Burqa Strains Multicultural Australia

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


  • M.V.Sankaran

    It is correct to require adherence to the laws of the country, which in turn are based on the customs, mores and traditions of a country, on the part of the migrants to the country from other parts of the world. It is the migrants who must adjust and not expect the citizens of a country to show that kind of liberalism that transcends their own concerns for security and well being. All those who profess a great tolerance for multiculturalism may be inviting the kind of chaos and anarchism that seem to prevail in their country making life ever miserable.

  • John Blair

    Mr. Michael Smith any idea so far how many crimes have been committed under the cover of Burqa. Do you have any statistical data ? Have any census within the muslim societies / communities here been done to identify the abhorrence of this practice by muslim women ? One’s personal opinion regarding some practices does not necessarily villify those practices (Comments by Mr. Smith and Ms. Virginia Haussegger is clearly a motivated expression of personal hatred not a constructive feed back). If freedom of speech is a must for a developed free civilized society then proper respect to others in regards to race, sex, religion, age etc also a must to qualify as a rational and civilized nation. Otherwise, if you spit toward the sky, then the spit will fall on you.

    • masihi banda


      The bigots and the hypocrites had been spitting toward the sky only to see spit splatter all over their faces. Some say burqa is a choice not a requirement for women but I totally disagree with that. I believe burqas everywhere represent female slavery and subjugation. Burqas are not a choice of women; it’s a choice of their husbands who control their lives every step of the way. It is neither holy nor the right thing to do.

      In case of Australia, we must understand it’s not Saudi Arabia. If you can’t abide by the laws of the country then you don’t belong there. Remember you are an invited guest not as a spitter toward the Australian sky. If one doesn’t appreciate the western culture then why go there. If you are in Australia don’t try to spit at its traditions by Stone Age philosophy. It just won’t work there.

      • R. Fitterman

        I agree wholeheartedly. It is the decision of the Australian government to decide what is moral and what is right for the citizens of their country. If your views do not fall alongside the views of the country, perhaps it is best if you adapt to the environment you are in. In this case, I personally do not see a need for women to wear a full burqa in Australia. Sure, if they are in a predominantly Muslim country it makes sense. But in Australia? It should be acceptable to wear only khimar or chador, which are still conservative without being extraneously so.

  • Jane Smith

    I think people should be allowed to wear whatever they want. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a woman wearing a burqa is not hurting anyone. Most women in the West who wear burqas choose to do so, it’s their choice and an expression of their devoutness to their religion. Allowing women to wear burqas is showing to the world that Australia accepts and appreciates people of all religions and cultures, no matter how strange they may seem.

  • I think that the choice of whether or not to wear a burqa is solely the choice of the woman wearing it herself. Virginia Haussegger voiced her negative opinions toward burqas saying that they prevent women from expressing themselves, but if a woman doesn’t want to express herself by means of her appearance, why should she legally be forced to? I feel that it is unreasonable for France to claim the burqa illegal because it “covers too much of ones appearance” when frankly, there are far worse clothing fashions that do not cover enough and are completely inappropriate. It is strictly a religious belief and when a woman lives in a secular society, she should be allowed to follow this religious practice which really does not harm anyone. Personally, I’ve never heard a complaint about a statue of undressed Jesus, so why should people complain about an “overdressed” woman?

    Yes, burqas can hide identity and therefore allow for the person wearing it to commit crime more easily. For this reason, those who wear them should respect the authority and show their identity if necessary.

  • Rachel

    These women may be covered by their burqa, but they are hardly oppressed by them. You’re completely right in saying that Australia is not Saudi Arabia, they have no laws for or against wearing the burqa. This means that it is the woman’s choice to wear the burqa.
    Whether the women are being too severely controlled by their husbands is a question of human rights, and gets us into the difficult territory of different cultures. It is a practice in Islam for the man to rule the household, and trying to change the practices of an entire population by objecting to Burqas in Australia is a futile goal, that will only lead to your dissapointment.
    Though their husbands may have some level of control over their lives, these women live in the free country that is Australia. In a truly free country, there should be no restrictions as to what one chooses to wear. You do not know that these women are being forced to wear the Burqa. They may simply be wearing it in adherence to their religious laws, as you may go to church on Sundays, or choose to wear the Star of David. You may call it the limitation of women’s rights, but wouldn’t the true limitation be to deny these women the right to express their religious views?

  • Mary

    Forcing women to remove the burqa is equally as oppressive as requiring women to wear the burqa. The Australian government has no right to impose such a law that clearly infringes upon the civil liberties and physical integrity of its citizens. It should be the women’s decision in how to dress, not the government. Therefore, if the Austrlian government prohibits the burqa, they should feel equally as ashamed of the actions as the Saudi Arabian government should feel.

    Furthermore, by removing the burqa from society the Australian government is clearly discriminating against Muslims. The government does not see a problem with Christians attending church every Sunday, or Jews fasting during Ramadan, so it is unfair to single out one religion. By prohibiting the burqa, the Australian government is telling 281,600 citizens that their religion is wrong, or unacceptable. If the Austrlaian government is concerned with domestic violence occurring against women in Muslim homes, perhaps a more effect change would be to build more shelters for battered women or establish a hotline women can call in an emergency. Simply removing burqas will not solve this problem. The Australian government needs to considered the grave implications this law entails before unfairly imposing it upon their citizens and violating the freedom they so proudly grant.

  • muslim countries have dress codes that women have to conform to when we visit them While we don’t wear anything as controversial as a Burqa we are expected to cover up arms, legs and heads, and we do so out of respect for their culture. It would be nice if the Muslim ladies showed the same respect for the western countries they are allowed to come to. They should leave their Burqa’s at home.


  • […] where the state must impose laïcité; to Australia, where burqas seem to amuse children, create multicultural headaches, and facilitate intolerant bigotry. On the other side of the spectrum, any criticism of the […]

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