May 27, 2008 / 10:51 AM / 10 years ago

Australian town rejects Muslim school

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities rejected the development of a 1,200-student Islamic school on the outskirts of Sydney on Tuesday saying it was inappropriate for the small town where anti-Muslim protesters opposed the school.

Camden Council voted against the school being built based on concerns over the impact on traffic flows, loss of agricultural land, but not on religious grounds.

“It is a site issue ... we said all along religious issues, nationalistic issues, will not be entered into,” Mayor Chris Patterson told local media.

The school was planned for Muslim students and would have taught the standard Australian education programme but also conducted religious classes just as Catholic and Anglican schools in Australia do.

However, the school development has sparked anti-Muslim sentiment in Camden, with pigs heads being planted on spikes and threats to attack any Muslims attending the school.

“We just don’t want Muslim people in Camden, we don’t want them not only here, but we don’t want them in Australia,” one woman, wearing a cowboy hat with an Australian flag wrapped around it, said at the council meeting on Tuesday.

But other residents said opposition to the school was not based on religion. “Its nothing to do with being Islamic, if it had been a Catholic school, Buddhist, whatever, it is not an appropriate area for a 1,200-student school,” a male resident told local television.

Camden Council received 3,000 submissions opposing the school and only 100 in favour of the development.

Relations between non-Muslim Australians and Muslims have been strained since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Australia has deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Race riots erupted at Sydney’s Cronulla Beach in 2005 as the predominately Anglo-Saxon residents attacked anyone of Middle Eastern appearance, believing they were Muslims intent on taking over their beach.

Muslims have been in Australia for more than 200 years. The country’s first Muslims were Afghani camel drivers who helped to open its vast outback.

Today there are about 280,000 Muslims in the 21 million population, more recently from the Middle East, Asia and Fiji, living predominantly in Sydney and Melbourne.

Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Valerie Lee

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