Recent assaults on Muslims and Christians are straining Australia's reputation for religious and racial tolerance.

Police have made no arrests to date in connection with attacks on 11 churches in racially mixed areas of Sydney and four mosques in Brisbane. All the incidents occurred after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In addition, a school bus carrying Muslim children was pelted with stones and bottles on September 13. One Lebanese church in Sydney was defaced with neo-Nazi graffiti.

Christian and Muslim leaders denounced the attacks and then called for calm. Australia's Muslims constitute about 1 percent of the population. Christians constitute 67 percent. Twenty-five percent of the country's citizens are foreign-born. Seventeen percent were born in countries where English is not spoken.

Racial tensions have risen in recent years as 12,000 legal refugees have arrived annually in the former British colony. In addition, more than 4,500 have come ashore this year seeking asylum.

"One of the important values we have in a multicultural society is the tolerance and outward-looking view of people from a different background," said Philip Ruddock, Australia's immigration minister, on Sydney's 2GB radio station.

Sultan Dean, president of the Islamic Council, said after one mosque was destroyed that Queensland's 15,000 Muslims, though angry, are keeping away from the "terrorist rat bags" who attacked the mosques.

Meanwhile, three times in eight days, vandals hit Banksdown Baptist, a church in a heavily Muslim area of Sydney. They broke 11 windows and attempted to burn down the church. The attacks caused the equivalent of US$8,500 in damage.

Banksdown's pastor, Bruce Cockroft, asked Christians to pray for those responsible and for persecuted ...

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