IF ISLAMIC COUNTRIES BAN THE BURQA WHY SHOULDN'T WE?
Paul Zanetti is a Walkley award winning syndicated cartoonist with over 30 years in the media. He blogs at www.zanettisview.com
Online newspaper polling late last week showed an overwhelming ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Should the burqa be banned in Australia?'. The yes vote varied somewhere between 60% and 98% depending on the poll. Whatever the reasons, a pretty strong signal has been sent to the Government. So, on what grounds can Australia ban the burqa?
Let's take a look at the laws and obligations of face coverings in Islamic countries because in some Muslim countries face coverings, even head scarves, are banned.
To revisit briefly.
BURQA: The burqa is the full body covering, head to toe. That means the eyes, too, with a mesh for seeing.
NIQAB: The niqab (usually worn with a body covering called an abaya) is also a cloth facial covering, with only the eyes visible (often misunderstood as being the burqa).
HIJAB: The hijab is a modest veil that covers (around) the head and chest. It doesn't cover the face.
The burqa's true origin is cultural, not religious. It stems from the Bedouin desert tribes and was designed to protect them from the harsh desert sun and sandstorms. ('Bedouin' derives from the Arabic word 'Bedu' - 'the desert dwellers')
ISLAMIC DRESS CODES IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES:
In Malaysia, Islam is followed by 61.3% of the population. Although head scarves are permitted in government institutions, public servants are forbidden from wearing either the burqa or the niqab. A judgment from the then-Supreme Court of Malaysia cites that the niqab, or purdah, "has nothing to do with (a woman's) constitutional right to profess and practise her Muslim religion", because Islam does not make it obligatory to cover the face.
In Tunisia, Islam is the religion of 98% of the population, with the majority being Sunnis. In 1981 Tunisia banned women from wearing Islamic dress, including headscarves, in schools and State offices. The ban was largely ignored until 2006 when the government cracked down on those wearing the hijab in an attempt to deter extremism.
In Turkey 98% of the population is Muslim, restrictions on wearing the headscarf in State institutions were in place for decades but were relaxed last year to allow Turkish women who want to wear the hijab (the traditional Islamic headscarf covering the head and hair, but not the face) to civil service jobs and government offices. The ban was lifted to address concerns that the ban was discouraging women who wear it from seeking government jobs or higher education.
In Morocco where 98% of the population is Muslim (mostly Sunni) there has been some restriction or discrimination against women who wear the hijab. The hijab in these cases is seen as a sign of political Islam or 'fundamentalism' against the secular government.
In Syria, 87% of the population are Muslim. Syria is a constitutional secular State and discourages the wearing of traditional hijab. Ghiyath Barakat, Syria's minister of higher education, announced that the government would ban students, teachers and staff from covering their faces at universities, stating that the veils ran counter to secular and academic principles of the country. Among the prohibited garments would be the niqab, but not the hijab or related garments that do not cover the entire face.
Islam is the official State religion of Afghanistan, with approximately 99.7% of the Afghan population being Muslim. Under the Taliban, the burqa was obligatory. While this is officially no longer the case, there remains intense social pressure to wear the burqa, and ex-President Hamid Karzai has been accused by critics of compromising women's rights in order to appease insurgents. The full Afghan chadri covers the wearer's entire face except for a small region about the eyes, which is covered by a concealing net or grille. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the chadri was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a chadri in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. The chadri's use in the remainder of Afghanistan is variable and is observed to be gradually declining in Kabul. Due to political instability in these areas, women who might not otherwise be inclined to wear the chadri must do so as a matter of personal safety.
In Bangladesh, 90.4% of the population is Muslim (4th largest Muslim population in the world). There are no laws requiring women to cover their heads. Hijabs are mostly worn by women in rural areas, and a few in urban areas, but in recent times there has been an increase in the number of women wearing the head scarf. Since the secular party Awami League was elected to power in 2008, there has been an increase in repression against women who wear the hijab, reports of women being harassed, detained or dismissed from student dorms are many. Hijab is seen as a symbol of Islam, and the repression against it by the government is due to its vision of creating a secular Bangladesh
Islam comprises 94.7% of the population. In 1923, Hoda Shaarawi made history when, while waiting for the Press, she removed her veil in a symbolic act of liberation. The veil gradually disappeared in the following decades, so much so that by 1958 an article by the United Press (UP) stated that "the veil is unknown here." However, the veil has been having a resurgence since the 1970s. Small numbers of people wear the niqab. The secular government does not encourage women to wear it, fearing it will present an Islamic extremist political opposition. Many 'elite' Egyptians are opposed to the hijab, believing it harms secularism. By 2012 some businesses established bans on veils, and Egyptian elites supported these bans.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with approximately 202.9 million identified as Muslim (88.2% of Indonesia's total population of 237 million). Under Indonesian National and Regional Law, female head-covering is entirely optional and not obligatory. The hijab is a relatively new phenomenon in Indonesia. Even before Western influence, most Indonesian women (especially Javanese) rarely covered their hair except when praying, and even then the hair was only loosely covered by a transparent cloth. Some women may choose to wear a headscarf to be more "formal" or "religious", such as the jilbab or kerudung (a native tailored veil with a small, stiff visor). Culturally, to the Javanese majority, the Saudi-style hijab and niqab are considered vulgar, low-class and a faux pas.
