SYDNEY (Reuters) - The discovery of two pig heads draped with an Australian flag at the site of a proposed Islamic school near Sydney was a "display of hatred" and anti-Australian, religious and community leaders said.
Opposition to the 1,200-pupil Islamic school in the country town of Camden has been very vocal and emotional, with 1,000 residents rallying against the school earlier this month.
The pig heads, impaled on stakes, appeared on Wednesday and police quickly removed them and launched an investigation.
"This insult and display of hatred is not something any fair-minded Australian would approve of," said Stepan Kerkyasharian, head of the New South Wales state's Community Relations Commission.
"It’s a mindless act evidenced by a total disrespect of the ultimate symbol of our national pride, the Australian flag," Kerkyasharian said in a statement.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and NSW Jewish Board of Deputies also condemned the act.
"(It) was a highly offensive display of bigotry which has no place in our society," said NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff.
The local Camden Council has received 3,500 submissions on the proposed school development and only 50 are in support, reported local media. The council will decide in February 2008 on whether to allow the school to be built.
Muslims have been in Australia for more than 200 years, initially arriving as camel drivers to help open up the vast outback. Today there are about 280,000 Muslims in the 20 million population, living predominantly in Sydney and Melbourne.
Relations between non-Muslim Australians and Muslims have been strained since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Australia has deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Race riots erupted at Sydney's Cronulla Beach in December 2005 as the predominately Anglo-Saxon residents attacked anyone of Middle East appearance, believing they were Muslims intent on taking over their beach.