Members of a group opposing a mosque in the NSW Hunter region have branded the local council “traitors” and pledged the fight is “not over” after councillors voted in favour of its development application.
In a tense meeting at Cessnock City Council on Wednesday night, which was watched over by police, councillors voted 6 – 4 in favour of the mosque and funeral home in the rural area of Buchanan, near Kurri Kurri.
The mosque’s opponents immediately took to social media to decry the decision and some promoted violence against both the planned place of worship and the council chambers.
“Sounds like the council chambers might need a bomb,” one man wrote on an anti-mosque Facebook page, while three separate people proposed setting the mosque on fire.
“If it is approved I hope it is burnt to the ground,” a man wrote on the STOP the Buchanan Mosque – kurri kurri page.
“I bet a packet of matches and a litre or two of petrol it won’t last long,” another said. A third man added: “Isnt that a bushfire prone area? We can only hope!
Another poster on the page said residents “need to bring out the fighter in all of us and make them think twice about where they want to lay their hijabs”.
The mosque has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was proposed last year, with anti-Islam group Reclaim Australia kicking off opposition with a march in the main street of Cessnock in November.
Councillor James Ryan – who also voted in favour of the mosque – lamented that the situation had become about more than the mosque itself.
“We have just been dragged into a racist, Islamophobic debate,” he said.
Those speaking in favour of the mosque said it was a chance to promote harmony and inclusion, would not cause adverse traffic issues, and would be open to any groups who wished to visit in the spirit of “the good old Aussie fair go”.
Protests continued at the council chambers on Wednesday evening, with two placards displayed outside which linked the mosque to terrorism and paedophilia.
The first placard listed terror attacks around the world with the heading “enough is enough”, while the second read in part: “Where [sic] only interested in good people and good values in our community. Dosn’t matter what religion or race we have no room for pedafiles, rapist, suisiders, murderers.”
In a statement, Cessnock City Mayor Bob Pynsent – who voted in favour of the development – said the application complied with the relevant planning provisions.
“Council carefully considered the public submissions and planning merit,” Cr Pynsent said. “Tonight’s decision is a reflection of that.”
In a council meeting which lasted for two and a half hours, residents who spoke against the mosque said they were concerned about traffic congestion in the area, the safety of their children travelling to school and fears of increased crime, including one Muslim man who said the place of worship was not suited to the area.
One resident also pointed out the mosque’s address would be 911 Buchanan Road, which would keep the September 11 terror attacks in the back of his mind.