I’m not racist, but…
Those four words are usually followed by a racist statement or sentiment.
And that has certainly been the case over the last month as the community has grappled with the building of two prayer halls at Kemps Creek on the outskirts of Penrith.
As a city, Penrith has gone ahead in huge leaps and bounds over the last decade or so, in many ways successfully ridding itself of the ‘bogan westie’ stereotype that is often unfairly slapped on what is a beautiful part of Sydney.
Unfortunately, some of that good work has been undone in the past month as certain small sections of the community went about embarrassing themselves and the area with the way they went about their opposition to the prayer halls and community centre.
It is important to note I’m not talking about all Penrith residents here. I’ll all for legitimate debate on this issue, and for concerns to be raised.
But scenes at Penrith Council’s chambers on the two occasions these Development Applications have been discussed have been embarrassing.
Grown adults holding ridiculous signs, with misinformed messages and essentially, inciting hatred.
Hang on, isn’t hatred one of the things they apparently don’t like about members of the Muslim community?
Ah, just one of many contradictions in this debate, folks.
Seeing a young boy who would have been no more than 12 or 13 holding up a sign that said “Burqa or bikini – you decide” was a shameful lowlight of Monday night’s protest.
But worst than that has been some of the awful comments posted on social media from members of the community.
Calls for people to throw pig heads on the site of the development, accusations of Council bias and corruption, belief that Penrith will be “taken over”… the list goes on.
Surely Penrith is better than this.
Granted, the timing hasn’t been great for discussions of this type.
The threat of terrorism both in Australia and overseas, often involving Muslim extremists, is very real.
However, such threats in our world come from all sections of the community.
We should never forget that the greatest act of terrorism on Australian soil – the Port Arthur massacre – was committed by a Tasmanian with long, flowing blonde hair.
I actually can understand, in some ways, where some of the people protesting against the prayer hall are coming from.
I accept that areas such as Bankstown and Lakemba are very different today than what they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
I can also accept that it’s a tough pill to swallow for some who grew up in those areas – I’m not completely in the dark about those concerns.
But the debate has taken a ridiculous turn, with misinformation and shameful comments being made by people who, in most cases, haven’t read the Development Applications in question.
To have such a firm view, you would hope that those being the loudest in this debate would have researched thoroughly what this whole thing is about before they started sprouting racism and trying to incite hatred and illegal activities.
To be honest, the most calm, level-headed people through this debate have been those from the Muslim community, most of whom just want to explain their point of view without being tarred with the same brush as an overseas terrorist.
Based on reading the DAs and getting a general understanding of the purpose of the developments, I personally don’t believe “the fabric of the community” is about to change.
My faith in Penrith being a welcoming, understanding community has however been shaken.
Let’s have this debate in a proper manner – not with foul language, outlandish claims and the inciting of violence masquerading as pride.