Social Cohesion in Bendigo report studies mosque protests

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CONTROVERSY surrounding plans to build a mosque in Bendigo has resulted in greater intercultural understanding, a study has found. But issues remain.

The Social Cohesion in Bendigo report, compiled by La Trobe University for the Victorian Multicultural Commission, was created in response to the protests surrounding the development

Researchers observed that the nature of the protests differed from other “contentious planning scenarios” because they targeted a particular group of people in society, rather than the development itself.

“They aimed to exclude Muslim people from experiencing the same rights and freedoms as others in Australian society to practice their faith,” the study stated. 

That animosity divided the community, the researchers wrote.

“The Bendigo mosque development opened up space for vibrant debates on the politics of diversity, especially around notions of democracy, leadership, social networks and information sharing,” they stated.

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The study highlighted the importance of strong and authoritative leadership to “facilitate healing within the community and provide direction for the multicultural future of Bendigo.”

It also highlighted the role of social interaction, “as a means to educate and overcome division in the community.”

“Fostering inclusive events and social gatherings emerged as a means of positively engaging community members in intercultural conversations,” the report stated.

Despite what the researchers described as “negativity of relations during the time of the protests”, they concluded that greater intercultural understanding had emerged. 

“Events also enabled people to gain a better understanding of how some people have to live their lives under pressures of discrimination and racism,” the report stated. 

However, the researchers said it would be necessary to work with the Greater Bendigo community as the mosque was built, in light of community polarisation.

“This comprises the creation of new conversations so that people with different views can communicate respectfully and learn from each other,” the report stated. 

“This will not be easy, and many will not want to participate due to their world view and the polarisation that has occurred.”