forum deputy chair Diana Abdel-Rahman said she was disappointed such a flyer had been distributed in Canberra, which was generally open-minded and accepting of its Muslim community.

The president of Australian Muslim Voice offered to set up a meeting about the mosque with Muslim and community leaders and the authors of the flyer, if they identified themselves. “It’s very disappointing to know there’s this group and the fact they have to hide says a lot about them,” she said. “If they have a problem surely they should be able to stand up and tell us.”

Ms Abdel-Rahman said the group should attend functions in Canberra to mark Ramadan next month to meet some of the territory’s Muslim community. “This [flyer] is not what we like to see happen – not in Canberra,” she said. “It’s something we read about in other states and roll our eyes.”

Opposition multicultural affairs spokesman Steve Doszpot said “of course I support the Muslim community”. “Ms Burch’s transparent, ridiculous construction tries to turn the fact that she couldn’t answer questions about her own dismal performance into an attack on the questioner, and tries to tie in race hate, which I find disgusting and beneath contempt,” he said.

Canberra Times, 4 July 2012

Update:  See “Gungahlin mosque objectors to petition ACT govt”,Canberra Times, 2 July 2012

Unsurprisingly, objections to the mosque involve more than just worries about traffic and noise. An anonymous spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Canberra is quoted as saying:

“There were concerns about the numbers, with the mosque, what would go on at the mosque, if you look at say other cities, what do mosques do there? It’s incredible, even in Sydney, they’re a no-go zone. When you look at the impact of these places, and perhaps not all mosques do have that, but some do, it creates that no-go zone. Now, in their own country, and there’s heaps of other countries, that’s their thing. But here in Australia, I should be free to walk down a place, be it in the middle of prayers or other times, just like anyone else can.”

Update 2:  See also “Mosque criticism is ill-informed”, Canberra Times, 4 July 2012

And “Anti-mosque campaign perpetuates fear, intolerance”,Canberra Times, 4 July 2012

Update 3:  See “Alleged letter campaign against Gungahlin mosque”, Canberra Times, 6 July 2012