A row has erupted over plans to build a mosque in the northern suburbs of the city. It has gone from the usual not too publicised concerns about traffic and noise to a full blown scare campaign. People simply don't want it there.
The idea frightens some, angers others and disturbs many more. I hold something called the "Australian Defence League" responsible for much of the fear mongering. The ADL is an ultra right wing organisation. It is not large but it is in danger of growing larger. It is anti-Islam and anti a good many other things as well.
But I was talking to a Muslim acquaintance yesterday and she said, "We're to blame too."
I was surprised and perhaps even a bit shocked by that statement. She tends to fiercely defend such things and blame others for anti-Islam sentiments.
But then she went on to say, "We haven't been doing enough to make ourselves heard. The trouble is that other people think we're all about the stuff you see on TV. They don't know what it's like to be Muslim and have people avoid you in the street."
Yes, I suppose people do avoid her on the street. She wears the hijab. It's enough these days. It marks you out. She believes she "must" wear it - that she doesn't have a choice. I once tried, gently, to tell her that there was a difference between "must" and "want". I tried to explain that the law here does not require it. She simply didn't understand that. Her fear won't let her understand that.
And that fear troubles me because it will spill over into other things. She will believe many other things she is told too - just as other people in other faiths will be coerced into "believing" through fear.
I did not argue with her this time. I doubt anything I could have said then or could say in the future would change her attitude.
But I did leave a message for another Muslim I regard as a friend. I told her of the conversation and said that this young woman seemed a bit down.
This morning there was the response. "Thanks. I'll do something about it."
I am grateful to my friend because, although I didn't say it, we both know that these sort of concerns and attitudes can lead to bigger concerns and stronger attitudes.
I don't know what it is like to be Muslim or Jewish or wear a sari or be avoided because of the colour of my skin. I have experienced discrimination in other ways but perhaps it is not the same so I can't comment.
What I can do is not avoid such person. I can listen to them and their concerns. I don't have to agree over something like "must" wear the hijab but I can at least try to understand why someone feels that way.