Over the past few years several European countries have debated banning the burka, the garment worn by some Muslim women for hiding a female’s body while out in public. But now the debate is raging in Australia — sparked by an armed robbery in which the male robber wore a burka.
France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population, is ready to take up legislation to bank the burka despite intense controversy over the idea. Meanwhile, the burka was banned in Belgium at the end of last month. In Italy, earlier this week, Italian police fined a woman 500 euros ($A712) for wearing a full Islamic veil – the first punishment of its kind in Italy.
Now the issue is starting to boil in Australia. The BBC:
Opposition Liberal Sen Cory Bernardi said the robbery showed the burka was “emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and ne’er-do-wells”.
Both PM Kevin Rudd and Liberal leader Tony Abbott dismissed the comments and said they would not support a ban.
….Mr Bernardi, senator for South Australia, made his comments after a man was held up at gunpoint in a car park in Sydney on Wednesday and robbed of a bag of cash.
The victim said his attacker had been a man wearing sunglasses and a burka, meaning he could not be identified.
Writing in his blog, Mr Bernardi said the burka was “un-Australian” and should be banned on safety grounds and for the good of society.
“To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women which has no place in our society and compromises some of the most important aspects of human communication,” he said.
“It also establishes a different set of rules and societal expectations in our hitherto homogenous society.”
Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, stopped short of supporting a ban on burkas, but said that most Australians found the garment “confronting”.
“I’d prefer it wasn’t widely worn, but I’m not proposing to ban it,” Mr Abbott said.
…Muhammad Dahir from the Islamic Association of Australia said women should be free to choose to wear the burka if they wanted to.
“We don’t want any politician to bring religion into the political arena. To me it’s brings a lot of problems and tension to the community. [The majority of Muslims] are living peacefully, we don’t have problems,” he told the ABC.
“I’m very happy the Opposition Leader came forward and said he has no policy to ban burka and that’s what leaders should do – condemn this kind of statement. We need to unite the community, not divide it.”
John Brumby says a suggestion that Islamic burqas should be banned in public is “divisive nonsense”.
Outspoken senator Cory Bernardi has called for the banning of the Islamic covering after an armed robbery in a Sydney by a man wearing a burqa and sunglasses.
The head-to-toe covering was emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and “n’er do wells”, the South Australian senator wrote on his blog, adding it also prevented Muslim women from interacting in normal day-to-day life.
Mr Brumby said he would not support a ban on burqas and such a suggestion was divisive nonsense.
“For those who suggest that this will somehow make Australia safer, I think that’s a nonsense,” he said today.
“Anyone can put a balaclava on their head if they want to cover their face and commit a crime
“I don’t think it’s helpful, I think it’s actually quite divisive.”
And Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? Thumbs down, too:
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd responded today, accusing the Opposition of playing a cynical political exercise by floating the idea of banning the burka.
“I think they are walking both sides of the street on this one … having someone like Mr Bernardi go out there and talk this up,” he said.
“It’s a pretty interesting exercise in cynical politics.”
In a column that should be read in full, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn’s Belgium correspondent says the battle over the burka needs to be kept in perpsective. Shada Islam starts out:
I suppose I should be angry at the legislation on banning the burka adopted recently by the Belgian parliament’s lower house. But the truth is: I am not — and neither is a majority of European Muslims who see the subject as a distraction from the key challenge of economic, political and social integration facing the continent’s 20 million Muslims.
The fact is that most of us are well and truly bored with this discussion. There is more to the lives of European Muslims than the dress code of a small minority of Muslim women who, by their conduct, are clearly engaged in a sad process of self-isolation and self-imposed exile.
True, the burka is top of the agenda for many. Newspapers are full of comments, reactions and counter-comment and counter-reactions by journalists, politicians, academics, human rights organisations, Islamic bodies and of course the usual array of Muslim governments ever-ready to denounce ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe. The debate will go on and on as more and more European countries, including probably France, the Netherlands and Switzerland enact similar legislation or variations of it.
He recounts the growing debate in Europe:
Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, who has repeatedly said the burka is “not welcome” in his country, has ordered a bill that would forbid its appearance in public places. Politicians in the Netherlands and Italy have pushed for similar measures.German MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin has called for a Europe-wide ban on the wearing of the burka. “I would like Germany, and all of Europe, to ban the wearing of the burka in all its forms … the burka is a massive attack on the rights of women. It is a mobile prison,” she said, adding, the full veil “openly supports values that we do not share in Europe”. On the other side of the Atlantic, Canada’s province of Quebec appears ready to follow the European example.
Enjoy the moment: because after a few months, newspapers and people will get bored and find something new — and probably equally ‘foreign’ — to scream about.
He goes over some of the fears felt by those who want to ban the burka, then writes:
Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, for all its reverberation, the law will in fact impact on an extremely small number of European Muslim women who wear the full veil: of around 375,000 Muslims in Belgium, it is thought that only a few dozen wear the burka. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, the numbers are also very small.
The point has been made by none other than Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, who has criticised the ban on wearing the burka, in public as “unnecessary in Germany”. De Maziere said his country does “not need a ban”, as there are at most 100 women who wear burkas.
But numbers are really not the main point of the ongoing debate:
It’s more about fears, and control, and those who have fears wanting to do something so they somehow feel in control — and about what it says about a society when that society exerts such control.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.