The on again off again ban on wearing a burqa in Australia’s Parliament House has, rightly, drawn a degree of ridicule. It wasn’t quite a ban in the end, more a placement of such wearers who had passed the normal security checks on entry to a glassed in portion overlooking the chambers more normally occupied by school children.
I actually have a degree of sympathy with Mr Abbott’s earlier comment where he expressed discomfort with the outfit on the basis that he found it fairly confronting. While the niqab is more commonly worn in areas in which I live and work, the effect is the same. I don’t know where to look! I want to stare, but know that I shouldn’t. However, that has nothing to do with security, simply curiosity and a degree of embarrassment. If someone has passed security to enter Parliament, that should be the end of the matter.
For those who haven’t heard of him, Senator Cory Bernardi is a Liberal Senator from South Australia. In a tweet after the recent terrorism raids, Senator Bernadi wrote: Note burqa wearers in some of the houses raided this morning? This shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism is not right in Aust. To Senator Bernadi, the Burqa is reportedly a "symbol of female oppression and Islamic culture", carries security and identification risks and is "un-Australian".
I am no longer a feminist, something I had been (if not under that title) since at least my early twenties. This included reading and understanding Betty Friedan’s Femine Mystique a few years after its publication. I grew up in a world of strong women, if usually still in within traditional roles. To a degree I both struggled with and welcomed the changing perceptions of women’s roles over the first decades of my working life. Then came fundamental disillusionment,
That change is another story. For the present, I find myself in agreement with my feminist friends that Senator Benardi’s comments on the burqa as a symbol of female oppression is deeply hypocritical. I am sure that Senator Bernadi does not see it that way. He strikes me as an honest man with deeply held views. But his other views strike, or seem to strike, at the questions of women’s choice. How can you say that the burqa is a symbol of oppression when you wish women to adopt particular views or conform to particular standards?
I may be wrong in all this. For example, Senator Bernadi might, perhaps would, argue that he is applying general views and rules that apply to all. Yet the application of those rules would seem to have gender specific applications. How, then, is he different from Muslim fundamentalists beyond a question of degree?