Banning the Burqa? Probably not a good time

It’s been a bad couple of weeks in the news for Australian Muslims, with a long stream of reporting on the terrors of home grown extremism. We had Prime Minister Tony Abbot announcing to the public that the terror alert was being raised from medium to high (meaning attack was “likely” but “not imminent”). Then there were the massive counter-terrorist raids in Sydney and Brisbane, preventing a plan which (according to the police) would have involved kidnapping a random member of the public and broadcasting their beheading. Just a few days ago an 18 year old “person of interest” who’d recently had his passport cancelled was shot and killed after he stabbed two police officers in Melbourne. This comes on top of the occasional reminder that there are 60-odd Australians (or 120-150 depending on who’s doing the counting) fighting with Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, as well as the government’s attempts to sell and push through a raft of new anti-terror legislation and amendments that have varied from adorably bumbling (y’aaaaw, he doesn’t know how the internet works) to genuinely concerning for a lot of people (like how the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO – would be liable if they kill or cripple someone, but hadn’t specifically been told they couldn’t torture people until recently) with the Islamic community feeling noticeably targeted.

Here in the capital of NSW (with a around half of Australia’s Muslim population) it’s been enough to get poor innocent white folk – the kind with only vague notions of a distant, mysterious and dangerous land known as ‘South Western Sydney,’ filled with mosques and kebab shops – quaking in their thongs (flip flops).

And then you had SA Senator Cory ‘If-you-think-I-sound-ignorant-now-just-ask-me-about-gays-and-climate-change’ Bernardi from the Coalition again calling for banning the Burqa, and Tas Senator Jacqui ‘Even-my-own-party-thinks-I’m-dumb’ Lambie both supporting him and possibly setting herself up as the heir-apparent of Pauline Hanson and One Nation‘s dubious crown. She certainly didn’t hurt her growing image as the new face of bigoted Australian politics when she struggled her way through an explanation of what she knew about Sharia Law and when she posted an anti-burqa meme (used first by far right group Britain First) to her Facebook page, which co-opts a photo of one of Afghanistan’s first female police officers, Malalai Kakar, who was murdered by the Taliban in 2008, in a way meant to look aggressive and threatening. The photographer calls it a desecration, though apparently Lambie reckons she’s honouring the fallen policewoman by using her image to try and scare people and dehumanise those who wear it (I don’t see the logic, and I don’t think anybody who thinks about it for more than five seconds does either).

In all honesty I hate the Burqa and the Niqab. They’re oppressive garments that rob the wearer of their face, their identity and their individuality, and that is wrong by my standards. But if they’re going to disappear from Australia it needs to be because the Islamic community agrees (which many of them do) and makes a determined effort to excise it from their faith and community (which many of them are), not because some dumbarse senator is worried that a Burqa-clad assassin is going to try and shoot up her office or some such shit. Certainly not because it conflicts with the western morals of a self-righteous inner-city white male like myself.

The rhetoric being flung at the Muslim community is not good. It doesn’t seem as bad as what was being thrown around right before (and after) the Cronulla Riots in 2005 but I think those very unpleasant days are what a lot of us in Sydney at least are remembering right now, and bizarre claims about the security risks created by a handful (relatively speaking) of Burqa wearers does not help matters. All it does is leave one side feeling even more targeted, victimised and isolated from the rest of the nation and gives the other side another caricature with which to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

I’m not saying these are discussions we shouldn’t be having at all. Far from it. I think inclusive debate allows us to hammer out social problems, reaffirms shared values and makes our communities stronger. But we need to pick times and contexts where one sides not pouring gasoline over the issue and daring the other side to strike a match, and ignorant fearmongering should never be used.

Besides it’s distracting us from our true enemies, those bastards in the English cricket and New Zealand rugby teams.

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