Update: Since this post was published, Prime Minister Tony Abbot has signalled his intention to have this ruling overturned. See our News story.
By JAMILA RIZVI
It’s scary how quickly fear can can degenerate into hate.
And this week, as the campaign to ‘ban the burqa’ reared its ugly, uncovered head once more, our country’s leaders have validated that fear. The Australian Government sent a message loud and clear that Muslims, and more particularly Muslim women, are a threat to the safety of others.
According to new rules released today, anyone who wants to sit in the Australian Parliament’s viewing galleries wearing a ‘facial covering’ will be segregated to an enclosed glass area. The regular public gallery – the usual vantage point from which voters can watch their democratic representatives in action – will be closed to those who insist their faces be shielded from view.
The change comes off the back of public discussion about potential security risks of not being able to identify the faces of burqa-wearers (or more correctly, niqab-wearers, as a burqa is generally not worn outside of Afghanistan). While the new parliamentary ban does not target Muslim women’s dress explicitly, no reasonable person can be in doubt of who the restriction is aimed at.
Banning the burqa has been the pet cause of some bigoted parliamentarians for years. They use the issue to promote an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture and build support for anti-Muslim immigration policies. In the past, it has only been one or two lone voices on the conservative right who have been vocal; others have dismissed the call to ban the burqa for the dog-whistle that it is.
Senator Jacqui Lambie appeared on Sunrise yesterday calling for the burqa to be banned:
The post continues after the video.
Even Prime Minister Tony Abbott who has previously described the burqa as ‘confronting’, has always fallen short of actively supporting a ban. And yet this week, Prime Minister Abbott’s powerful Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin was quoted as being sympathetic to those in the Coalition caucus who wanted the burqa banned in the corridors of parliament.
The following day, Mr Abbott himself took his language one step further, saying “Frankly, I wish it was not worn”. Then today, the announcement came that those who cover their faces would be separated from other members of the public who visit Parliament House’s viewing galleries.
Burqas are now only allowed in the Parliament’s viewing room.
Security in our nation’s parliament is an incredibly serious issue. And at a time when our security organisations are on high alert and a terror attack on Australian soil is more probable than normal, it is right and proper that the building at the centre of our democracy be subject to heightened protections.
But security must be based on fact, not hysteria and political drum-beating.
The case has not been effectively made that segregation of some Muslim women to a glass-enclosed section of parliamentary viewing gallery, will do anything to improve the safety of our politicians. For those unfamiliar with Parliament House, these glass areas which are further from the main action were created to provide a sound-proof environment for school children to watch parliament from.