More than 20,000 people pledged to join a Ban the Burqa protest yesterday by donning balaclavas and trenchcoats to show that… people shouldn’t wear balaclavas and trenchcoats. Or something like that.
Those who want the burqa banned are facing some pretty big hurdles. Sure, there’s all the civil liberties guff, but they also have a big public relations problem because their side of the debate seems to get regularly hijacked by illiterate, hate-filled, intolerant, violence-prone, ignorant bigots.
So here’s some advice to the burqa banners as to how to keep ‘on message’:
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Waleed Aly is a well-rounded kind of chap. A lecturer in politics at Monash Uni and a former member of the executive committee of the Islamic Council of Victoria, he is also said to wield a mean axe in his rock, funk and jazz band.
Of Egyptian heritage, the Melbourne born-and-raised Aly has the gift of talking straight. And on the issue of the impending new NSW police powers to order drivers and suspects to remove their veils, he has a simple message: it was inevitable.
“This is the inevitable response to the scenario we saw a few weeks ago,” he told The Punch today, in what might cheekily be termed a “thinly-veiled” reference to the Carnita Matthews case.
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Congratulations shock jocks, David Oldfield, Cory Bernardi, Fred Nile. You have your anti-hero, your Carnita.
All causes need a strong narrative, and anti-Muslim and anti-burqa sentiment just got one. Carnita Matthews, 47, had a conviction for a false accusation against a cop overturned because the court could not be sure it was indeed her that walked into a police station and made the complaint.
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In light of laws which have recently come into effect France banning the wearing of the niqab and burqa, and WA Minister for Women’s Interests Robyn McSweeney’s recent comments that she finds the burqa to be ‘a very oppressive garment’, Senator Michaelia Cash, opposition spokesperson for the Status of Women, outlines her thoughts on the veiled women in Australia.
Much has been made of the debate over whether women living in Australia should wear a burqa.
As a Liberal, I believe in a free, fair, open and democratic society where people have the right to make their own choices about the way they live their lives.
It is my opinion however that the wearing of not only the burqa, but any apparel that completely covers a person’s face, is alien to our Australian culture and our values.
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There was an unusual and confusing incident in the chamber of one of our Parliaments last week which spoke volumes about the tensions within this multicultural society of ours.
The incident demonstrated the hyper-sensitivity which Muslim Australians feel towards any discussion of their behaviour and, specifically in this case, their attire.
It also demonstrated the logical inconsistency of those Australians who will loudly champion our values of freedom and a fair go, while also demanding that governments pass laws to determine the type of clothing people are allowed to wear.
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Over the past week, two 20-something French students protested France’s new law banning the burqa by filming themselves walking through Paris in a niqab (similar to the burqa but with a slit for the eyes) – teamed with mini-shorts and black high heels.
The self-titled ‘Niqabitches’ described it as a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the ban.
You’ve gotta love the French – particularly French students. Although some may see the Niqabitches’ protest as ridiculing the niqab, their message was quintessentially French: vive la différence! or each to their own.
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Earlier this year a mate and I drove 300km across North Carolina to have a pork sandwich. The town of Lexington is the capital of what our American friends call “barbecue” –slow-cooked, shredded pork shoulder served with a vinegary chilli sauce and coleslaw. You can feel your heart slowing down as you eat it and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Heading west from Lexington, towards the hillbilly heartland of the Appalachian Mountains, we saw a huge billboard on the side of one of the backroads.
It said: “You are now entering Klan Country” and bore the swastika-inspired logo of the Ku Klux Klan and a huge Confederate Flag.
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One little-known factoid from the celebrated spate of robberies by three burqa-clad bandits in Wollongong this May is that the criminals were not Muslims, and most certainly not Muslim women, but three blokes from Colombia who were more likely to have links to the Medellin Cartel than Al-Qa’ida.
Nevertheless, these Colombian fellows were responsible for setting off a wave of spirited and pretty tangential public discussion about how Islam was changing the Australian way of life, and that it was time we followed the lead of France and made it illegal for women to wear burqas in this country.
