A current planning application in the Melbourne municipality of Port Phillip is a microcosm of the confrontation between multiculturalism and organised intolerance.
The background is this: as well as providing services like childcare and adult learning, a community centre in East St Kilda hosts a weekly Friday prayer meeting for a group of Muslims and this has been going on for a number of years. The local planning permits allow only 10 people per activity session at the centre. They’re out of date for most of the activities which take place at the centre. Amendments to the planning regulations will be considered by Port Phillip Council this month.
An anti-Muslim group called the Q Society found out about the planning amendment in February and have made complaints about the prayer group to Port Phillip Council on all sorts of grounds — including the threat of terror, water wastage and danger of infection during ritual washing, and the problematic nature of such a prayer group in a municipality which has a high number of Jewish residents and synagogues in the vicinity. They also accused the Australian Jewish Democratic Society of supporting Islamic extremism, because one of its members works for the Community House.
Thanks to the Q Society, rumours started flying around the Jewish community about a Muslim invasion, and to its credit, the Zionist lobby group the Anti-Defamation Commission came down hard. A firm opinion piece by Deborah Stone in Galus Australis prompted furious and paranoid debate. Not all of it was against the prayer group — an online petition in support of the group had at least 500 signatures at the time this article was published.
Until the Q Society got involved, no-one in the Melbourne Jewish community seemed to have any concerns about the group. The Port Phillip Council is strongly in support of social diversity and multiculturalism. A number of rabbis, Christian ministers, local MP Martin Foley and community organisations have come out in support of the freedom of religious association.
However, Federal Labor MP Michael Danby, whose electorate covers the Alma Road Community House, has stayed quiet, and despite the Jewish Community Council being named in The Age as a supporter of the prayer group, it hasn’t made any public statement on the matter either.
So who is the Q Society?
Key members Geoff Dickson and Vickie Janson are strong opponents of all things Muslim. As well as her submissions to Port Phillip Council, Janson has made submissions about the danger of Islamic banking, sharia law and Muslims on campuses to HREOC and other government departments. Her impressive qualifications for this foundational work are "undergraduate studies in Biblical Interpretation and World View Analysis". Amen. Irfan Yusuf has written about her activities in the past.
Janson has also written a book about Islam called "Ideological Jihad", which is a response to Waleed Aly’s "People Like Us", and seems to be a popular speaker in Christian circles. Her book is referred to and advertised on many anti-Muslim and conservative Christian websites such as the Saltshakers.
Janson has published at least one article in the Australian Presbyterian (pdf) in which she claims that we must resist Islam, writing "this is no time to sell our birthright by placating the strident demands of a minority that would reduce our freedoms."
Q Society’s activity in Port Phillip features on sites such as australianislamistmonitor.org where Geoff Dickson appears to be a regular contributor. While Janson and Dickson say they have nothing against moderate Muslims, it’s hard to see this reflected in their writing, and their stereotypical invective is repeated on conservative Muslim hating sites around the internet, or passed on by email. Such sites also feature graphics about Islam which are reminiscent of the anti-Semitic caricatures that appeared in the popular Nazi paper Der Stürmer.
The dangers of foot fungus being spread by Muslims at the Alma Road Community House appears to be an obsession, illustrated with lurid photos.
Soon after the Q Society became prominent in Port Phillip, it emerged that Vickie Janson has been a candidate of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party on several occasions, running for both the Senate and the Victorian Upper House in the last state elections.
The CDP makes it quite clear that Australia is a Christian nation and the party is well known for its crude anti-Muslim rabble rousing. Thus, for the Q Society or claim they are in defence of "Judeo-Christian values" in Port Phillip is a complete furphy. Fortunately, many in the Melbourne Jewish community have seen through the ruse.
In Sydney, however, the situation is quite different, and the Q Society appears to have pulled the wool over the eyes of the Jewish community. Indeed, it joined the Jewish community in opposition to last year’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution of the Greens-dominated Marrickville Council. The council’s blanket move was strongly opposed by most of the Jewish community, including the staunchly Zionist Danby and many on the Jewish left (including myself).
Members of the Q Society met with representatives of the Newtown Synagogue and circulated a petition. The language of the petition reflects the Q Society’s absolutist views ("playing into the hands of the Islamist Global BDS Movement") and has collected over 4000 signatures, now delivered to the NSW Government and Marrickville Council. Jeremy Lawrence, Rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney and rumoured favourite candidate to take over as the prestigious Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, and many other prominent people in Sydney, have signed the petition which has also been circulating on secular, nationalist ultra-right websites.
I suspect many people who signed it will now wish they knew who they were dealing before they hit the ‘send’ button.
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