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Jul 6, 2011


The post 9/11 decade has been bookended by stories, from the burqa as a symbol of Taliban misogyny to the burqa as an unwanted intrusion into the West’s “Enlightenment culture”. “Veiled women” have long been represented as either helpless victims in need of rescue or as dangerous agents of an alien ideology in need of discipline.

If the Afghan women under the Taliban-imposed burqa fitted into the “rescue” narrative, then Carnita Matthews could have answered a Hollywood casting call for the role of veiled-woman-as-menace.

The footage of Matthews yelling accusations of racism at the policeman who was issuing her with an infringement notice and later leaving the courthouse flanked by bearded jubilant males after her conviction for making a false complaint was overturned has prompted Barry O’Farrell to announce legislation enabling the police to order the removal of face-coverings where a breach of the law is suspected.

In itself, this provision is not particularly contentious. Most of the major Muslim organisations, with the predictable exception of Hizb ut Tahrir, have indicated that such a measure would present no particular problem. And of course, Muslim-majority societies have also established procedures for verifying the identity of women who veil their faces.

The problem is not the procedure but the background noise against which it is being introduced, with calls from Cory Bernardi et al for European-style burqa bans and the disciplining of unruly Muslim women.

Of course, aggressive behaviour from someone whose face is concealed is an intimidating experience – but the intimidation is a product of the aggression, not of the face-covering. As teenagers, a female friend and I were stranded in a broken-down car at night while a man in a ski-mask m-sturbated in front of us. It was a terrifying experience that left us both badly shaken – but it never occurred to either of us to call for a ban on ski-masks. The problematic aspect of the man’s outfit was not the ski-mask, after all – it was his unzipped fly and lowered daks.

I don’t know if this man was ever apprehended – my friend and I were too shaken to report the incident. But if he had ever been brought to trial, it’s unlikely that he received more than the standard media coverage afforded your average suburban flasher. Carmelita Matthews, on the other hand, has been presented as a menace to society who merits front-page media coverage and legislative change.

Yet she did not wear her face-veil for the purpose of committing a crime and insofar as she and her phalanx of male supporters looked intimidating on the evening news – well, I doubt that tearing off Carmelita’s face-veil would have made them look any less scary. Anymore than the casting-off of burqas in and of itself signaled the end of patrichal oppression for women in Afghanistan.


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51 thoughts on “The burqa has become an symbol of unnecessary fear

  1. Liz45

    Well said, Shakira! The misognyists have had a field day over this issue; not to mention the racists? Good on you! Where was the outrage when our Government remained silent over president Karzai allowing the Legislation to pass that makes it OK for an Afghani man to rape his wife? or the horrific crimes of violence being committed against women and girls in Afghanistan? Why are we there again? Oh yes, to bring peace and democracy to that country! Not for women and children though!

  2. Lorry

    The full face veil has no place in this society – don’t like it – then time to find another society. I understand where France and other european countries are coming from on this issue – for once, why don’t we do the same before the problem is out of control – that may require Juliar being strategic for once.

  3. Bob the builder

    I don’t like lycra shorts. Could I have them banned too?
    And I don’t think vanilla ice blocks have any place in this society. Ban them now!

  4. ianjohnno1

    In Australian culture, where many consider it rude not to doff one’s shades (remove sunglasses to expose the eyes) in many situations, face coverering other than for health and safety reasons is an insult. IMHO.

  5. Bob the builder

    I’ve never noticed this apparent Australian custom of removing sunglasses amongst my compatriots – perhaps we should have a code of allowable behaviour and make anything else illegal. They do that in Saudi Arabia I believe and apparently in works fantastically well there.
    Maybe crikey can run a competition for “behaviours to ban”?
    My first item to ban would be “not listening properly when you’ve asked a question”. Very offensive and very unAustralian!

  6. william magnusson

    hasnt fashion come the full circle since ban the bikini in the 60s. remember that. people being dragged off the beach for not having enough clothing on, now it seems when women do cover up its gets people angry as well. personally if i was female the burqa would be a godsend so to say , just imagine if i was late getting out of bed and had to duck down to the shop… you beauty, throw on the burqa , dont have to worry about doing my hair , putting on a face or even cleaning the teeth . no one s going to know hey!!!… ok if i get done speeding i just have to lift the veil for the officer and bat my eyes !!!

  7. Perry Gretton

    I have no problem with someone wearing a burqa in normal daily activity, just as I don’t mind a charity worker dressing as a polar bear. However, where identification is important, the face needs to be revealed, which is why, for example, we’re not allowed to enter a bank wearing a motorbike helmet.

  8. BlackIvory

    Her history of traffic infringements and non-payment of fines points to this being a problem related to the woman herself rather than any face covering she wears.

  9. mikeb

    The analogy of comparing a burqa with a ski-mask is a bit silly. We would all be rightly alarmed if it became common practice for men (or women) to start wearing a ski mask in public for no practical reason. It would be most suspicious (masturbator or not) as in western society it is considered rather rude to cover your face and so you would not do it normally. The problem with Carmelita Matthews was that she used the race card to get out of a legitimate driving offence. If not for the camera I’m sure the police officer would have been pilloried as a misogynist racist and possibly stood down to pacify outrage in the Muslim community. His career may well have been ruined. Fortunately he was completely exonerated nevertheless Matthews escaped conviction because of her burqa obscuring identification. I’d have said that despite escaping this time she’s kicked an own goal on behalf of Muslim women everywhere. I hope her community is suitably disgusted and lets her know about it.

