The burqa and niqab are often viewed as symbols of extremism. In the wake of the rise of Islamic State, it is unsurprising, therefore, that in recent days a number of Australian politicians have called for their banning.
Reverend Fred Nile has already introduced the Summary Offences Amendment (Full-face Coverings Prohibition) Bill 2014 (NSW) into the New South Wales parliament which, if passed, will ban the wearing of various face coverings in public. The Bill does not refer to Muslims, Islam, the burqa or niqab. Comments by Nile clearly indicate, however, that the law is designed to target Islamic face veils.
While the proposed ban, if passed, would affect only a small number of ...view middle of the document...
In July this year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s ban on face coverings in public. The court found that the ban impinged upon the freedom of religion of Muslim women. However, it found that the ban was permissible to promote the minimum requirements of life in society or living together (le vivre ensemble). The decision has been heavily criticised.
Blowing the dog whistle
While the court ultimately found that the ban was permissible, it rejected a number of arguments put forward in support of the ban. This includes those relied upon by Nile.
His arguments rests heavily on the assertion that a ban on face veils is necessary to protect public safety. He has explicitly linked this latest push to ban the burqa to the rise of Islamic State.
Coalition Senator Cory Bernardi seized on anti-terrorism raids to denounce the wearing of burqas. AAP/Alan Porrritt
Criminals and terrorists can and do use face coverings to hide their identities. However, a blanket ban is not the only solution. New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia have all passed laws dealing with face coverings in public.
Police have been given the power to request a person remove their face covering for the purposes of checking their identity. This is a proportionate and sensible approach. Face veils can, in certain circumstances, impede identification and pose a security risk. However, there is no security threat from women wearing the burqa while having coffee at their favourite café.
While some supporters of Islamic State may wear the burqa, it does not necessarily follow that the two issues are linked. The attempts by Nile, Bernardi and Lambie to draw a link are little more than a dog whistle to the frightened and intolerant.
The direct security threat posed the face veil is very low. Only 2.2% of the population is Muslim. An even smaller fraction wear the face veil. Only one instance of the burqa being used as a disguise in the commission of a...