Australia's highest court rejects mosque challenge

Australia's highest court rejects mosque challenge

Mosque at center of 2 years of often violent protests given go ahead in large country town

By Jill Fraser

MELBOURNE, Australia (AA) - The High Court of Australia has declined a request to hear an appeal opposing to a town mosque, clearing the final hurdle for the construction of the A$3.5 million ($2.59 million) building.

Opponents, however, have claimed that they have no intention of quietly and respectfully accepting the court decision.

“Losing the battle doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war and winning the battle doesn’t mean you have won the war. Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war,” a freshly posted comment on the Facebook page for the Stop the Bendigo Mosque stated Wednesday.

The proposed construction of the mosque in the City of Bendigo, a regional town in the state of Victoria, had been at the center of nationwide controversy since the Bendigo council gave the Australian Islamic Mission the go ahead in June 2014.

Howls of protest ensued, including 450 formal objections to the project, the establishment of the Facebook page that attracted almost 30,000 supporters, and large ugly street rallies, with opposing groups facing off against each other and engaging in violent clashes.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on Wednesday, Bendigo Mayor Rod Fyffe admitted that the degree of vitriol and hatred displayed by some of the protesters gave him concerns for his safety.

Since plans for the mosque were announced, the anti-mosque campaign had employed intimidatory tactics. Sinister black balloons were frequently hung on trees and placed outside the homes of mosque supporters.

“It’s something that does plays out in the back of your mind,” Fyffe said. “But we have a job we’ve got to do and we’ll get on and perform the task we’ve been elected to do and that’s make sensible decisions that follow due process and ensure our community is the stronger for it”.

On Wednesday afternoon, a group calling itself the Australian Muslims of Bendigo released a statement welcoming the High Court decision, calling the final approval “a testament that the judicial system of Australia is and always will uphold justice and fairness for all”.

It added that the Bendigo Muslim community had always supported peace, harmony and fairness, and would continue to do so.

“The Bendigo Islamic Centre will be a great asset to Bendigo. It will be a center for understanding, education and cross cultural and inter-faith dialogue,” it stated.

Mayor Fyffe applauded the court’s decision. “It’s wonderful news,” he told Anadolu Agency.

He spoke of his hope that the mosque will act as a bridge between faiths.

“It will be open for the community to use. Especially the sporting facilities that they’re proposing to add onto the mosque," he said.

Permission, however, is only the starting point: a starting date for construction could be at least two years away as the Australian Islamic Mission is still to seek building permits.

The Mission will also be required to raise the funds needed to construct the $3.5 million mosque.

Final design plans and tenders will be confirmed in the coming one to two years.

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