  10. Flower

    “The problematic aspect of the man’s outfit was not the ski-mask, after all – it was his unzipped fly and lowered daks.”

    So if a flasher is wearing a ski-mask to avoid being identified, you can assist the constabulary by giving a description of his genitalia?

  11. Kerry Lovering

    Any driver whose vision is obscured is a danger to everyone on the road–
    children and older people crossing, and cars switching lanes or turning into traffic from the left hand side.
    Bycycle riders are particularly at risk.

    Burqas or any head gear which obscures vision should be forbidden for car drivers
    and any driver disobeying should lose their license.

  12. Flower

    Burqa good. Cruelty to critters good. Fresh of the Press: Ban lifted on live exports to Indonesia – good. Shakira’s moving forward.

  13. Bob the builder

    Logic bad. Spilling worse. Flower has wilted.

  14. AR

    The shrouding of women, from hair scarves to hijabs, burqas & the full niqab are nothing to do with islam or the koran. They were the custom in the decadent persian & ME countries that the rampaging hordes bursting out of Arabia Felix found in situ and adopted as the missionary zeal was subsumed by the comfort of running water and marble palaces.
    Similary, female genital mutilation is not islamic but a custom of some of the africa nations that fell under the scimitar, centuries later.
    Male genital mutilation though, that is fully religiously demanded by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Leviticus, just like draining the blood from a living meat animal. As is the prohibition on mixing dairy & meat in a dish so no more cheeseburgers.

  15. Tom Jones

    The problem with the analysis is that the burqua clad woman used the burqua to hide her identity and then said Nya, nya nya you can’t say it was me. It was like a red rag to a bull. Most people are not comfortable with women or men who hide their faces from others. It is an Australian belief that the kind of people who hide their faces are criminals. The ski mask example used is a case in point. Bandits wearing stockings or motor cycle helmets are another. A bandit has used a burqua to rob a bank. So women can choose to cover their faces but just as Australian women in Saudi Arabia must cover their heads if they want to stay out of trouble in Australia women should understand that they must show their faces if they wish to be left in peace.
    The casting off of burquas in Afghanistan may not be emancipation – but given a choice to do so without repercussion I am sure that the majority would do so because of all of the limitations to vision and to the ability to work.

  16. Bob the builder

    “It is an Australian belief that the kind of people who hide their faces are criminals.”
    Really? I’m Australian and as much as I don’t really like Catholicism I don’t think nuns are criminals. Or skiers.
    Choice is choice is choice. The choice to cast off the burqua is as important as the choice to wear it. The rest is for cultural-social discussion and (civil!) debate, not laws.
    And as far as showing the face/identifying oneself THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS ARTICLE is that there’s nothing un-Islamic about doing so under certain circumstances and that the vast majority of Muslims don’t have a problem with that. There’s some Christians who murder abortionists and there’s some Jews who only have sex between sheets with holes cut out for the genitilia, but we don’t judge all of them by those extremes – why are so many so eager to do so with Muslims when most Muslims so clearly are sensible, rational, loving people like everyone else?


    At a park in Western Sydney a year or so back, my children encountered a fully covered woman and were agog. Having spent some time in Muslim countries I wasn’t quite so affected, but in the throng of a Sydney crowd out in the sunshine, casually dressed and relaxing, this black draped figure did look extremely incongruous.

    I’ve listened to Muslim women’s arguments both for and against this practice, and although I understand the wearer’s belief that it somehow ‘liberates’ them from being seen as sex objects (as one set argues), I’m still incredibly conflicted by seeing women in full burqas, no matter how much I try to understand their point of view.

    If sexism is oppression, then the answer does not seem to me to be a retreat into total enclosure and the restrictions of self-expression and bodily freedoms that go with it; it just looks like the oppressors have won.

  18. Tom Jones

    Funnily enough Bob I have never seen a nun who covers her face and skiers are on ski slopes and cover their faces for a practical reason. When they leave the snow they uncover their faces. As far as I know abortionists have not been murdered in Australia – although what that has to do with covering one’s face heaven only knows. Again Jewish sex practices have nothing to do with this issue and I couldn’t care less about that.
    Most muslims are sensible – but those who cover their faces are symbolic of extremism and are implicitly stating that they don’t care if they frighten or offend the vast majority of the Australian community. And there is a recent case where the face covering was used to behave in ways that appear criminal.
    If face covering wasn’t offensive there wouldn’t be so many cases of women who cover their faces being confronted by others about the matter. Much as it is no doubt frightening and unpleasant for those women they make the choice to cover their faces and being unhappy with the outcome will not make people tolerant of a practice which is seen as a statement against Australia and its people.

  19. Alex

    Well put, Bob, I concur!

  20. Bob the builder

    I’m an 8th generation Australian and I don’t see burqas as “as a statement against Australia and its people.” And even if I did, that wouldn’t be a reason to support a law dictating what women are allowed to wear.
    I once worked with an Anglo-Aussie fundamentalist Muslim convert who wore a burqa (with face showing); we used to have a good laugh, but walking down the street the looks and reactions (security always asked her for ID on the mail run, me never!) were unbelievable.
    Read the article people!!! No-one’s defending the right to refuse to show the face to police and clearly this woman abused the system and some political-cultural sensitivities – but that doesn’t mean that the state in a supposedly free country should tell people how to dress.
    Perhaps in a show of solidarity we could have a nude rally in support of people’s right to dress how they wish? (just throwing it in there, ’cause tolerance goes both ways….)

