OPINION: Forget tolerance, it’s time to talk about prejudice

IS IT just me or do you think the world needs more leaders?

I have a new friend. His name is Inspector Jason Overland of the Queensland Police Service.

When we first met he was very suspicious of me and my microphone.

To me, he was just another buttoned-up copper who didn't want to talk to me.

Some of that is probably still true, particularly the bit about him thinking I have a loud mouth and this article won't help that. But Inspector Overland is a leader I have come to deeply trust.

Last Saturday Inspector Overland took part in a community conversation at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

We were all invited to meet and chat with members of the Muslim Association of the Sunshine Coast (MOSC), the group planning to open a mosque in Church St, Maroochydore.

Despite the lure of delicious food made by MOSC only a small number turned up. Inspector Overland said: "It would have been great if some of the people who took the time to protest at the Church St address had found the time to come along to a productive conversation."

I agreed with him and said, "Whether we like it or not the world is getting smaller".

The Inspector pulled me up. He politely suggested "whether we like it or not" is the language of tolerance and we need to aim much higher.

Inspector Overland asked me how I would like it if society just "tolerated" my religion or sexuality?

He reminded me there was a time women were "tolerated" in the police force and it's not good enough. Everyone deserves to feel valued, not simply endured.

I asked if the QPS is concerned about community unrest surrounding the proposed mosque and the Inspector admitted there is some concern.

"No one anticipated such a backlash to a place of worship in a street where two churches already sit. Clearly the service monitors all risks to public safety and, yes, I am concerned about the level of unrest. As someone who has stood between the two opposing groups in Church St I can say we have a long way to go."

On the same day the community conversation happened on the Sunshine Coast there was rioting in Melbourne.

Inspector Overland says if that happens here we should all feel like we've failed.

There will be another community conversation soon and we are all invited along to find out a little bit more, to talk about the things we're scared of and maybe make a new friend.

If a suspicious copper and loud-mouthed radio announcer can do it, we all can.

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