Islam is the second-largest religion in India, making up 15% of the country's population with about 180 million adherents. Among the Muslim population in India, the burqa is common in many areas of old Delhi. In the locale of Nizamuddin Basti, the obligation of a woman to wear a burqa is dependent on her age: Young or unmarried or women in their first years of marriage are required to wear the burqa. However, after a certain time the husband usually decides if his wife should continue to wear a burqa.
In Iran, 98% of the population is Muslim. Niqabs and burqas are rare in Iran, limited mostly in small Arab and Afghan communities in the south east. Currently based on article 638 of Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran "Women, who appear in public places and roads without wearing an Islamic hijab, shall be sentenced from to ten days to two months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 5,500 Rials.
In Jordan 92% of the population is Sunni Islam. There are no laws requiring the wearing of head scarves nor any banning of such from any public institution. The use of the head scarf increased during the 1980s. However, the use of the head scarf is generally prevalent among the lower and lower middle classes. Veils covering the face are rare. The hijab is increasingly becoming more of a fashion statement in Jordan, not a religious one, with Jordanian women wearing colorful, stylish head scarves along with western style clothing.
Lebanon has several different main religions with 54% Muslim (27% Shia; 27% Sunni). The wearing of head scarves has become more common since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. Observance of this custom ranges from no headscarf at all to just a regular hijab and a chador (full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front).
97% of Pakistani is Muslim. In Pakistan, the use of the burqa is primarily predominant in Pashtun territories along the border areas, and to a great extent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. However, in the remaining majority of the country, its use has greatly declined over time. However, the burqa observance remain localised and most women who wear the burqa within these areas, do not do so when they travel out of the area. Most women wearing the ?ij?b do so as their own choice. In Pakistan, most women wear the Shalwar Kameez, a tunic top and baggy trouser set which covers their arms, legs and body. A loose dupatta scarf is worn around the shoulders, upper chest and head since showing one's hair is considered rude and in bad taste. Women are expected to wear a veil in public. The ?ij?b together is becoming unpopular among the younger generation. Westerners are also expected to dress modestly too. Pakistani society observes traditional dress and it is advisable for women to wear long skirts, baggy trousers and long sleeved tops in public. In the big cities, some women wear jeans and khakis, especially in casual settings, shopping malls and around picnics pots. Vest tops, bikinis and mini skirts in public are considered immodest and are socially taboo. Dress codes for men are more lax, although shorts are rarely seen.
Islam is the State religion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is sometimes called the "home of Islam" and is the location of the cities of Mecca and Medina, where Mohammed, the messenger of the Islamic faith, lived and died, and which attracts millions of Muslim pilgrims annually, and thousands of clerics and students who come from across the Muslim world to study. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the Arabic language, the language of the Quran, the central religious text of Islam. According to most Saudi scholars, a woman's awrah (most intimate parts) should not be seen in front of unrelated men so her entire body including her face and hands must be covered. Saudi women are expected to cover their faces in public. But there are many Muslim women, including Saudis, who only wear a headscarf without the niqab, similarly most non-Muslim women wear only a head scarf or no face covering at all.
Nearly all people in Somalia are Sunni Muslims. Young Somali women wearing the hijab during regular day-to-day activities usually wear the guntiino, a long stretch of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist. In more formal settings such as weddings or religious celebrations like Eid (the end of Ramadan) women wear the dirac, which is a long, light, diaphanous voile dress made of cotton or polyester and is worn over a full-length half-slip and a brassiere. Married women tend to sport head scarves referred to as shash, which often covers their upper bodies with a shawl known as garbasaar. Unmarried or young women, however, do not always cover their heads.
THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
Islam is a prominent religion in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Israel's Muslim population accounts for 16.1% of the population in the country making them the second largest religious group in Israel after the Jewish population. Most of the population in Gaza and the West Bank are Muslims (75% in the West Bank and 99% in the Gaza Strip.) Successful informal coercion of women by sectors of society to wear Islamic dress or the hijab in the Gaza Strip where Mujama' al-Islami, the predecessor of Hamas, reportedly used a mixture of consent and coercion to restore the hijab on urban educated women in Gaza in the late 1970s and 1980s. Similar behavior was displayed by Hamas during the first intifada. Hamas campaigned for the wearing of the hijab alongside other measures, including insisting women stay at home, segregation from men and the promotion of polygamy. In the course of this campaign women who chose not to wear the hijab were verbally and physically harassed, with the result that the hijab was being worn "just to avoid problems on the streets". Following the takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Hamas has attempted to implement Islamic law in the Gaza Strip, mainly at schools, institutions and courts by imposing the Islamic dress or hijab on women. Some of the Islamisation efforts met resistance. When Palestinian Supreme Court Justice Abdel Raouf Al-Halabi ordered women lawyers to wear headscarves and caftans in court, attorneys contacted satellite television stations including Al-Arabiya to protest, causing Hamas’s Justice Ministry to cancel the directive.
These Islamic countries demonstrate at best there is a wide ranging interpretation of modest religious Islamic dress.
The burqa and full face coverings are mostly rare, and even discouraged or banned in a number of Islamic countries.
In 2010 France banned the burqa - and it was upheld on appeal in the European court of human rights (ECHR).
The frogs (sorry, French – must remember to not breach section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act) made it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public place. The ban includes balaclavas and hoods, but has been criticised as targeting Muslim women.
The appeal was brought by a French citizen of Pakistani origin, who wears both the burqa, covering her entire head and body, and the niqab, leaving only her eyes uncovered.
She was represented by solicitors from Birmingham in the UK, who claimed that outlawing the full-face veil was contrary to six articles of the European convention.
Their argument was that banning the burqa or facial covering:
1) was 'inhumane and degrading',
2) against the right of respect for family and private life,
3) against the freedom of thought,
4) against free conscience and religion,
5) against freedom of speech and,
6) was discriminatory.
The French Government asked the court to throw out the appeal, saying the law was not aimed at the burqa or veil but any covering of the face in a public place, and also applied to hoods and helmets (when not worn on or in a motor vehicle).
The Belgian government introduced a similar ban in 2011 and was party to the French defence, declaring both the burqa and niqab ‘incompatible' with the rule of law, stating,
"It's about social communication, the right to interact with someone by looking them in the face and about not disappearing under a piece of clothing”.
French and Belgian laws were aimed at 'helping everyone to integrate’.
The ECHR had already upheld France's ban on head scarves in educational establishments, and its regulation requiring the removal of scarves, veils and turbans for security checks.
JUSTIFICATION FOR BANNING THE BURQA IN AUSTRALIA
If Islamic countries can make rulings about the banning of full face coverings then why are we, a non-Islamic country, tearing ourselves to pieces over it?
We should align ourselves with much of Europe and many Islamic countries and ban all facial coverings, without exception, in all public places.
Banning all facial coverings can be justified on several grounds, including equality, social cohesion, security (especially at a time security agencies and police are on high alert) and wider national and community interests.
In a democratic country, the wider national interest must prevail over personal choice.
The burqa and niqab are personal choices, not religious requirements (otherwise why would Islamic countries discourage and ban burqas, niqabs and even hijabs?)
Nudists also have a personal choice, but are required to conform to the wider national social expectations of dress code in public places.
The sooner this divisive issue is dealt with and put to bed, the sooner we will have cohesion in this country. While facial coverings are allowed in public places, this issue will remain a festering sore that will re-emerge.
This poisonous debate should end. Put it behind us so we can all get along with each other again.
One rule for all. One Australia for all Australians.
Besides, Australia has strong cultural and societal grounds to consider the banning of all facial coverings in public, based on some very basic Australian principles:
Don't come the raw prawn with me, mate
Don't get ya nickers in a knot
Fair suck of the sauce bottle
Get off ya high horse
No wuckin furries
She'll be right, mate
Turn it up
Finally, facial coverings risk obscuring your clear view of dodgy refereeing decisions at grand finals, resulting in more volatile disputes with the next person wearing a facial covering.
Aussies are proud of our history of immigration... but bloody hell, we need to see ya so we can at least say gidday.