  21. Liz45

    @KERRY L – I haven’t come across a woman wearing a burqa who’s intimidated me on the road, or driven dangerously, or tail gated me to give me the ‘hurry up’ in the car park, or flicked a cigarette out of the window and over the top into my car because I had the temerity to honk the horn due to him almost cutting me off the road, BUT I have met lots of drivers who’ve done this, and the overwhelming majority have been men – not wearing any facial covers, perhaps sunglasses on a few!!

    I support women wearing a burqa if it’s their choice, the same as I support men having a full face beard, or two days stubble – don’t particularly like it, but, their choice.Nobody suggested all the years that nuns wore their habits, or whether they were confronting. The bloke on SBS with his long hear and full beard covers up all of his face while wearing sun glasses, but I don’t hear anyone suggesting that he should shave? or even remove his sun glasses for that matter?

    I’m sick of the sexist, racist, anti Muslim bs that goes on around this topic. The Leaders in the Muslim societyin this country have NO problem with a woman being requested to uncover her face – except that it would be ideal to have a woman police officer? I’ve heard of young women having the hijab ripped from their faces on trains etc? I suppose this act of violence is OK if you don’t like the hijab(head scarf) or think it’s un-Australian.

    Personally, I think it should be un-Australian to be racist, sexist and anti-Muslim. Perhaps some women wear it as a deliberate act of protest against the invasion of the country/s where their relatives live, or have been killed, bombed or assaulted etc?

  22. Jenny Haines

    The whole burqua story reflects the level of hysteria in our society around Muslims and is being used as a stick to beat Muslims. I note that the Islamic Council said they had no problem with a woman removing her burqua when asked to by a policeperson. So what is the problem? One woman protests and it becomes a cause celbre! I think all nuns who wear tight veils around their face could be asked to remove them under this new law for identification purposes. Will their be the same outcry?

  23. Alex

    Well put, again, Bob! And people, do read the article!

    To Christopher Dunne: regardless of how women are seen by men, why doesn’t the reverse apply, i.e. shouldn’t men be covered up as well? We’re all sexual beings, and women view men sexually, too. The fact that women are the ones who are covered comes about because men dominate Muslim society, and nearly all other societies. Other than the mythological Amazons, I know of no instance where men don’t dominate.

    The mechanism and excuse for this domination is usually religion, and whilst it may not always be driven by religion, there’s not a religion that doesn’t put women in an inferior position. Two examples; according to Catholicism, women are the source of all sin, and the Koran allows for, inter alia, the beating of an errant wife, with the husband as sole arbiter (can’t get fairer than that!)

    That said, I’m with Bob, an individual should have the right to wear whatever they choose, even a full-faced burqa, or God forbid, a pastel body shirt and flares!!

  24. Perry Gretton

    @Alex: “…a pastel body shirt and flares”

    Now you’ve gone too far.

  25. Liz45

    @ALEX – I can still remember very vividly the bs that I was fed by the nuns at school, the priest/s during sermons etc, that it was up to girls to protect boys from themselves. That they couldn’t control their urges, and girls were the ones at fault for tempting them blah blah blah! Sadly, too many people in our society today still believe, that rape has to do with sexual urges, and that men can’t control themselves. Actually, this attitude is why Anne Summers called her book, ‘Damned Whores and God’s Police’ as this was the attitude to women in the 1800’s or so, and sadly, too many still hold those views.

    It wasn’t until the 70’s or 80’s in the States of this country where a man could be charged with raping his wife. Only in recent months have we learned of the police officer(in a senior position, and went public) in Canada who said, that if women don’t want to be raped, they should stop dressing like sluts? hence the ‘slut walks’ last month or so.

    We still have Judges making comments from the Bench re ‘technical rape’ because the woman was unconscious at the time. It used to be believed, (and judging by the recent reporting in a US newspaper)that prostitutes can’t be raped, which of course is crap. The woman at the centre of the IMF bloke’s demise is suing said newspaper for asserting that she was a prostitute. The inference being, that prostitutes can’t be raped.

    Of course, the police officer in Canada, and the s0-call journalist at the US newspaper don’t enlighten us as to why elderly women are raped(the most recent only a couple of weeks ago in Australia – she was, from memory in her late 80’s or older) or women who are covered from neck to ankle? We’re supposed to believe that women wearing the burqa are never raped. I’m sure the women in Afghanistan would blow that lie out of the water. Some set fire to themselves due to sexual and/or phsyical abuse of their husbands, fathers, brothers or all three!

    Sadly, the women in Afghanistan, who can be assaulted on the street by any man, use the burqa to protect themselves against assault. They also use it to hide cameras or books or something else that they could be abused over, even executed. I’ve seen photos on RAWA that show at least one woman being executed by the Taliban while wearing a blue burqa – she was shot in the head! What for? Probably because she was raped, and then accused of adultery. The perpetrator/s? Rarely if ever brought to justice! I hasten to add, that it’s not only the Taliban who carry out these crimes – the war lords etc do too – some of them are in the Parliament at this time. This is who we’re supporting in Afghanistan?

