Should Australia ban the burqa?

A VEILED woman applying for her driver’s licence was the trigger for George Christensen’s populist plan to “ban the burqa’’.

The conservative north Queensland MP will light the fuse on a politically explosive debate this weekend when he demands the National Party support a ban on full-facial coverings in all government buildings and public spaces. The Islamic burqa, he insists, is “not conducive to the Australian way of life’’.

“A constituent sent me a photo of a woman trying to apply for a licence with a burqa on her head, which is patently stupid,’’ Christensen told Extra yesterday.

Muslim women have the right to choose what they wear and what they don’t

“Facial coverings emanate from a culture that unfortunately has a history of oppression against women – they have a policy of not letting women go to school or drive, let alone vote – and that’s not something we can tolerate in Australian society today.’’

The ban-the-burqa campaign is gaining traction in conservative circles, with former prime minister Tony Abbott describing the religious garment as “confronting’’, “imprisoning’’ and “frankly an affront to our way of life’’.

Pauline Hanson caused an uproar last month when she took her seat in the senate disguised in a black burqa, which she denounced as “a sign of radical Islam which threatens the true Australian way of life’’.

Attorney-General George Brandis ruled out a burqa ban, declaring it was vital for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to work cooperatively with Muslim communities to prevent terrorism.

“To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do,’’ he thundered, to applause from Labor and the Greens.

The Koran decrees that men and women should “cover and be modest’’ – yet interpretations of the Islamic scripture differ widely.

The conservative practice of “wearing the veil’’ appears to have originated in Persia 1000 years ago.

Saudia Arabian women still wear the burqa, which covers the entire body and face with only a mesh window for the eyes.

A variant is the niqab, a black or drab garment which covers the body and face to expose only the eyes.

But the most common religious dress for Muslim women in Australia – particularly those with a southeast Asian background – is the hijab, a scarf that covers only the hair and chest.

Christensen objects to the burqa and niqab on the grounds of security and gender equality. He cannot comprehend why Muslim Australians would choose to wear a garment that Afghan women burned with glee when they were liberated from the Taliban regime.

“What woman in the 21st century would really want to don a black sack that covers them from head to toe?’’ he told Extra.

“Are they really choosing to do so or is it cultural indoctrination that makes them have no choice?

“Are they maybe afraid of what would happen to them within their own family unit or within a group of friends?’’

Dr Raihan Ismail, a lecturer at the Centre for Arab and Islam Studies at the Australian National University, argues that banning burqas might result in some women being confined to the family home.

“Let’s say that some women are actually forced to wear a niqab by an oppressive husband or father or brother who controls them,’’ she told Extra.

“If you banned the niqab they would be further isolated and the oppression would continue in another form. You need to reach out to the women who are oppressed.’’

Ismail says some women cover their faces for “cultural reasons’’. “If they have worn it since they were young they might feel uncomfortable without it,’’ she says.