FULL COVERAGE: Bendigo mosque: Emotion fuels debate
Anti-Islam fears among some Bendigo residents are the result of a calculated, unrelenting and national movement designed to increase hatred and bigotry in the town, says The Great Stupa's Ian Green.
Mr Green said there were bad influences in every religion but people should not judge a group by the actions of a minority.
The Bendigo Buddhist said of "course there were connotations with the words Islam and Muslim" and those easily swayed might be led to believe the religion would incite violence in the town.
However, he said local fears which had been thrown into the limelight recently were being largely "whipped up by a hate-machine" outside of Bendigo.
His comments come as City of Greater Bendigo councillors gave the city's first mosque the green light, despite heated anti-Islamic sentiment.
It has emerged that the international group Q Society, which describes itself as “Australia’s leading Islam-critical movement”, is a key force behind protests against the Bendigo mosque.
The society organised a meeting in Bendigo on May 11 to advise residents how to stop the mosque and was advertised with pamphlets describing Islam as “totalitarian ideology”.
Mr Green said many "incredibly malicious rumours" had been spread in Bendigo in recent weeks through letter-box drops and online propaganda.
"It's definitely raised fears among a few hundred residents," he said.
"If you look at the media and see the uprising and bomb attacks, you could be easily persuaded that there was some violence in the religion.
"Of course there are connotations with the word Muslim - it's only natural some of that international news rubs off on those easily swayed.
"But there are a few bad groups giving a bad name to the whole religion. Most are welcoming and peaceful."
He said Bendigo was richer for supporting other religions and cultures and while Australia was a conservative nation, he said people tended to be open to different beliefs.
"We are not necessarily isolated in Bendigo in terms of multiculturalism, but we have a big role in introducing people to different ideas," he said.
Mr Green said while The Great Stupa received some hesitation when it was first built, the criticism was nothing like that of the mosque.
And while some people will "go to their grave" with concerns about the mosque, Mr Green said most doubts would be allayed when it was built.
There are a few bad groups giving a bad name to the whole religion.
"People will start realising this is a harmonious place that will promote diversity in Bendigo."
Seven per cent of Bendigo's population was born overseas, with almost 100 different cultural and religions practicing in the town.
Bendigo's Damian Wells, whose online Change.org petition has attracted almost 2000 signatures of support for the mosque, said it was easy to harness negativity online.
"Most of the time the silent majority remain apathetic and let the negativity get unleashed on social media," he said.
"But this is not the time to be apathetic.
"We shouldn't be afraid as a community to stand up and say we embrace all backgrounds."