    But I digress!

    @JENNY H – No, we still live in a sexist world, with the ‘damned whores and god’s police’ attitude being rampant in some quarters, including the judiciary as I’ve illustrated. These are recent happenings. I’m sure you could recall many other incidents of like nature over the past years. We still have a long way to go! If only the burqa did protect women? I’d wear one myself, particularly at night! I don’t feel safe on the streets at night. I resent having to feel that way.

  26. mikeb

    agree with most of what you say but “to Catholicism, women are the source of all sin” deserves some supporting evidence. I’m catholic, went through catholic schools, & attended church but never heard that theory espoused.

  27. mikeb

    @Jenny Haines
    What nuns wearing what tight veils?

  28. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    I think that most people, like myself moaned when all this came up – mainly because it’s something like this which gives bigots ammunition. And noone can defend it.

    Calling a police officer racist? Check.
    Lying about it? Check.
    Getting out of it because her identity couldn’t be verified – which is what she was complaining about in the first place? Check
    Having a bunch of people chanting and celebrating that she got off a traffic fine and making a false statement to police? Check

    I would have liked the Judge to get her to remove her veil in court to prove it was her – and then fine her for not turning up to court if she didn’t.

    We shouldn’t be talking about pro/anti Muslim sentiment – how about some anti idiot sentiment?

  29. Liz45

    @MIKEB – You didn’t hear it because you weren’t a girl! I went to a catholic high school as well! The indoctrination was just appalling in the 50’s and 60’s. Just another reason why my 3 boys didn’t attend a catholic school. Of course I wasn’t aware of sexual abuse in those days. I’m so pleased now! That nun who used to bash me(and others) did me a favour in the end.

    We used to have retreats in secondary school. Five days of indoctrination, no speaking etc. Just awful. The fact that any young women went on to have satisfactory sex lives was probably more luck and ‘extra curricula education’ than the result of information etc. We of course got the whole bs about having babies, without anyone actually telling us how it all happened! A case of ‘join the dots’ and hopefully the penny dropped! I went on to answer my two younger sisters questions! Scary! I was pretty good though I thought – at that time? I can smile now!

    I also found out later, that the nuns didn’t necessarily go to Teachers College? That scared me too! I’m a passionate advocate FOR public education and against religion having any role to play at school. If the time spent on religion(always the first 40 min period at high school) was spent on Geography or Maths, I’d have been much better off. They didn’t teach Geography at the catholic high school I went to. How shameful is that? I’m still learning – sometimes I’m embarrassed!

  30. Alex


    The Church Fathers (many of whom are deemed saints in the Catholic Church), held Eve and all subsequent women to be the first sinners because Eve tempted Adam with the fatal fruit, and thus sne is seen as largely responsible for the Fall. Tertullian, the “father of Latin Christianity”, told his female listeners, “You are the devil’s gateway”, and went on to explain that all women were responsible for the death of Christ.

    Ref: Tertullian, “De Cultu Feminarum”, Book I, Chapter I, Modesty in Apparel Becoming to Women, in Memory of the Introduction of Sin into the World Through a Woman (in “The Ante-Nicene Fathers”).

  31. Mark Gibbons

    The difference in the two examples is that the burqa was explicitly used to escape a charge of perversion of justice. By contrast, and as the author explicitly noted, the face covering was not the problematic article of clothing in the other case.

    The new law places no restriction on what people can wear, contrary to what some of the commenters seem to think.

  32. Liz45

    @MARK GIBBONS – True. The Law just means that all people must remove anything covering their face if requested. The discussion on attitudes etc is relevant though I believe. There’s been too much singling out of Muslims, and tonights documentary about the Tampa + other incidents is an insight into how this racist stuff was introduced – those ‘evil’ people from the middle east etc.

    Also, one of my grandmothers had the same name as the brothers who committed that awful murder against Anita Cobby, but that doesn’t mean that I should feel shame too! That’s a good analogy to display the hatred and racism against Muslims, started and fostered for political advantage by Howard, Bush & Blair and their lackeys – such as Alan Jones and the Murdoch press!

  33. mikeb

    @alex. Could you manage to find references any more obscure than the ones you quote?

    @ liz. It seems you had a hard time of it. I arrived on the scene a bit later than you & didn’t get the message you seemed to receive. Mind you the nuns did generate terror when i was a little tacker & some did belt you at every opportunity (I suspect these few had mental problems). Thankfully the christian brothers that I had contact with when older seemed to be pretty good overall (I must have been an ugly kid).

    btw – I have 3 daughters in Catholic schools & can assure you that nothing like that happens now.

    Anyhow – back to the original topic.

  34. Liz45

    @MIKEB – Indeed I did! She’d bash me in the small of my back and my head would crash into the blackboard. I wasn’t the only one. she’d also ride the kids bikes around the yard on Fridays, when they hosed our that area while the girls were in the church, polishing the brass alter rails etc. She had a split personality – one when the parents might be watching and one when there were no witnesses – except other kids! Oh yes, the long thick ruler on the backs of the hands was awful too – loved doing it to me because I played the piano; had music lessons there, and she knew I loved it – did it on the day when I’d have my lesson. A real charmer. If I was my mum, I’d have had her charged in a blink! Sadly, even the parents were conned with the bs and brain washing! Amazing!

