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The Big Burka Cover-Up, Australian style

July 19, 2010

The Big Burka Cover Up, Australian Style

While much of Europe is engaged in an intense debate about the Burka or full face veil Australia has had its own dialogue over this troubling and controversial issue.

Recently this was covered in the press (Melinda Marshall USA Today) where a young Australian Islamic woman was interviewed on her feelings about the matter. One statement stuck in my mind when Umm Ibrahim opined that, “it’s a sad  day when you live in a country where your government can dictate what you can and cannot wear.” This overlooks the glaring fact that violations of Sharia law in many Islamic states, including inappropriate dress or lack of veiling on the part of women, can result in severe penalties, including the maximum punishment of death. She goes on to say, “ I would be ashamed to call myself  Australian if this happened here.”

I do defend Ms Ibrahim’s right to make her own choices and form her own opinion yet there is something disingenuous her take on freedom and justice. There is no hint of the harsh attitudes to women under state legislated Sharia Law which has shocked the world with recent instances of stoning and whipping of women who have tried to lead their own lives and dress outside the head to toe covering which passes for  clerically enforced modest dress. This has little to do with the Koran and much to do with individual and state control of every thought and action.

The onset of fundamentalism beginning with the Iranian Revolution in 1979 has changed the dialogue drastically and with dire consequences.  Indeed it is well documented in the Islamic world and Diaspora, that if parents and other family members do not violently oppose the casting off of the physically unhealthy Burka and other structures such as marrying within Islam (and often only certain sects of Islam at that) they themselves becomes targets of various state sponsored fashion and morals police. If a point is reached where close family members feel compelled to engage in the so-called honour killings of daughters (rarely ever sons) , sisters and so on then you have a bizarre upside down world beyond the pale. Some commentators have said that many female Islamic apologists for the veil and unjust Sharia Law have internalised the propaganda of male clerics with more than Allah and the common good in mend.

Yes there are always going to be those who shall defend to the death the rights of women to wear whatever they want regardless of the consequences even if the logic can be counter-intuitive.  Such a dubious freedom of choice comes with the hefty price of a loss of individuality and a withdrawal from the wider community. As a teacher and security officer I feel the matter of security is often almost casually overlooked. I have written a novel (thriller genre, to be published by Caffeine Nights Publications ) called London’s Falling , which deals with the intersection of organised crime and fundamentalist terrorism, among other issues. In the course of the narrative, some terrorists use the Burka to perpetrate a number of crimes and terrorist acts. Such violations of security abuse of the burka have been documented for hundreds of years and this ruse is often used (by men with criminal intent) for Muslin on Muslim violence as with the latest bombings in a mosque in Iran. Another episode in the novel deals with a situation where primary school teachers almost succeed in wearing the Burka in a UK government school. This was inspired by an actual incident that occurred in London while I was teaching there several years ago.    

No doubt, an absolutist ban (something which comes rather easily to hard-line Islamists) on the Burka or Niqab would be problematic in a western country like Australia or the UK, and that option has already been rejected by the latter.

The use of the full face veil should be proscribed for public areas and places such as banks, schools and hospitals as a common sense response to security and other concerns. The recent trial in which a lawyer defended his client’s right to keep her face veiled despite the fact she was accused of murdering her husband and would be otherwise unidentifiable by the jury, highlights the absurdity of what amounts to a kind of unfair cultural protectionism. Yes this is often a matter of choice but sadly wearing of the Burka can also clearly indicate a distinct lack of choice and personal freedom. Some Islamic elders here in Australia have called for a serious discussion on the matter and this can only be applauded.

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