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Mayor backs Gold Coast Islamic college.



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2CN PM Mayor backs Gold Coast Islamic college

02/12/2008

MARK COLVIN: There's been another outbreak of community ill-feeling over plans for an Islamic school. This time it's happening on Queensland's Gold Coast.

Nicole Butler reports.

NICOLE BUTLER: Muslim schools have operated in Queensland for years, but the prospect of another one has raised some public ire. This morning ABC radio talkback callers vented their anger about plans for an Islamic college on the Gold Coast

MALE CALLER: I support Australia and I think if you don't like it go home. I'm concerned about this degradation that's likely to come.

FEMALE CALLER: My main concern with the whole deal is what sort of stuff are they going to be teaching these children? Are they going to be teaching them radical Islam, go out and become a suicide bomber, oppress the women and all that sort of stuff?

SECOND MALE CALLER: They've got one agenda: get in, take over. Australians wake up for god sake. If we like our democracy and freedom, we should stop all Muslim immigration to this nation.

NICOLE BUTLER: Yesterday hundreds of Gold Coast locals swarmed city council headquarters to protest against the planned Muslim school at Carrara.

For the second time in just over a week demonstrators waved placards bearing slogans like "Muslim School - Hell no!".

Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke says he's been shocked by the rallies.

RON CLARKE: Very disappointed. I mean we have a very good mix of multicultural society here. We've 80 odd different ethnic groups registered with the city council. We have 121 different languages spoken here on the Gold Coast and we've never had any problem whatsoever with any of those groups.

To have some people, mainly Australians unfortunately, protesting, seems to me so undemocratic it doesn't matter.

NICOLE BUTLER: It's proposed the Islamic college will be built in a house on 10 hectares of land. But first it needs council approval on a number of town planning issues. Public submissions can also be made. But Councillor Clarke says he won't be considering all the issues raised by protestors.

RON CLARKE: Why people would try and copy overseas banning of people's institutions just because they're different to a particular government's philosophies, I've got no idea, but it certainly should not happen in Australia and I'll have no part of it.

NICOLE BUTLER: A final council decision isn't expected before February next year but the Mayor's already said the school's likely to get the go ahead.

RON CLARKE: The unfortunate thing about all this protest means that it would appear if the planners don't agree with it, for perfectly legitimate reasons, that we've bowed to public pressure or the pressure of the minority, which would be most unfortunate. The officers are going to judge it on its own merits one way or

the other.

But it certainly almost forcing us to lean backwards not to judge it on its merit but to pass it no matter what.

NICOLE BUTLER: If the school does get approval it will be the second campus for the Australian International Islamic College, which was founded in Brisbane six years ago. The Muslim school began with 20 students in 2002; it now has 350.

One of the college's trustees Keysar Trad says fears the school promotes segregation and extremism have already been disproved.

KEYSAR TRAD: We are very open to taking in students of all different backgrounds, regardless of whether they have any religion or no religion.

Our teachers are people of different faith traditions and last year our principal was a Christian principal; a

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devout practicing Christian to be honest and he's moved on to bigger and better things but we are open minded and inclusive.

NICOLE BUTLER: Mr Trad's also a prominent member of Islamic Friendship Association of Australia. He says the Muslim community has been shocked and saddened by the Gold Coast protests.

KEYSAR TRAD: It's the sort of thing that makes us want to weep for our children; that they're being exposed to this and that people are making all these unfair associations.

It wounds us deeply in our hearts that people would stoop to such levels. I haven't seen anything like this in Australia in the past.

NICOLE BUTLER: Mr Trad says if the Gold Coast campus does go ahead, it's expected to open mid next year.

MARK COLVIN: Nicole Butler.

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