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FIREBRAND Islamic convert Yvonne Ridley has accused Australians of being among the worst Muslim haters in the world.
As millions of Australians celebrated Easter, they were branded Islamophobes by the outspoken British woman.
She believes Australian attitudes to Islam are hardening faster than any other nation.
“I’m deeply shocked,” Ms Ridley said.
“It’s not what it was when I was last here three years ago.
“I’ve visited over 20 different countries in the last three years and Australia is the most shocking in terms of deterioration.”
Ms Ridley, 48, will speak about Islamophobia today at a controversial Muslim conference at Melbourne University.
Thousands are expected to attend a series of lectures over the weekend.
Organisers laughed off suggestions the First Annual Australian Islamic Conference was staged over Easter to insult Christians.
“We certainly meant no insensitivity,” organiser Adel Salman said.
“We weren’t making any particular statement or any religious statement.
“It was purely a convenient time to schedule the conference.”
Two controversial sheiks have been refused visas to speak at the conference.
Several politicians also wanted Ms Ridley banned.
The former investigative reporter was briefly held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and converted to Islam two years later.
She discourages British Muslims from co-operating with anti-terrorism police and she refers to suicide bombings as “martyrdom operations”.
But Ms Ridley dismissed objections to her presence by Australian politicians.
“It’s entertaining but there is an election in the air,” she said.
The conference, staged by non-profit Muslim group Mercy Mission, hit the headlines when the Herald Sun revealed that radical Muslim academic Sheik Bilal Philips had been refused a visa for security reasons.
He has been linked to the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings and has described US-led Western culture as an enemy of Islam.
A visa for another Islamic academic, Sheik Jaafer Idris, was not processed in time.
But Mercy Mission’s Adel Salman vowed to bring the scholars to Australia in the future.
“We hope that one day we’ll be able to bring Jaafer Idris and Dr Bilal Philips to Australia,” Mr Salman said.
“That’s certainly our hope but whether or not that happens is up to the Australian Government.”
Mr Salman believes their rejection was politically motivated.
“I believe (Sheik Philips) was rejected because he was seen as a threat to Australia,” he said.
“On that basis we don’t agree with the decision because we don’t see that he is a threat to Australia or Australians.”
Sheik Philips was named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the first World Trade Centre attack in 1993, that killed six and injured 1000.
But Mr Salman described him as a wise and eminent Muslim thinker.
“We’ve done our own research and investigation, and we’re very confident that he’s not in any way linked to any such (terrorist) activity.
“In fact, he’s a man of peace and moderation and is very well qualified.
“We believe he is one of the foremost academics on Islam in the world today and just through sheer knowledge and wisdom we believe he would have brought a lot to this conference.”
(Posted on April 6, 2007)