Tony Abbott-Credlin, Islam, and the burka problem…

Here are some pics from my various neighbourhoods over the past five years. First Redfern 2009:

Second, Wollongong 2012:

Third, Wollongong 2012:

There is only one woman in that set actually wearing anything like a burka, though it may be a niqab.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he wishes the burka “was not worn” in Australia, and has indicated he may support calls to ban the Islamic head-covering from being worn by visitors to Parliament House.

Coalition backbenchers Cory Bernardi and George Christensen have said they believe the burka should be removed at security checkpoints coming into the building…

Oh my!  Let’s turn to some of the commentary. First, Raihan Ismail in The Age:

…Last week, after Bernardi’s comments, I was interviewed by the ABC for an explanatory article on the burqa, the niqab, and my choice of garment, the hijab, which covers only a woman’s hair, neck and shoulders.

Bizarrely, when posted by the ABC on Facebook, the article received more comments than the ABC’s reports on the anti-terror raids themselves. The comments section is sobering reading for anyone with any doubts about the perniciousness of Islamophobia in Australia.

To give one example from among the comments, a self-described “maintenance planner” for Fortescue Metals Group in Perth stated: “It’s Australia you came here for whatever reasons embrace our culture” [sic], and asked why minorities should be allowed to “influence our awesome country”.

Twitter is another haven for Islamophobia. The ABC tweeted the article, accompanying it with the question “Why do some women wear the burqa, niqab or hijab?”  A real estate agent from Frankston, Victoria, responded “Cause they are butt ugly”….

This could all be ignored, and it would almost be amusing, if it were not for the fact that Islamophobia is increasingly affecting real people in their daily lives. Last week, a mosque in Brisbane was spray-painted with the words “Get the f–k out of our country!”  A teacher and a student at a Sydney school were reportedly threatened with a knife by an uninvited guest who asked whether it was a “Muslim school”.

Even in Canberra, an enlightened and educated town, I have been harassed on the streets and in shopping malls, from Woden, to Belconnen to Civic. Sometimes it is no more than a snarling look from a passer-by; sometimes it is the muttering of an epithet such as “terrorist”; on two occasions it has amounted to physical intimidation.

This is the real and ultimate manifestation of Islamophobia. It is practiced a small group of Australians, no more representative of Australia than ISIS sympathisers are of Muslims, but their actions are making Muslims – and women in particular – fear for their safety.

The Islamophobic movement is not as small as we would wish. Nor is it hidden in the dark corners of the internet. Many online practitioners of Islamophobia can very easily be identified with full names, and their addresses and employers traced with a few short Google searches.

Of course, the rampant Islamophobia should not obscure the presence of plausible and considered critiques of the burqa and the niqab…

Also in The Age, Burqa-gate: serious business or just a great big cover up?

…Far from dodging this sensitive issue, on Wednesday the Prime Minister headbutted it straight-on.

“Now I’ve said before I find it a fairly confronting form of attire and frankly I wish it weren’t worn,” he said of the burqa, which prompted people to make unkind remarks about the collective trauma experienced when Mr Abbott appears in public in his Speedos.

He said that people should be identifiable in a secure building, such as Parliament, but then remarked, “Has anyone ever sought entry to this building so attired? As far as I’m aware, no.”

So why were we talking about it, exactly? Could it be that the Prime Minister’s office was seeking to distract a guileless public from its $30-odd billion-worth of budget measures that look destined to fail in the Senate? Could it be that they wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the fact that it is now October and the May budget is still hanging around like an unpassed gallstone?

The burqa-clad woman, elusive though she is, makes an excellent straw man.

Third, I shock myself by endorsing Paul Sheehan in today’s Sydney Morning Herald!

The Prime Minister speaks of an “apocalyptic death cult”. He deploys Australian military forces into combat against Islamic fundamentalists. A debate washes around about banning the wearing of burqas in Parliament House. Which means now is a good time to remember that there is no pressing threat to Australian national security presented by Muslims.

By way of context, more than 14,000 people have been killed on Australia’s roads over the past decade. Thousands more have been seriously injured. The economic cost of road crashes is an estimated $27 billion a year, according to the Department of Infrastructure. Yet there is no national threat presented by motor vehicles, nor any national debate about these costs. Australia accepts the costs as the price of a modern society.

So when I see or hear the concept of Muslims being discussed, a cascade of personal experiences flickers instantly, overlaying the news stories I digest. I think of Jack, Fenny and Chas, young Indonesians who live in Sydney. The thoughtfulness they have shown me has been exceptional. All of them are Muslims. I’m hoping they will stay in Australia after they graduate. The country would be better off with them than without them….

Read it all! (Never thought I would say that of a Paul Sheehan piece!)

Fourth, and rather about events last week, it is good to see Irfan Yusuf surface in The Canberra Times.

… Metropolitan newspapers across the country have provided saturation coverage to terror “suspects” and terror “supporters”. And none of us are any wiser about exactly who they are or exactly what their relationship to ISIS is.

We see Facebook photos of young men boldly brandishing flags that we think look like ISIS flags. Pieces of cloth sprawled with Arabic writing. Arabic, a language spoken by millions of Christians and Muslims and Jews and people of all faiths and none. Arabic script or similar scripts used in Iran and Pakistan. It’s so scary, so foreign. But more often than not, the scary words on the flags merely state that there is only one God. Hardly a revelation for a Jew or a Christian or even a Sikh.

