SYDNEY – Dressed in mock Islamic attire, a group of anti-Muslim protesters violated the sanctity of an Australian Anglican church after they disrupted Sunday mass in a “racist stunt” which traumatized the congregation.
“It seemed very intimidating. I am sure the congregation was `affected by that,” Imam Afroz Ali, a Sydney Muslim scholar, told ABC News on Monday, August 15
“I am sure that they saw it later as quite silly and stupid, but at the time it must have been very disturbing.
Members of far-right Party for Freedom attacked the Gosford Anglican Church on the New South Wales Central Coast on Sunday.
They pretended to pray while playing Muslim prayers on a loudspeaker and criticized Islam before walking out.
Father Rod Bower, who was running the service, said the group were Pauline Hanson supporters.
“It was … just out of the blue, some of the congregation were quite upset,” he said.
“I recognized one of the participants and clearly they weren’t Muslims — it was mock attire.
“I took a minute or so but I worked out who they were. I quietened the congregation down; they were a bit distressed.”
The group posted photos of their stunt on social media, claiming it was a protest against Father Bower’s support for Islamic leaders and multiculturalism.
Saying that the stunt violated the sanctity of his church, Father Bower said one of the participants had been targeting him on social media previously.
“He calls me Fatherless Rod and disagrees on my stand, he is a keen supporter of Pauline Hanson on social media,” he said.
“I accept and even support their right to have a peaceful assembly in a park — across the road even.”
Party for Freedom’s slogan is “Make Australia Great Again”, echoing Donald Trump’s mantra at his political rallies.
The incident was criticized by Australian Muslims as very troubling, targeting the country’s successful multiculturalism.
“Australia has always been known as a multicultural society. It is not only a multicultural society but a society that accepts multiculturalism, which is two different things,” Imam Ali said.
“The fact that most Australians are law abiding, decent people — the very fact that these people go and claim to be representing Australian values is quite bigoted and quite un-Australian,” he added.
The scholar said the impact would be twofold.
“A lot more Australians will become more active in making sure this country remains a democratic, multicultural and accepting society,” he said.
“But unfortunately there will be a minority that will express these views.”
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.
In post 9/11 Australia, Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A 2007 poll taken by the Issues Deliberation Australia (IDA) think-tank found that Australians basically see Islam as a threat to the Australian way of life.
A recent governmental report revealed that Muslims are facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment like never before.