Burqing the BankPosted: July 4, 2011
Recently, Liberal MP Cory Bernardi has become rather outspoken about his desire to ban the burqa in Australia. Bernardi claims that the burqa should be banned for several reasons:
1. It is a security hazard as it gets in the way of identification purposes and can enable people to commit robberies whilst disguised.
2. The permissibility of burqa wearing in airports and banks reveals a double standard endemic to Australian society as other face coverings such as motor cycle helmets and balaclavas are not allowed.
3. It is incompatible with ‘Australian culture’ because it represents a culture that represses women.
4. It is incompatible with ‘Australian culture’ because it creates distance between individuals.
5. It is a sign of people recreating foreign cultures on Australian soil which should be abandoned for the ‘better’ Australian way of life.
6. “There is only one culture in Australia, Australian culture.” – this is a direct quote
7. The burqa is not a religious requirement, it is a cultural way of life that is forced upon women.
8. Women should not be coerced into wearing a particular type of clothing.
9. The burqa should be banned.
Ignoring the already very obvious logical fallacies here, let’s break this down systematically.
By the way if anyone is wondering why I am being so ordered and calm about this as opposed to my usual spewing forth of vitriol and foul language, I can assure you it’s not because I have matured or become desensitized to the world’s tomfoolery. It is simply because Cory Bernardi’s apparent science experiment of mating illogic with prejudice to produce this bastard child of an argument has defied any laws of reason and good sense of which I know. If I, therefore, attempted to approach this in any other way I would simply drown in a sea of words, flailing about in my apoplectic rage, unable to express any of my outraged objections simply because the words I would need to accurately depict how much he has raised my ire, have not been invented yet.
So let’s approach this symphony of sophistry step by step, shall we?
Firstly there are a few assumptions underlying Cory’s argument:
1. Australian culture does not involve Islam, never has and never should.
2. Muslims are foreign to this country and therefore any manifestation of Islam is an unwanted, imported cultural element.
3. Muslim women do not make the choice to wear the burqa.
To correct the first two assumptions, Muslims have been in Australia since before European colonization as evidenced by the seasonal trading conducted between Macassans and Aborigines in the north of Australia. Said Macassans also had families here and lived here for extended periods during the year therefore contributing much to the Indigenous culture of those communities. After European colonization made this continuing relationship untenable, Muslims remained present in Australia through the immigration of the ‘Afghan’ cameleers in the 1890’s who were fundamental to the economic development of Australia. Muslim immigration to Australia has continued and indeed increased ever since.
More so, however, Australian culture is not a static entity. It is constantly evolving as we progress and move forward in the world. Saying that there is only one Australian culture is to discount the several communities that have contributed to this country and helped to make it what it is today.
Secondly, not all Muslims are foreigners to Australia. Many were born here, so bringing a ‘foreign’ culture here is kind of a moot point unless Cory can tell everyone definitely of the immigration history of each burqa wearer. Yes it most definitely is a style of dress that originated overseas, but seeing as we live in a global community, one cannot pick and choose what particular cultural practices come into Australia, whether via immigration or not. That is called discrimination not to mention ‘being an arsehole’.
As to the third assumption, certainly there are women who do not choose to wear the burqa or the hijab and are pressured into it by their families, culture or religion. There are also women who are pressured into drinking alcohol, or having sex, or smoking, or taking drugs, or watching Twilight- yet we cannot legislate against these things. As was argued by the leader of the Libs Tony Abbott when it was proposed that smoking in cars with children as passengers should be banned, we should not get to the point where we end up living in a nanny state that is legislating every aspect of people’s lives. There are many things in any culture that pressure the individual one way or another, it is ultimately a fact of life, yet who is Cory to say what those pressures are and upon whom they are being exerted?
I think it’s very noble that he seeks to liberate Muslim women from swathes of fabric, regardless of whether they consider themselves to be oppressed or not, but here’s my problem with it…did anyone ask him to?
Has Cory joined some facebook group I don’t know about, entitled ‘Please won’t somebody help us downtrodden Muslim women to ban the burqa because god knows we can’t do it ourselves or else our militant husbands prone to domestic violence will beat us senseless before our relatives decide to perform an honour killing…also something about terrorism , rape and arranged marriages…What great man can save us?’
It is commonly said that the burqa, or even the hijab, is a symbol of the repression of women. I’m sure this comes as a great shock to women wearing it of their own free will, but according to Cory these women don’t even know they’re being oppressed because they’re being subtly coerced by an oppressive culture. You see, apparently Cory attributes Muslim women with less intelligence and independent thought than that of a child. They simply don’t know any better, and if they did, they’d be throwing off their material shackles as quick as you could say ‘burqini’ (zing!). The irony of Cory accusing Islam of paternalism whilst regarding Muslim women paternally is almost too much for me to bear. In fact this whole thing seems to have triggered some kind of manic laughter from me that I never knew I possessed before. It’s a terrifying gothic giggle clawing its way out from the depths of hell to bewilder those around me. I’m like one of those horrifying clown puppets that haunts your dreams as I stalk towards you with a raised knife and a terrifying mechanical voice saying “Let’s play! I want to be your beeest friend.”