Then we’re told that Muslim extremists want to implement a strict form of sharia law where women wear burqa and infidel Westerners are beheaded. You don’t expect them to be like young Melbourne teenager Numan Haider, having girlfriends and eating not-so-halal burgers at Hungry Jacks….

Finally, kudos to Media Watch in recent days! That is a MUST READ for sure!

Update 3 October: what a balls-up!

Tony Abbott can be alarmingly gauche in his words and actions. The past 36 hours have been a good example. Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and of course the unfortunate Ms Lambie may have had moments of self-congratulation as what now look like very temporary regulations in the House and the Senate relegated any one with covered visage to the glass cage usually reserved for Year 9 Canberra Excursions, despite the fact that almost non-existent burkas/burqas had so far as anyone can recall have ever thus far tried to enter. Niqabs and head scarves perhaps have done so, not to mention the odd balaclava on a colder Canberra day. The point made by many is that anyone entering either house’s public galleries would already have been scrupulously screened by security before getting that far.

Reaction even on Tony Abbott’s own side was not 100% admiring:

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson [an Abbott government appointee] says he agrees with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments that burkas are “confronting”, but people have a right to wear them…

He said people were “well within their rights” to wear burkas, but “it doesn’t mean I don’t find it confronting”.

“But I will always defend people’s right to choose how to dress, particularly when it comes to religious items… while also disagreeing with how people might exercise those rights,” Mr Wilson said.

He said there was “no justification” for banning the burka…

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said while the garment did not concern her, it was essential for security reasons, that people be identified.

“I’m not confronted by clothing,” she said.

“Australia is a very open and free tolerant society and we don’t discriminate on the base of religious or cultural clothing – people are free to wear what they like.”…

And now, such is the madness of the news cycle:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is calling for the Speaker to back down on plans to ban women who cover their faces from sitting in Parliament’s main public galleries.

The Speaker and the Senate President will still make the final decision about security arrangements in Parliament House.

But the ABC understands Mr Abbott will tell Bronwyn Bishop that “common sense should prevail” when it comes to public access to Parliament House, including the galleries of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It is believed Mr Abbott will argue that if people have been appropriately screened on the way into the building, including perhaps being asked to show their face, then they should be allowed to cover their faces and go about the public areas like anyone else.

See also Tony Abbott to kill off Parliament House burqa ban and Grattan on Friday: Row over facial covering exposes rifts and red faces.

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One cartoonist’s reaction overnight – Simon Letch SMH

See Waleed Aly in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Even before the embarrassing backdown there were problems. For starters, it’s not a burqa. A burqa is that particularly Afghan garment, usually blue, with the mesh covering the eyes. The one you’ve seen on the news (or perhaps on Jacqui Lambie’s Facebook page), but almost certainly never in Australia. We’re talking about the niqab, common in the Gulf and worn by – my guess – a couple of hundred Australians. I have to guess, because we don’t even bother with such basic research before we consider banning such things.

It says everything that we can’t even get the name right; that merely to be understood in the argument, you must get it wrong. 

Of itself, it’s not a big deal, but it symbolises the calibre of the public conversation. It’s as if we’re demanding a pernicious, industrial-scale ignorance. As if we’re proud of it. We’ll tell these women what their clothing signifies. We’ll tell them why they wear it. We’ll even rename it for them if we want. These women will be deconstructed and reconstructed at our will, and without their involvement. These are the terms of the debate and the most influential voices will be the most ignorant.

But ignorance is no barrier precisely because this debate really has nothing to do with the women being recast as some kind of problem. Strip it all back and they’ve done nothing to invite this. They aren’t the ones charged with plotting “demonstration killings”. They aren’t the ones being busted carrying weapons or attacking police officers.  

They are, however, the ones most often assaulted or abused on the street or on public transport…

On that see Muslim woman bashed and shoved off moving train, xenophobia in Australia heightens. A 20-something grandnephew of mine – whom incidentally for complex reasons I have never met and became aware of only through Facebook – posted that on his timeline and commented: “I started writing a big and unnecessary opinion piece about this. It speaks for itself… another sad day in a worrying trend of sad days.” I hope many young Australians share his reaction.

A final story, this from the USA, as told on Tabsir, a site i commend: WWJD after a touchdown. Perhaps you saw the story elsewhere:

Anyone who has watched NFL or NCAA football or listened to interviews with major football players will find a large amount of talking about Jesus. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback went so far as to inscribe Bible verses on his forehead. Jesus talk, like trash talk, is as much a part of the game as fighting in hockey. But heaven (and you know which one I mean) forbid if you have a Muslim name, pick off a pass by a Patriot like Tom Brady, scoot into the endzone and slide into a position that for literally three seconds looks like the Muslim prayer position. This happened to Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah in Sunday’s game. If he had raised his hands and said “Thank you, Jesus” the refs would not have batted an eye, but if he has a Muslim name he must not be allowed to look like he might be praying. Who knows how many ISIL terrorists would be inspired by such an act! Thus, a 15 yard penalty, but it is more than that…

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One thought on “Tony Abbott-Credlin, Islam, and the burka problem…

  1. Last night I rode home over ANZAC Bridge at about 12.30 am. The bike/pedestrian path was staffed by not one but TWO security guards. They’ve been there before but not, so far as I recall, in the wee hours. From their beards, I’d say they were both Muslims. Indeed, I’ve noticed that quite a few of the many security people who are keeping us safe (from whom?) are likewise fairly obviously Muslims, probably because it is an ideal occupation for reasonably manly blokes without any other attractive employment options or credentials. It’s all a bit of a joke, really, isn’t it? And I don’t mean because these people cannot be trusted to do their job.

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