Wednesday 22 Aug 2018 | 09:16 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 22 Aug 2018 | 09:16 | SYDNEY

Burqa ban banalities


Rodger Shanahan


20 May 2010 14:04

I've gritted my teeth for long enough as people who should know better mount an outrageous scare campaign on an issue they patently know little about and care even less to find out about, and which has virtually no relevance in this country because of the miniscule number of people it affects.

This populist and factually incorrect article by Fred Nile is a good example.

For starters, can we actually decide what it is we are talking about? Here's a good 'veiling for dummies' guide, just to institute some consistency and accuracy into the 'debate'. And yes, I know 'burqa ban' is much more catchy for the media than 'nix the niqab', or 'check the chador at the door', but if you get the little facts wrong, then I have grave doubts about how much of the rest of the argument stacks up.

The first case in point is the reference in the artice to a number of women entering a crowded Russian theatre carrying weapons and explosives concealed under their burqas. I assume Nile is referring to the 2002 Nord-Ost siege in Moscow, where over 40 Chechen men and women stormed the theatre.

Sure, the women's faces were partially covered, but their weaponry certainly wasn't. When storming a fixed installation with weapons, after all, burqas are not the best ensemble. And as the above photo shows, some of the men also thought covering their faces was a good look. 

On and on the selective assertions go. The burqa can conceal domestic abuse (because we all know that long sleeves and pants or heavy stockings can't). A terrorist slipped through a British airport using his sister's burqa and ID card (I would criticise lax security procedures for not checking the face against the card).

I particularly liked the extremely tendentious argument that one Italian Muslim's comment confirms the widespread belief that women in Islamic and non-Islamic countries are forced to wear the burqa. I wonder how Sheikh Tantawi in Cairo or Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf feel about an anonymous Italian Muslim now being the spokesperson for the entire Muslim world?

This type of 'dog-whistling', where the question of women's rights (the nub of the issue, if there is one) is buried at the bottom of diatribes about the burqa as a security threat, exposes these commentaries for what they are.

Nowhere is there any discussion about the numbers of fully veiled women in Australia nor of how many do so of their own free will or are forced to. And there is no discussion of the domestic reasons why France or Belgium address the issue legislatively, and what relevance this has to Australia. 'Because they banned them we should too' is not a reason, as far as I can see.

Despite the best efforts of a few to get some column inches, I am actually glad there hasn't been much of a debate about this issue in Australia, because it is such a non-issue. I really do wish, though, that people who enter this debate at least get the terminology correct, check a fact or two and move on from selectively choosing random incidents or comments to construct an entire argument.