    Glad your lovely girls are not experiencing this. My eldest grand daughter started at a catholic high school this year – She’s blooming in her new environment. Went to Hong Kong last term?

    Geoffrey Robertson wrote a book (published early this year or late last) called ‘The Case of the Pope’ re that the Pope as head should face crimes against humanity charges re his behaviour over 25 yrs of protecting priests who raped kids – of all ages. Then there’s a book written by a mother whose two eldest girls were raped from the ages of 5 & 6 – one killed herself, the other walked in front of a car and will need care for ever. The mother was the catholic and she felt enormous guilt, pain and anguish. Through her writing, you can get a ‘feel’ for her upbringing in a catholic school. the doctrine, the dogma and how the ‘system’ allowed her little girls to be abused. Her daughter was only 28 when she killed herself – just couldn’t live with the pain! Awful!

  35. Jenny Haines

    Mike B – there are nuns around Sydney wearing the old fashioned full habit with veils that fit tightly around their face. Saw one yesterday in the street. The head gear does not cover their face fully but could be required to be removed to identify the face and hair colour.

  36. Flower

    The thread has once again devolved into a dust-up where those who oppose the concealment of one’s identity are accused of discriminating against Islam. Yet the overwhelming majority of Islamic devotees throughout the world do not believe the burqa is a mandated Islamic prescription.

    There is a remarkable absence of textual evidence in the Quran for this exaggerated brand of modesty and many Muslim scholars go so far as to discourage wearing the burqa because of its alienating effect vis-à-vis non-Muslims. If all self-alienating burqa wearers happen to be Muslim, then it is they who have a problem, not only with society but also their own religion. And the majority of Australians take exception to those who have come to the West believing they have a God-given right to shove a burqa over the faces of eleven year old girls.

    Unsurprisingly I do not read of the same accusers objecting to the bans placed on the wearing of ‘burqas” by the Ku Klux Klan where the imperial wizards of this group howl discrimination and say the ban is an infringement on people’s right to assemble. The failure to overturn the ban in 2004 saw the imperial wizard of the American Knights holler that wearing the hood is “part of our religious attire. One is a religious aspect and the other is to conceal one’s identity for safety.” Sound familiar?

    Hiding behind a hood or mask is not only a show of cowardice but puts the finger up to the rest of society. In addition, there are thousands of hearing impaired citizens in this nation, particularly the elderly. My mother was born hearing impaired but she engaged very well in dialogue by lip-reading and observing facial expressions. However, she was constantly dismayed when endeavouring to engage in conversations with ‘mumblers’ who showed scant regard for deaf people. Luckily she went to God before the burqa-clad came to these lands.

    Wearing a hood in public is selfish, defiant and discriminatory.

    The burqa wearer needs to understand that this nation imposes restrictions on what we can wear and cannot wear all the time. The minority had better get used it even if their intention is to alienate themselves from main-stream society. Many corporations insist on a specific uniform for all workers. Public and private schools can and do set specific dress standards. Many private and public schools won’t allow girls to wear high heels over a certain height or anyone to wear steel-toed boots. Skirts must be a certain length. Jeans aren’t banned in public schools but jeans with too many rips and tears can and are forbidden in many school districts.

    Dress restrictions in this country would see me arrested if I wandered down Pitt street Sydney, completely naked and using the excuse that “God likes me to do it” is not going to cut any mustard with the authorities. However all humans are born naked therefore am I not entitled to howl: “discrimination?”

    The wearing of a burqa has one purpose; for men to treat women as property and to deprive them of right, a voice and a face in society. Yet the contemporary burqa wearers claim that the modest attire discourages the lascivious male from perving. Well the lascivious male rarely pervs on unattractive women so I guess all burqa wearers are under the impression that each and every one of them is irresistibly beautiful?

  37. Bob the builder

    There seems to be a misapprehension that this discussion has devolved/descended/degenerated into a number of things, most of which involve having different views to the strident, yet very sensitive, voices advocating controlling what people wear.
    While I think nudity should be legal (and I doubt that in reality people determined to be nude would face the same sort of vilification as women wearing the burqa), there are some deep-seated cultural hang-ups about genitalia – much deeper than a supposed hang-up about concealment.
    In a free society it’s about CHOICE. (whether that should extend to schoolchildren is another thing; as is the semi-slavery of workplace demands). If you really want to fight the patriarchy, do it properly, don’t just hassle vulnerable Muslim women about what they choose to wear (and, yeah, maybe it’s not totally their choice, but if most people had a real choice there’s lots of things they wouldn’t do, like go to meaningless jobs every day … but that’s another discussion). It is a little nauseous to hear those who typically are vociferously anti-feminist, anti-“political correctness” use women’s rights as an excuse to bomb innocent people into submission (yes, I am talking about Afghanistan) and dictate what women wear.
    I don’t quite believe we are a free country, but we are much more than most, so let’s protect that freedom and stop advocating laws telling people what they can wear.
    (And just to stop the silly arguments, yes, I believe the state has a right to check someone’s facial identity if justified – but as citizens we don’t have the right to demand people conform to a dress standard we choose).

  38. Peter Bayley

    Religion sucks!

  39. Flower

    @ Bob the Builder: “While I think nudity should be legal (and I doubt that in reality people determined to be nude would face the same sort of vilification as women wearing the burqa), there are some deep-seated cultural hang-ups about genitalia – much deeper than a supposed hang-up about concealment………If you really want to fight the patriarchy, do it properly, don’t just hassle vulnerable Muslim women about what they choose to wear..”

