I don't believe I blogged on the original flap, because my sensibilities were not offended. Camden Council, south of Sydney, rejected a planning application for an islamic school after community outcry. Fair enough, thought I. I'm not prepared to judge the motivations of the community, but the outcome is one less modern madrassah, great.
Turns out I wasn't entirely smart in that assesment.
Camden is now fully behind a broadly similar application for a catholic school.
OK, I'm almost certain to put at least one foot wrong here somewhere and get shouted down, however I think I ought to voice my thoughts, and they, at present, are as follows:
No islamic school == good. This is not racism, as the Quranic Society claims. Islam is not a racial trait, it is a religion. It is also unsurprising demographically, as Camden is far from majority muslim, and a huge number of students would be travelling from out of town.
Catholic School == bad, though given the strong foothold the catholics seem to have in Aussie education, it is unsurprising that this is seen as more acceptable by the Camden comunity, which is majority white Australian with a significant catholic component.
The situation is also somewhat different in this application. There is already a catholic Special Needs school in Camden, and the new development would be adjacent to this, on land already zoned for a school.
Still, we have a brewing religious skirmish shaping up in Camden:
"Before the vote, protesters placed pigs' heads on stakes and draped an Australian flag between them on the proposed school site."
"The ones that come here oppress our society, they take our welfare and they don't want to accept our way of life," Kate McCulloch, local resident
A spokesman for the Quranic Society, Issam Obeid, said: "Everyone can see there is a double standard … No one knows anything about the Catholic school and they say, 'Yeah, give it a tick already.' I think racism is affecting this."
There's something important to note, and that is this: There is bigotry here, and there is racism here. However, they are not one and the same. While racism equals bigotry, bigotry does not automatically equal racism. Racism is a subset of bigotry, and I'm sorry, religious divides do not travel exactly along racial divides. A catholic family from an arabic background would be accepted in the catholic school, and a muslim family from an anglo-european background would be accepted at the islamic school. Both schools say they would accept students from backgrounds other than their stated religious allegiances*.
However the vocal part of the Camden community seem to come up a little short of such nuance. Ah well, this is to be expected.
Here's my thought: Knock down both development applications and build a secular school, to which the children of catholics and the children of muslims would be welcome. There they could blend with peers from backgrounds of mixed religion and non-religion, and fight about it in small schoolyard battles, rather than have their parents and social seniors battle it out in the courts.
Anyway, I feel my thoughts on this matter aren't fully formed, so feel free to 'correct' me in the comments
* On this factor: WHY in the world would someone not from an islamic/catholic background send their kids to be educated in a religious school? I've been unable to understand this, and I have to conclude it's either our old friend "cultural respect" or it's the vague nagging thought in the hindbrain of many people that religion is a good thing in general. I'll perhaps save this for a later post.