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By Phil Mercer
Sydney
28 May 2008

Town officials have rejected plans for an Islamic school on the outskirts of Australia's biggest city, Sydney. The issue has stirred emotions in the town of Camden, where local groups held demonstrations against the proposal. Many residents say the presence of so many Muslims would harm their community. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Australia
The Camden town council says the unanimous decision to reject the application to build the school has nothing to do with race or religion but is based on town planning issues, such as traffic flows.

The plan was to build a private school to teach 1200 Muslim children on farmland near Camden.

Opposition to the project has at times been savage and graphic.

Late last year two pigs' heads were left on the proposed site with an Australian flag draped between them.

Large protests were held and the overwhelming sentiment was that such a school had no place in the community.

Most people in Camden deny allegations of racism and argue that the presence of so many students and their parents would cause traffic problems in a quiet corner of suburbia.

Others, however, bluntly expressed other concerns.

"Tell me one country in the world these people have assimilated in," one woman said.

"If I wore a hijab now I could have an M16 under my hijab and you wouldn't even know I had it there," added another woman.

Some Muslim groups say the town's decision was influenced by racist attitudes. Many people, including many non-Muslims, say it will damage Australia's international reputation.

More than 400,000 Muslims live in Australia, many of them immigrants from elsewhere. Australia's Quranic Society had proposed the school. It says that more Muslim families are moving into the outer Sydney districts and their needs had to be accommodated.

The judgment of the Camden Town Council can be appealed.

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