    Bob the Builder appears incapable of conflating concealment a-la-burqa-style with “deep-seated cultural hang-ups about genitalia.” Astonishing.

    No-one is hassling “vulnerable Muslim women.” Hassling people is against the law and those who hassle others can be issued with a restraining order.

    Bob the Builder would deny his opponents the right to object in this secular nation where beliefs based merely on tradition, superstition, and notions of the supernatural should not be endorsed by the State. Such is the vociferous voice of the halal community that the duplicitous government of Australia has exempted this community to laws applied to everyone else in its servile bid to assist in reviving medieval chaos.

    Fortunately, Australians are still free to voice their differences of opinion when responding to Hussein’s articles and her relentless bid to indoctrinate non-believers. The door-knocking Jehovah Witnesses’ pursuit of saving sinners would pale into insignificance compared to Hussein’s repetitive and narcissistic obsession with self.

    Bob the Builder’s oxymorons and contradictions are rippers. Old Chinese proverb say: “To talk much and arrive nowhere is same as climbing tree to catch fish.”

  40. Tom Jones

    Quite right Flower.
    The topic is on the wearing of the burqua. The hijab is not in question.
    As for not being hassled about walking down the street nude Bob, a person would be quickly arrested and possibly incarcerated in a mental institution. Look at the reception streakers get at the cricket.
    The Burqua wearers claim that their religion requires them to cover their faces and yet this is patently false. However it does mark a woman as a moslem first and one who is uncomfortable with Australia. It is a choice which makes others choose to object, which is their right. In Saudi Arabia or Iran a woman who chose the democratic freedom to not wear a hijab would incur the wrath of the state for not covering up.
    It is perfectly fine for the state to require the proof of identity through visual proof of a moslem woman’s face- just as it does for every other citizen. You may have had ancestors arrive in a convict ship Bob but that doesn’t make you the authority as many others of us also have long antecedents in this country.
    The original inhabitants are not allowed to dress as they did traditionally but are expected to cover their bodies up. There is a long history of people adapting to the clothing customs of this country which has curbed their freedoms. The moslem women who want to wear a burqua are just the latest.
    There will be no convincing people that wearing a burqua is ok as for many of us it is just the thin edge of the wedge towards women being treated as second hand citizens. It is interesting surely that those Moslem leaders who have said they have no objections to women having to reveal their faces to the police, are men.

  41. Bob the builder

    @Flower and Tom Jones
    Re-read the article. Further comment from me to you is fruitless.

  42. Tom Jones

    The difference between us Bob is that you think this issue is about Choice whereas I think it is about treating Australia and its customs with respect.

  43. Bob the builder

    Tom, you’re half right. Choice is a little easier to define than customs. For me an important custom of Australia is letting people do what they want to do. For you it is a type of national costume. We can both agree on what we think of choice – whether we think it should be allowed or not. But we can’t agree on customs, which is why the state and the law should keep out of it.
    I find the idea that you would decide what someone else is allowed to wear repugnant and opposed to any idea of a decent society – but I don’t think you should be legislated against.

  44. Liz45

    @BOB THE BUILDER – I agree with you. I find it impossible to embrace the conflict of rights put forward by Tom. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s easy to uphold the human rights of someone whose idealogy or sense of self is the same as mine; the real challenge is to uphold the rights of someone who differs from my view, particularly when it’s something as simple as using a piece of flimsy fabric to cover ones face.

    On the one hand, I can’t imagine how hot and limiting wearing this item of clothing on a hot and humid day in NSW, but I also admire them for their commitment – particularly in summer time. I also have some sympathy as a woman, to want to have something that reminds people(particularly men) that I object to the sexualisation of women, and sadly of kids too.

    I’d find some consistency in Tom’s argument if he also spoke out against the use of women’s scantilly clad bodies to sell things as diverse as a car to orange juice. I recall an ad for orange juice when my sons were growing up, that used a sticker with a woman with large breasts, with the caption that the product was ‘freshly squeezed’? My sons and I had a ‘tug of war’ with me removing the sticker, and them replacing it. After giving them more reasons why this sexism was abusive to women, they agreed with me, and the stickers were placed where they belonged – in the bin! Funny how these at times disgusting practices aren’t deemed important enough for men like Tom to take a stand AGAINST! I also find the encouragement of women models to look anorexic a disgusting practice. I’m waiting for the industry to abide by the recommendations of a few years ago – to stop this unhealthy and sexist practice! That models with a dress size that didn’t equate to a healthy size would not be used to promote items of clothing and accessories? I’m still waiting!

    On a practical level, I’d have thought that having your peripheral vision narrowed via wearing a covering over most of your face while driving would be a nuisance, to say the least! If the argument or discussion was on this level, I would have some sympathy with those who are against wearing same. In fact, I’m thinking of getting a rear vision mirror that is WIDER than the one the manufacturer supplied, so I can see a wider view of the road and whose on it – behind and beside me, particularly as I’m a short person with a neck and shoulder injury/s. Wearing a burqa or its equivalent would almost require the driver to have one of these.

