Think you’ve seen someone wearing a burqa? In Australia? We bet you haven't.
Not convinced? Well, that’s not surprising since most Australians don’t actually know what a burqa is.
A burqa is a loose robe and face covering with a mesh grill over the eyes – usually it’s light blue. Since they’re pretty much only worn in Afghanistan, chances are that you haven’t seen one in real life here.
For some reason, the word ‘burqa’ tends to be associated with any kind of face veil worn by Muslim women. What you might have seen is a person wearing a niqab (full-body robe with eyes exposed) or, more likely, a hijab (headscarf covering the hair, ears and neck)... both of which aren’t burqas.
So, why all the sudden fuss about a piece of clothing that isn’t even worn in Australia?
This isn’t a new issue, but its recent revival sparked from Senator Cory Bernardi’s reaction to anti-terrorism raids carried out in Sydney a few weeks ago. He tweeted:
“Note burqa wearers in some of the houses raided this morning? This shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism is not right in Aust.”
It’s true that some of the news footage displayed women wearing full-body robes but they were niqabs – not burqas. Good one.
This was followed by a bunch of other politicians calling for a ban on the burqa for anyone entering Parliament House and Prime Minister Tony Abbott chiming in that he found the burqa to be “a fairly confronting form of attire” and wished it wasn’t worn.
Extra security measures have now also been announced. The Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate have imposed immediate new rules which prevent all persons with "facial coverings" from entering the open public galleries in Parliament. Instead, they’re being forced to sit in glass enclosures. (As we speak, there are noises that Mr Abbott is going to step in and tell the Speaker to revoke this new rule, but that could be just more spin. We'll see.)
A blanket ban on the burqa would be contrary to the Constitution, which explicitly prevents the Commonwealth from making laws prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. We think the Parliamentary burqa ban might infringe the Constitution too, but in any event it is entirely unjustified and unnecessary, and can fairly be compared to a form of apartheid.
We don’t have the right to tell people that they can’t wear a burqa. We have the right not to like it... but then again, most of us don’t even know what it is. Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek pretty much summed it up when she said “I’d prefer if Tony Abbott didn’t get about in his Speedos either, but it’s a free country”. We agree.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek pretty much summed it up when she said “I’d prefer if Tony Abbott didn’t get about in his Speedos either, but it’s a free country”. We agree.