( dpa ) - Australian Muslims said Tuesday that racism was behind a Sydney council's decision to approve plans for a Catholic school and reject a proposal to build an Islamic school.
The building projects are in the Sydney suburb of Camden, where five months ago the local council received 3,500 complaints about a plan to build an Islamic school and had to hire security guards to ensure order at meetings where the project was discussed.
Camden Mayor Chris Patterson said comparisons between the two projects were invalid because "any application is site-specific. If a Catholic church had put in for the Quranic Society site, it would not have been approved, and alternatively, if the Quranic Society had put in for the Mater Dei site, and it meets the criteria, it would be approved."
Quranic Society spokesman Issam Obeid said the council was applying a "double-standard" rather than simply following zoning rules.
"No one knows anything about the Catholic school, and they say, 'Yeah, give it a tick already,'" he said. "I think racism is affecting this."
The Quranic Council is appealing the decision to reject its proposal for a 1,200-pupil school.
At rowdy meetings in May, Camden residents argued that few Muslims lived in the area and the pupils would be bused in from distant suburbs with large Muslim populations.
The Quranic Society project is not a test case: Islamic schools are scattered across Australian cities, which, like Catholic schools or Jewish schools, receive government funds.
The campaign against the society's project was marked by prejudice. Pigs' heads rammed on metal stakes and draped with the Australian flag were placed at the proposed school site.
Angry residents bedecked in Australian flags were vocal in rejecting the school on religious grounds. Protest leader Kate McCulloch said in May that the 350,000 Muslims in Australia "take our welfare and they don't want to accept our way of life."
Another protest leader, Emil Sremchevich, denied he was racist in campaigning against the Islamic school. "Why is it xenophobic just because I want to make a choice?" he asked The Sydney Morning Herald. "If I want to like some people and not like other people, that's the nature of the beast."