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11 Oct, 2014

Disentangling the burqa from Australian national security – The Age

By Julie Szego

In this febrile, hyperbolic and downright surreal moment in national affairs, every appalling action has a facile and opposite reaction. So it was with last week’s burqa controversy. Extremists in the Coalition tried to whip up fear against a vulnerable minority. In reaction, it seems we must now smother any hint of debate about the burqa. We veered from the toxic dog whistle about burqa-clad ne’er-do-wells, to near-blanket affirmation of the Muslim face veil as a measure not just of our tolerance, but of our support for women’s freedom. A symbol of the oppression of women in fundamentalist regimes, the burqa in Australia has all but metamorphosed into a banner for feminism.

Coalition backbenchers Cory Bernardi and George Christensen had conflated the wearing of the burqa — to use the inaccurate generalisation — with threats to national security, including hypothetical threats to Parliament House. Not only was this a shocking group slur, it also made the various threads to the burqa debate hard to disentangle. So when Tony Abbott was asked if he supported a general ban on women wearing the burqa the context made this a very loaded question. He gave a typically loaded answer, opposing a ban because this is a “free country” but restating his view that he finds the burqa “confronting”. The word, with its vague suggestion of menace, was left dangling in the public consciousness.

Read the rest: Disentangling the burqa from national security.