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Why won't women's advocates support banning the burka?

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Thursday, 7 September 2017

I support banning face coverings (like the burka and niqab) in all public places, not just on security grounds, but also because they are a means of oppressing women, and because they offend Australian values. I also think that balaclavas should not normally be worn in public (for security reasons) either. I would draw the line at facial coverings, and I support the legality of all other Islamic clothing, including the hijab and headscarf, on religious and individual liberty grounds.

So why are a range of players in Australia, including the feminist movement, the left of politics, and many "wet" liberals, so unwilling to curb the wearing of the burka and niqab, despite widespread support for such a ban?

Attorney General, George Brandis, reportedly was close to tears while criticising Senator Pauline Hanson for weaking a burka in Parliament. He claimed she was attacking the Islamic faith and undermining relations with the Muslim community. Senator Brandis ruled out banning the burka and was given a standing ovation by Labor and the Greens, though his Coalition colleagues mostly did not join the ovation.


The main arguments put forward against banning the burka and niqab are that such a ban would violate freedom of religion and individual liberties. Such arguments overlook centuries of oppressive cultural practices against women, underwritten by religion in Muslim societies. Given that neither Labor, the Greens, nor the women's movement are noted for their support of religion or liberties such as free speech [note their conspicuous lack of support for repeal of Section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975], one has to wonder whether the stated reasons are the real reasons.

While a ban on facial coverings does limit personal liberties, it must also be pointed out that failing to implement such a ban also affects the freedoms of those Islamic women that don't want to wear a burka or niqab. I also see no evidence that the women's advocacy movement has developed a newfound commitment to freedom of expression or religious practice.

I suspect that Left Wing opposition to banning face covering garments (and the position of the women's advocacy movement by virtue of its broad association with the Left) has more to do with political considerations. In particular, the Islamic communities within suburbia in our major cities seem to have struck an alliance with Labor and the Greens, which is reflected in general permissiveness on the part of the left on issues like border protection and defence of the more extreme aspects of multiculturalism.

The Left's defence of the burka and niqab (Islamic rights) also does not sit well with its championing of same-sex marriage, which is more vehemently opposed by the Islamic community than by virtually any other religious denomination. (On ABC's "The Drum", Ali Kadri, spokesman for the Islamic Council of Queensland and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said his community was stuck with the choice of offending political allies or siding with critics, and the result had been silence on the issue of same-sex marriage.) In my experience, educated Muslims are nearly all opposed to face coverings but don't speak out either. I suspect that they also don't want to offend their allies (other Muslims).

Australia already takes a stand against some of the extremes of Islamic practices, where they are inconsistent with Australian values. This includes bans on female circumcision, on polygamy, and on forced or under-age marriage. Australia should also take a stand and ban the wearing of face covering garments in public places.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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