Expat says anti-mosque sentiments ‘shameful’
A FORMER Sunshine Coast businesswoman now working in Saudi Arabia has expressed shock and disappointment at the region's anti-mosque campaign, labelling it a shameful act of ignorance and fear.
Kim Edwards ran the Sea English Academy in Maroochydore and was also a Sunshine Coast mayoral candidate before moving to the United Arab Emirates.
She won numerous business and industry group awards for management excellence and also the 2006 Queensland Premier's Export Award for education.
She has worked in Saudi Arabia for three years, the past 18 months as principal of a women's vocational training college.
Describing herself as a committed Christian and loyal Australian, Ms Edwards said she had been horrified watching the anti-mosque sentiment from afar, especially the involvement of some Christian churches.
Those involved should look at the teachings of their faith and live life as they should.
"It's an emotive subject and does polarise people,'' she said during a brief visit home for Christmas.
"I've had friends who have been involved in it and people are entitled to their opinion. But it's a sad moment in the Sunshine Coast's development."
Ms Edwards is concerned that hardline, unwelcoming and at times violent treatment of people of other faiths will jeopardise Australia's multi-billion-dollar education and tourism sectors that are among our top five export markets.
She said those industries had been built on campaigns that leveraged the perception of Australia as a safe, welcoming, tolerant society.
"Are we safe? Are we racist? Are we as friendly as we say we are?" Ms Edwards asked.
She said Australians were still well liked internationally but it should not be forgotten that we had built our tourism and education markets on the perception that we are friendly, accepting and safe.
"It's important not to be foolish (about potential threats) but we seem to fear what we don't know and are demonising a minority which, I think, is the lowest form of cowardice.
"This will jeopardize us in the long term (financially).
"You can't say we are tolerant and show intolerance; that you are free to practise your beliefs as long as they are the same as mine; that you can dress as you like but only if you dress like me.
"That's the message that is being projected."
Other than its indigenous population, Australians were all refugees and migrants.
"Muslims have been here for a long time and there has always been a sizeable population in Australia," Ms Edwards said.
"I've lived in a strict environment and never had a problem with my faith.
"People have been very respectful. I know a lot of Muslims and they are wonderful people. We respect each other's religion and the level of our faith.
"I've had friends who have converted from Christianity to Islam and from Islam to Christianity.
"It is just very un-Australian to be protesting against a mosque.
"There are large Afghan mosques on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane.
"I saw it as a sign we've grown up to have one here rather than be the last bastion of white.''
Ms Edwards said while it was true that Saudi Arabia practised an extreme form of Islam which saw people jailed for 10 years for celebrating Christmas, that was not the case in countries like Indonesia, Dubai and Malaysia which celebrated every religion's holy days.