Last month I attended my first ever protest, it involved a rally against the proposed building of a Mosque in Bendigo, as well as a counter rally which opposed the opposers.
This will be the first Mosque to be built here, and ever since planning was first announced there has been some fierce opposition from members of the general public and certain councillors.
Some kind of opposition was to be expected, but there is a way to express your opposition like an adult and then there is the way that some people have chosen to act.
It is my opinion that these reactions have been completely ignorant, racist and bigoted. It leaves me feeling absolutely disgusted to live in a town where people vilify anyone based on their religion or cultural background.
I do not pretend to know anything about Islam as a religion or Muslim culture at all, I practice no religion and don’t pretend to know anything about any of them, but just because I don’t believe in a religion it doesn’t mean that no one else can. Every single person on this planet is entitled to practise their own religion if they choose to do so, and therefore they should be entitled to a safe and peaceful place of worship in which to practice.
So when the Bendigo Council decided to provide the local Muslim community with a Mosque where they could freely practise their religion, I thought, fantastic! What a step forward for a town that I have always had my reservations regarding bigotry. But then a small number of people who I will openly describe as ignorant racists decided they would hang black balloons around town to show their opposition to the Mosque.
Apparently building a Mosque will result in the “Islamification” of Bendigo, and according to one Bendigo Counsellor building a Mosque here will lead to the rape, murder and female genital mutilation of Bendigo women at the hands of Muslim men. This counsellor, who is a woman, decided the best way to voice this opinion would be to tweet insults, threats and images of infant FGM victims to Mosque supporters. To add insult to injury, to this day she has not been held accountable for her actions, if public figures can get away with racially vilifying people then what message does that send to others.
This backlash over building a place of worship disgusted me, what I thought was a step forward actually revealed exactly the types of people that were living in this town. On more than one occasion during my life I have been embarrassed and ashamed to be Australian, this whole ordeal has been no exception.
A recurring argument against the Mosque in Bendigo is that bringing Muslims here will result in the female members of our community being raped and murdered as punishment for their behaviours. Well, let me just say this, recently in the suburb where I live, there was one woman who was bludgeoned to death in her own home by her partner, and another woman was kidnapped while going for a run and held captive, where she was repeatedly raped, for over a day.
The men who committed these crimes were not Muslim, they were white Australian men.
There is plenty of oppression of women going on in our own backyard without any Muslim involvement. The fact that death at the hands of an intimate partner was a leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15-44 in Bendigo according to a 2013 Liveability fact sheet, while only 0.2% of the Bendigo population followed Islam according to 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics census, that’s 202 people by the way, is pretty much proof enough to say that Muslims are not the perpetrators of all of this violence against women.
Unless of course each of those 202 Muslims are male and they each killed over 5 intimate partners, then you could say that bringing more Muslims here would create a real issue in violence against women. But alas that is not the case, we cannot blame Muslims alone for all the rape and murder in this town. See what happens when you do a little research, you uncover some truthful statistics instead of making things up as you go along?
Going to the rally only made me more ashamed. Yes I was standing on the better side, but I had a great view from there. What I saw on the other side of that barricade was a crowd of people that make me ashamed to be Australian, a group of poorly educated or simply ignorant individuals that think it is ok to discriminate against a minority, for no justifiable reason. Brandishing patriotic flags to reinforce just how Australian they really are.
A group of people who are led by convicted felons, who claim to know just as much about the religion they are insulting as those who practise it. These people stood in front of a jeering sea of flags and quoted passages from the Koran as evidence in their plight, because growing up in country Victoria gives you an excellent knowledge of the Koran and Islam.
What I saw on the other side, the “good side”, was in some ways pleasing, but others disappointing. I saw people from all ages and demographics coming together for a common cause, this is definitely a positive. What was disappointing was that one of the arguments these people used was the actions of police, apparently police brutality is unfairly imposed on only one side of the barriers, according to the politically left group, the police directly target activists. And then the far right protesters also believe they are targeted by police, so they cannot really do anything right.
Police are only doing their job, which is ultimately controlled by the government, so instead of shouting abuse at the police how about you concentrate on the real problem and work towards getting your voice heard. But what can I expect, ignorance is a disease that infiltrates at all levels and does not discriminate between sides of the protest barricade.
Another disappointing thing is that the majority of people on this side were not locals, actually majority of people on both sides were not local. They were imported activists.
To me, that is not good enough, where is the voice of Bendigo? Why don’t the people here give a damn about what is happening in their own backyard? And if they do, why are they too spineless to stand up for what they believe in?
