Saturday, May 8, 2010

Political Extremism?

This week Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi, wrote here that the "burka" should be banned. I understood by the way that the anglicised spelling was burqa.
Bernardi had two points:
  1. That the burqa is increasingly being used as a disguise by bandits and that it also creates two tiers of "identifiability";
  2. That the burqa is "repressive" and "un-Australian"
Let's take these points one by one. I have no evidence one way or another for the "[burka as] the prferred disguise of bandits and n'er do wells", as Bernardi asserts.
On the basis asserted by Bernardi you could also ban the wearing of scarves, bandannas and a range of other items of clothing for "security". Indeed if as Bernardi asserts, "the burka separates and distances the wearer from the normal interactions with broader society" then there is good argument for banning the wearing of any clothing that differentiates one wearer from another. We could reasonably take that to banning the wearing of all clothes. Really it's quite silly and not to be countenanced. It falls into the same basket as the Government's proposed Net Nanny filter. The utterly wrong response to issues best managed otherwise.
To the second point, Bernardi asserts as follows:
In my mind, the burka has no place in Australian society. I would go as far as to say it is un-Australian. To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women which has no place in our society and compromises some of the most important aspects of human communication.
This is now starting to become overtly xenophobic, jingoistic and not terribly rational. Firstly let me be clear that I have no idea what the Qu'ran says about wearing the burqa, and to me that is not an issue here. But Bernardi draws a bow too far when he asserts that "To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women". It's fine that he should feel like that, but not that he should urge change in public policy on the basis of how something makes him feel. How does he know that it's repressive? Has he ever spoken to a diverse group of women who wear the burqa? Does he know why they wear it? Does he know if they are forced to wear it or choose to wear it?
Next we get to the very heart of the matter. Bernardi goes on to say:
Perhaps some of you will consider that burka wearing should be a matter of personal choice, consistent with the freedoms our forefathers fought for. I disagree.
New arrivals to this country should not come here to recreate the living environment they have just left. They should come here for a better life based on the freedoms and values that have built our great nation.
Which values and which forefathers are those Cory? Are they the Afghani camel drivers who opened up the interior of Australia? Perhaps they are the Italian prisoners of war who chose to come back and settle here after the war? Perhaps they are the Vietnamese boat people who came here in the 1970s. Or perhaps it was the thieving Irish convicts sent here by the British government in 1788.
Get over it! Australia is a culturally diverse country. Bernardi's rant is simply ultra-conservative xenophobia. If he feels uncomfortable about women wearing burqas then perhaps he should do something about his discomfort rather than seek to change others.
As a final aside, if we all applied Bernardi's standard "I feel that it's..." then a bucket load of changes in clothing regulation would need to be made. Here's my (tongue in cheek for the most part) list, tell me yours:
  • Police should get rid of their weapons, it makes me feel like the State is repressing me and I feel uncomfortable when I see them;
  • Catholic clergy should get rid of their clerical garb - it's become the symbol of an organisation ridden with paedophiles;
  • Judges and lawyers should get rid of their robes and wigs, they are a sign of 18th and 19th century legal repression;
  • Politicians should be banned from wearing budgie smugglers - they make me feel really uncomfortable - and no I don't intend to see anyone about that. Just lose them!

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