    @TOM JONES – I don’t think women who practice Islam are “uncomfortable with Australia”? I think they are “uncomfortable” with being a WOMAN in Australia, or Britain or France for that matter. I’ve also read, where the majority of women who wear a burqa or the equivalent are the daughters of women who don’t wear it. So, what’s the motivation then? It could be a political statement against our invasion/s of Iraq and Afghanistan, and against the West in general for the decades at least oppression/occupation of countries in the Middle East, while stealing the resources of said countries, or propping up dictatorships that oppress their people and allow multinationals to get richer, while the ordinary folk live like paupers. Egypt, Syria, Libya to name just 3.

    It could be a political statement against the oppression of women, yes, even in Australia. While all crimes of violence and robbery have decreased in NSW in recent years, Domestic Violence has increased – one women is murdered by her partner/husband every 7-10 days in Australia. Crimes of sexual assault are horrific and the complaints to the Sex Discrimination authority have increased by an alarming rate since the DJ’s incident. If I thought it would work, I could be encouraged to wear a head scarf or burqa myself, such is my disgust and concern at these statistics.

    Finally, if it was any other topic, once the Muslim Leaders agreed with the Police Commissioner re removing head attire on request, the conversation would’ve probably faded away on that day. Could it be that perhaps many of the males who are ‘uncomfortable’ by seeing a woman’s face (and body shape also?) ‘hidden’ are rather concerned that it might end up being the ‘norm’? Who knows? Being an optical nerve might be stopped in its tracks???Now that would be an ‘attack’ on human rights wouldn’t it? Lol!

  45. Bob the builder

    That old summation of western enlightenment liberty:

    I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    That’s values I like, more than compulsory thongs and singlets for all.

    I disapprove of what you wear, but I will write comments on crikey articles to defend your right to wear it.

    An interesting – and obvious – point raised by Liz45; how much of this ire is caused by the rights of the male gaze being restricted?

    My rights to appraise your appearance and body are greater than your rights to anonymity. … but I’m a feminist too!

  46. Liz45

    @AR – re female genital mutilation.

    It’s a practice that is not confined to those who practice Islam as you say, but many religions including catholics and other christian groups, and not only in African/Middle Eastern countries. I went to a seminar late last year where a worker in this field in NSW educated us. I was surprised by this assertion, as like many I thought it was only one group, but I also learned, that an added ‘encouragement’ is the whole economic industry that has grown around this practice – from the person who performs the awful act, to those who supply or engage in the celebrations, which can last for some days?

    What I found really heartening, was that once men were acquainted with all the facts, in particular the awful and debilitating medical conditions caused as a by product of this frequently lethal practice, many or most became ardent voices against it. The informative booklet was both educational and sobering, but was accompanied by the belief, that showing horror or revulsion is not helpful in changeing hearts and minds. Thankfully though, in Australia it’s not only illegal to perform this mutilation, but is also illegal to support someone removing a young girl or woman to another country for this purpose. There is a very optimistic attitude by those on the ‘front line’ that progress via education is being made. I hasten to add, that most of us sitting through this educational process had our legs crossed – either actually or mentally!

    I’ve also read, that there’s a strong push to outlaw circumcision of males in either the US or Britain – of which I support also. I’ve already apologised to my three sons many times for submitting them to this invasion of their basic(very basic) human rights. My only defence is that I was very young (18, the first time)and wasn’t even aware that there was an alternative – leaving boy babies the way they were born! I still feel ashamed and guilty though!

  47. Tom Jones

    Bob – Customs aren’t that hard to detect. Go to Iran and the women there invariably wear a lot of clothing. In Australia women will wear shorts to the beach. The point is about hiding the face as a religious precept which offends the majority of Australians who use the face to communicate with others. There is a great deal communicated just in facial expressions including smiling to be friendly. The custom of hiding a face is not seen as modest but at best a quaint custom and at worst an indication of criminality. It is not about perving on a woman’s body but about that person being prepared to have an open and honest communication with other Australians. You overstate the laid back attitude of Australians as we are in fact one of the most regulated places on the earth. I refer you back to your statement “Further comment from me to you is fruitless.”
    Liz45 – you have managed to confuse a lot of ideas and it appears that you have some bad experiences which have left you unable to look at matters without imposing your personal experiences whether they are relevant or not. In fact I do disapprove of the sexualisation of public spaces by billboards etc. However this is not the point of the article at any level so why would I discuss it?
    It appears that you agree with women who shut themselves off from mainstream society – and many are not that willing – by a choice of clothing that alienates others. It is offensive as the implicit message to men is that women think that if they don’t hide their faces men will be driven into a lustful state and try to rape them.

  48. Liz45

    @BOB the builder – If those who are affronted (at best) by the burqa or its equivalent also spoke out with just a hint of forthrightness when President Karzai allowed Legislation that made it legally OK for men to rape their wives, I’d have more respect for them.

    Did they write to the PM or Minister for Defence etc outraged that we were contributing to the sexual assaults on women in Afghanistan? Did they query what on earth are we supporting, and why are our young Australians dying in a country to ‘uphold the democratic government’ of said country to the detriment of women and girls there? No! They were silent! No shock jocks in outrage, no msm pleading for our ‘family and traditional values’ to be upheld in our name – since we are allegedly helping to train their police and army? To do what? WTF are we doing there? And all we get is some protestation/s at those very few women – 0.01% or some such(some from Afghanistan, many not) who choose to cover their faces, but think it’s OK to remove it when requested by police. All this after one woman MAY have behaved in a dishonest manner? The mind boggles! The hypocrisy is breathtaking!