I could sit here and write about how Western culture subtly coerces women to focus so much on their appearance that they are, unknown to themselves, forced to actively engage in activities to make themselves more sexually desirable, including grueling hours of shopping in over priced shops, hair straightening or curling that risks burning of the scalp, the wearing of high heeled shoes that produces life-long orthopedic and back problems, and last but not least, being cut open in order to have silicone shoved in or fat sucked out of their bodies.
Yet that argument would be somewhat facile wouldn’t it? Not only is it a massively simplified and overly cynical view of Western culture, it is also a narrow one that doesn’t seem to take into account that every culture throughout the world and throughout history has had its own preference as to appearance whether for the purposes of beauty or modesty. You could also certainly argue that these preferences have in one way or another been enforced by men. What you wouldn’t argue is that plastic surgery should be banned, or make up products, or high heels, or advertisements that project idealized images of female beauty, would you?
If you would, please just…don’t try to be my friend. You’re annoying.
Cory also suggests that burqas are in fact not religious but cultural. Well I’m glad Cory has been able to come to a solid and final conclusion on a debate that has continued throughout the history of Islam. You see, there are some schools of thought in Islam that say the burqa is required and some that say it is not. Now seeing as I doubt Cory has read the Quran in English let alone studied it in Arabic, I would say he is rather under qualified to make this call for the rest of the Islamic world.
Now you may have noticed, dear reader, that I have not up until this point mentioned anything about banks or robbery. This is because ultimately I do not believe that Cory is concerned with the welfare of banks and potential robbery victims everywhere. This certainly is not an epidemic sweeping the country in as yet unprecedented numbers. Rather, I believe Corey is simply using this rather isolated incident of ‘burqa crime’ to stage a campaign that ultimately speaks to more than just a concern about robbery strategies.** I believe it is a way for Cory to mask his real problem with burqas, which is that they are an overt symbol of difference that refuses to conform to a culture that he himself has stated to be ‘superior’. I don’t think Cory can conceive of why anyone would choose a way that is not the ‘Australian’ way in such definite fashion and therefore can only come to the conclusion that those people must be under some kind of powerful sedative, hypnotic suggestion or cultural oppression.
I believe this is the very definition of ‘ethnocentrism’.
Assuming however, he is sincere about ensuring equality and freedom, it is just such a shame that in order to do this he is proposing that we actually trample on the rights of Muslim women therefore contravening those very tenets he is proposing to uphold. To have equality you cannot say, ‘everyone is allowed this except for this one select group’, and to allow freedom you cannot actually choose what particular freedom it is that you wish other people to have.
I believe many of you will be familiar with the phrase ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.’ Noble sentiments often quoted. Well I would like to amend that slightly, to ‘Even if I disapprove of what you wear, I will defend to the death your right to wear it’.
**The problem with this absolute fallacy of a concern about security is that people who simply do not like the burqa will now seize upon these examples as practical reasons as to why the burqa should not be allowed. And of course if you suggest they are in fact prejudiced, they can claim that they are being victimized by the overly sensitive Lefties who are so concerned with not offending anyone that they’re willing to let this country go to pot. So I have constructed this list combating Cory’s supposed points of arguments given above to try and break down his fallacious argument that so many others will try to use.
• You’re absolutely right Corey. People can rob banks and individuals whilst disguised in a burqa thus evading identification. You truly are an astute observer. What seems not to be present in this argument, however, is the fact that many other things can be used to disguise people’s faces- balaclavas, stockings, face paint, fake noses, Groucho Marx disguises, hoodies, masks etc.
Hark? What’s this? An objection? If someone is wearing a burqa they’re not immediately suspicious and can get closer to a bank teller and therefore have the advantage of the element of surprise? Well done, Watson. You have indeed cracked the case. Except for a few minor details. Firstly, if someone wants to rob a bank, they’re pretty much going to figure out a way to do it. Whether they alter their faces with prosthetics and wear wigs, whether they burst in with their faces masked and threaten everyone with a gun. Any way you cut it, if a bank robber wants to get close to a teller then they will. Secondly, if you think people don’t attract attention and suspicion in a burqa then you’re a mental.
• Does anybody actually have a particular desire to wear a motor cycle helmet or a balaclava into a bank? Does that particular kind of head covering have some special significance to you? Are you agoraphobic? Do you wear it everywhere else except for at home? Do you just like to pretend that you’re an astronaut? My point here is, that wearing a motor cycle helmet in public is not endemic to anyone’s cultural identity or religious obligations. Yes on the surface it is a double standard that one kind of covering is allowed when the other is not but when you look at it logically, the reason people are suspicious of someone wearing a motor cycle helmet in a bank is because there is absolutely no good reason to be doing so, whereas there is a good reason for burqa wearers, to wear the burqa. The problem here is, for people like Cory, they see no good reason for it because they think that Islam’s rules are over zealous nonsense that only us sophisticated Westerners can discern and are therefore obligated to put to rights.
• Sunglasses also create distance. So does the internet. Also phones. Ban it all I say!!