Fred Nile, who appears to be on speed dial for this re-occurring story, said the case (involving Colombian men) showed how easy it would be for Muslim ladies to hide a bomb or a Kalashnikov up their Taliban-style frock. Liberal senator Corey Bernardi blogged about the issue too, billing the (Colombian) case as something of a final straw in the defence of our way of life.
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One night in an impromptu makeshift dance party in Mosul, in Iraq, I met a young girl of age 20 who I started to talk to about Iraqi politics. We spoke in English - her fractured English was a lot better than my fractured Arabic – and discussed topics as broad as the disconnect between the political class and the people, to the Bollywood blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire.
I fondly remember that conversation, for one simple reason - Lubna was wearing the niqab, or, what most Australians would refer to (incorrectly) as the burqa. She wasn’t what I had envisaged a typical niqab wearing woman to be like.
She was partying and dancing next to both males and females who were drinking alcohol and rocking out to Katy Perry. She was progressive, easy going and open-minded.
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If a woman walks down the street in a mini skirt and someone calls her a slut, feminists will be quick to object. However if a Muslim woman walks down in a burqa then many feminists are happy to concede that she is oppressed, submissive and brainwashed.
Unfortunately many feminists still believe that no Muslim woman could ever choose to wear the veil of her own free will.
As a Muslim feminist I find this infuriating, condescending and patronising.
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When it comes to intimate workings and in-depth knowledge of Muslim culture, let’s not beat around the bush, we have no frigging idea what we’re talking about.
We don’t understand the burqa. Hell, we’re not even sure how to spell it. Or the Koran for that matter. Quran? Qar’an? Karan? Who knows. I don’t even know what it’s about. Is it a story, or is it just an instruction manual for the soul? Beggar’s belief.
We haven’t opened it up. We haven’t eyed it on the sale table at Borders and thought, “I reckon I should read this since we seem to be talking about it all the time”. We’ve hardly even worn a crease in our own one. The first stanza of Genesis we all learn by osmosis, but it’s a bit like learning the words to Advance Australia Fair. It’s just something that infiltrates your childhood brain and you blurt out by rote, without any thought as to what the hell “girt by sea” even means.
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I’m going, for the first time, to somewhere with sharia law. Alcohol is illegal, adulterers can be stoned, public floggings occur, and I’ll have to wear a jilbab (headscarf) and ankle-length skirts.
This isn’t the Middle East, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Iran - it’s our close neighbour, Indonesia. Specifically, it’s Aceh, that beleaguered Indonesian province still recovering from the Boxing Day tsunami.
Sharia law can mean all sorts of things. Muslims believe it is God’s law, as derived from the teachings of the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.
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Before this commentary gets underway, I feel that it is necessary to close the gate before the horse bolts. So first up, let me say that I am not anti-Islamic, I have lived as a Muslim woman from the age of seventeen until I was twenty two (and admittedly, found it not to my liking for a number of reasons).
Much of my professional life has been spent working with, and for Muslim people in the war zones of Bosnia Herzogovina, Kosovo and Albania as an humanitarian relief worker, and I have traveled and worked extensively in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia - so I have seen quite a bit of the world and can compare how varying societies adapt the Islamic religion to the cultural morays and sensitivities of their regions.
Tory Maguire’s piece yesterday and the reader’s comments that followed had much to say on the reasons often cited by western media and society about what is believed to be the motivation for Muslim women to don the burqa and headscarves.
The common, misinformed perception is that Muslim women mostly wear the burqa to express their religious devotion.
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If I was married to Carla Bruni I wouldn’t be a big fan of the burqa either, so it is perhaps no surprise that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is not in favour of women covering themselves from head to toe.
But Sarkozy’s forceful condemnation of the Islamic shroud as a symbol of female “subservience”, not religious faith, was absolutely right.
There is no greater way, other than locking the front door, to ensure a woman’s total invisibility in society - and thereby formalise her lack of worth - than to cover every inch of her, including her eyes, in heavy fabric.
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