    Not one person above has raised the issue of violence v/s this nonsense over the burqa or its equivalent/s. Either in this country or in any other, particularly where these women may have originated from? All I can do is ‘shakes me head’?

    If it’s about what we find personally objectionable. Could we please have a law that makes the beer gut a crime; that all males with same must join gutbusters or at least refrain from wearing trousers below their gut, without a shirt or not! A long gown would be preferable as I find them offensive! No more wearing of jeans etc that show ones bum ‘crack’ would also be ideal!

  49. Liz45

    @TOM JONES – The ugly side of racist attitudes to people from the Middle East has been seen since 9/11 in particular. I think that many women are reacting to what has happened in their original country and what has happened here. If there is to be blame, I think we should take our fare share. I personally felt ashamed by the Cronulla riots and some of the stories both sexes told about the assaults they’ve experienced for the last 10 years. The shock jocks and msm also need to accept responsibility, but of course they never have and probably never will. alan jones should’ve been charged with inciting racial hatred, but he wasn’t. I wonder how people from a Middle Eastern background felt about this? I’d be pretty pissed off! We can be very selective on how the Law should be upheld and by whom and against what? We could do some introspection about this perhaps?

    My understanding of why women wear any of these items of clothing is that they don’t wish to be treated as a sexual being by other men. They have no problem taking off their hajib or burqa around other women, no problem at all, they just don’t want to be considered as a sexual being to other men. I think they have the right to dress how they wish, as long as they’re not breaking the law or engaging in acts that could be dangerous to others. I’ve been on the receiving end of being considered a target for yobbos who think any woman is fair game for their foul mouths and low behaviour, like the incident mentioned in this article.

    I’ve already mentioned, that there could be genuine concern with covering their face while driving a car – I think it would restrict my vision, but then again, I haven’t tried, perhaps I will! That is the guts of this article. You and others moved it further to taking offence because .01% of 2%? of the population may decide not to engage with you on the street. Boo hoo! They don’t have to! I find it quite strange that you worry about your right to see their faces, but don’t give a thought to their right to deny you! I don’t have a problem with them, and I probably come across more women from this group of people than you do. I’m not offended at all!

    The reason why I raised the hijab is because I know women have been assaulted while wearing this. If I was one of them, I’d probably chose to wear the full veil too! I’ve noticed that women wearing these types of garments aren’t real keen to make eye contact, and I’d suggest that it’s due to the racism/sexism they’ve received. If I talk to their kids or go out of my way to make them feel OK, there’s no problem. They know I’m a genuine person who’s really interested in making them feel comfortable – and I just love kids! How hard do you try to make them feel OK?

    You’re the one who fails to look at the big picture. Who says that I must show my face to you or anybody else? Since when did I have to live my life by your standards? It’s the whole point. These women don’t owe you anything, nor do I. The whole topic with you playing a major role is deliberately missing the point – YOU DON’T HAVE THE DAMNED RIGHT TO INFLICT YOUR VIEWS ON WOMEN or kids or other men for that matter. I raised the gut issue as a point to give definition. I think they look disgusting, as bum cracks do also, but I don’t have the right to tell blokes who look like that to stay off the streets!

    I raised Afghanistan and us being there to illustrate, that there’s so many areas of concern re women who wear these clothes/attire etc, that this argument is piffling by comparison. I have one major experience that colours my view – I’ve lived the life of a woman for about 50+ yrs. There’s more important issues to take a stand on, IF you’re really fair dinkum about women’s rights, lives etc. I suggest that you’re either being deliberately obtuse, or you just don’t get it, or you don’t want to have any empathy at all!

    Women aren’t on the planet to please blokes, or you, or anyone else. If you want your beards and long hair and dark glasses etc as a right, then what’s the difference between those things and flimsy fabric over ones face? I just tried to introduce some common sense and logic! It’s interesting don’t you think, that those who are complaining are mostly men? Could it be that your ingrained need of having control over women is colouring your attitude. We don’t give a stuff whether you like the burqa or a nun’s habit or neck to knee clothes – it’s none of your damned business! That’s the whole point!

    Incidently, my so called “issues” are the same or similar as those “issues” experienced by many other women around the world, and yes, in Australia too, including the vile act that Shakira and her friend were forced to witness! Funny how none of you blokes even made a comment about this incident (correct me if I’m wrong?) Do some research instead of being dictatorial re the choice of clothes a very, very small percentage of women choose to wear. You could spend days on the Internet just reading about the abuses that women have to suffer. Who knows, you might even find an avenue available to you where you could help make a difference!

  50. Tom Jones

    Liz45 – there are a number of laws in operation on matters that a majority of Parliament have found personally objectionable. A majority in Parliament is all that it takes – find enough supporters in the Parliament and you can get a law making the male gut illegal.
    Making it harder for fast food joints to set up and banning advertising of fat laden products would be a good support measure.

  51. Luke Buckmaster

    Luke Buckmaster here, Crikey website editor.

    There is some robust debate in this thread and it’s certainly a subject that generates passionate views. However, can I please ask people to lower the tone of the discussion to something less…personal. At Crikey we endorse the technique “play the ball and not the person.” In other words, please don’t attack each other. Please keep this in mind and consult our code of conduct for more info.

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