From what I can gather, the residents of Bendigo live their lives with their heads buried in the ground. They refuse to acknowledge the glaringly obvious and choose instead, to live in ignorant bliss. If they do raise their little heads out of their hidey holes they don’t seem to care about anything that is going on, they just sit back and think that whatever happens will be golden. They accept no responsibility for what is happening in their society and so are happy to sit back watch the world go by.
Another thing I noticed at the rally is the apparent lack of Muslims, I saw one person who openly identified themselves as Muslim, and I am not even sure he was a local. So out of the entire Bendigo Muslim population maybe only one turned up at a rally, does that maybe suggest that they are peaceful people who just want to live their lives quietly out of the spotlight and do not want to get involved in the screaming match between two groups of predominately white, imported activists.
After the rally I looked forward to watching the news to see how the media would portray the events of the day. Alarmingly, but not unexpectedly, the local and national news sided with the racist bigots, and all they wanted to report on was the fact that there were people opposed to the Mosque making noise. Never mind anything else, all that matters is what a few racists think, but then again why would the media ever report in favour of a minority group of people who are being vilified.
Then there were the Facebook posts that circulated following the rally, I read one in particular that was just so far off the mark that giving up on humanity was an option for me.
Firstly you cannot refer to people of colour as “blacks” or Jewish people “Jews”, saying “we even had blacks and jews on our side” is just plain racist! So thank you for making it very easy for me to justify calling you one.
The lies that were spread by this individual were almost laughable, I was reading these gross exaggerations thinking “I was there and that never happened. Were we even at the same rally?” No, there was not 1000 people there, try halving that. And even less were participating in the rally, it really was quite a fizzer.
No, police were not brutal against anyone, they did not herd you into a pen like sheep. You wanted the front seat at the town hall, so they provided you with a space that would allow you to go about your business with minimum hassle from the opposing rally.
No, it was not the most brutal rally I have seen, have you ever bothered to watch a news report? Of course you haven’t, because nothing matters more than you, so why would you concern yourself with any other happenings in this world. This rally was the tamest rally I have ever seen.
No, 150 of you guys did not bust through 3 police lines to put out a burning Australian flag, it was more like two of you got through 2 police lines and were very quickly ushered back, and you know what I didn’t see any capsicum spray, let alone 10 full cans being used on you.
No, the police aren’t left or right bias, they were not bias because of the way they were facing because there were two lines of them, and they were facing both ways so as to maximise vision of the scene. They were doing their job for god sake.
But you can just keep spreading your lies to the plethora of ignorant people who couldn’t be bothered attending the rally, so that they may spread their own misinformed opinions and continue to breed this population of ignorance.
Now here is the only thing that seems to have survived out of the rally, in fact days later people are still talking about it. The burning of the Australian Flag.
At the protest there was allegedly two Australian flags burned, I only saw one at the very end of the protest. Now, in case you were not sure, this is the most efficient way to incite hatred in those far right Australians out there, it has after all meant death threats and a myriad of insults from random strangers for the unknown accused person.
In my opinion, not a smart move, why do something that is going to make them so obscenely angry? They do not need another excuse to behave like hot-headed idiots. You are not going to achieve anything by burning a flag, ergo pointless exercise.
Do I think that the burning of the flag is as big of a deal as people are making it out to be? No. I am not that patriotic, the Australian flag to me is a reminder of our brutal past. A past where we stemmed from white criminals who raped and pillaged someone else’s land, and if that wasn’t bad enough we then continued to persecute, punish and discriminate against the indigenous inhabitants of this land in unspeakable ways, some of these actions still survive today, and all of this was done in the name of the motherland, whose mark is still presented on our national flag.
I do not like to be reminded of that, it is not a past I am proud of, so I don’t care for flying that flag around. But would I burn it? No, it would achieve nothing and just make me the target for abuse, there are other ways to get your point across.
Also, for the record, it is not an offence against the law at the present time to burn an Australian flag. That’s right it’s not illegal. However because of a huge band of angry patriots, the burner of the flag was hunted down and fined for lighting a fire in a public place and inciting in a riot, not burning the flag because that is not illegal, but to satisfy those angry patriots she had to be charged with something.
Over all, I do not believe the events of this weekend’s protests had an impact on anything, there really were no positives to come out of it, and it is not going change the fact that the plans for the Mosque have been approved and that it is going to be built here, no amount of kicking and screaming by you racists is going to change it now.
The rally only highlighted how backward our community is, and has given me more things to be ashamed about, but it has also made me angry, and more aware of the fact that it is time to stand up for what I believe in.