Since the proposed bans on the wearing of the burqa in France, the issue has been simmering in the Australian blogosphere. An Australian radio shock-jock, and ex-police officer, drew criticism recently over his opposition to the wearing of the burqa in public.
Michael Smith argued that bank staff and shop assistants are concerned with possible criminal misuse. He also suggested that young children are frightened by encounters with women wearing the “full-on burqa”, comparing it to “kids crying, getting the fright of their lives when seeing Santa Claus”. A radio interview with Smith can be heard at Michael Smith Meets the Press.
When the French bans were proposed during the middle of 2009, Canberra journalist Virginia Haussegger argued on her blog for its prohibition on the grounds of gender equality:
By covering herself in a burka, a woman is relinquishing the right to express herself as a female. She is agreeing to suppress her own sexuality.
There is no place here for the burka. Australians must rally to have the burka banned.
Ban the Burka
Anna Greer at The Punch blogs about, “human rights and social justice issues and … the state of the world”. She has a totally different take on women’s rights:
No matter what you think of Islamic veiling one thing is for sure – criminalising the women who wear the burqa or niqab is only going to render them more invisible.
…This selective concern for women’s rights is merely a way for people to articulate their racist nationalism and it’s an attitude that can be found through all levels of society – in the general populace, in the media, in the government.
Anna finishes with a touch of irony:
Imposing dress codes on people in order to oppose the imposing of dress codes on people is completely counterproductive, but as I outlined above, that’s not the real reason these laws are being considered, is it?
Burqa ban is about our fears not their oppression
Smith’s views were probed at Andrew Landeryou’s online site VexNews:
It’s a scary debate that Smith has started at one level because vilifying people on religious grounds or for their religious customs that don’t harm others can be a slippery slope.
… Part of the complexity is that some Muslims – and other religions for that matter – wear hair-covering as part of their religious tradition. Presumably no one other than the bigoted have an issue with that.
Hopefully the legitimate issue of canvassing security concerns in banks or other vulnerable areas that could be terror or robbery targets won’t be confused with the agenda of those who wish to vilify one of the world’s great religions.
BURQA BAN BANK BRAWL: Radio host says no face covering in banks but is he race-baiting?
In a longer article at Online Opinion, Sadanand Dhume, the author of My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist, canvasses both sides of this emotive issue. He concludes with a positive view of the French debate:
In the end, though the French brand of in-your-face secularism may come under criticism by both Muslims and Western liberals, the country’s experience holds valuable lessons for the rest of the world.
France has not suffered a major terrorist attack since a spate of bombings in the 1990s linked to the civil war in Algeria. And in a 2006 Pew poll of Muslim attitudes, France was the only major European country where nearly half of Muslims felt they were citizens of their country before being members of their faith. (In Germany, Britain and Spain, overwhelming majorities claimed a primary allegiance to Islam.) Ultimately, this record more than anything else will guide French policy on a sensitive subject.
The French burqa ban: culture clash unveiled
Fortunately ‘bigots’ do not have the support of the mainstream Australian political parties. Nevertheless, there was some disquiet recently when Tony Abbott, the leader of the Federal Opposition, raised the question of minority rights and multiculturalism:
Migrants would be more popular if minority leaders encouraged them to adopt more mainstream values and abide by the law, he said.
”The inescapable minimum that we insist upon is obedience to the law,” Mr Abbott said. ”It would help to bolster public support for immigration and acceptance of social diversity if more minority leaders were as ready to show to mainstream Australian values the respect they demand of their own.”
Obey the law at least, Abbott tells migrants