Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile has succeeded in introducing a bill to ban the wearing of the burqa in the NSW Upper House.The Greens and Family First, eh? Only the burqa could produce such a strange alliance, involving such very different reasons for making the same choice.
Mr Nile introduced his private member's bill, seeking to ban the wearing of the burqa and other face veils in public, shortly after 8pm yesterday.
Last month, a debate on the same bill was voted down by the NSW Upper House.
Greens MP John Kaye said only the four Greens MPs and Family First MP Gordon Moyes voted against introducing the bill on Tuesday.
"Last month the coalition and the government did the right thing and said no, they would not allow the Upper House to be home to this kind of racist dog whistling," Mr Kaye said.
"This time they caved in."
Last time the ban-the-burqa brigade was in the news, it was instructive and often entertaining to watch commenters on and offline scuttling and scrambling to adopt whatever they thought the correct line was, and being scuppered by the utter confusion into which the burqa debate will always throw those of us who'd place ourselves anywhere to the left of centre.
Only the libertarians, this time, knew exactly what they thought and said so. Feminists (including me, though for me the bottom line is always that women's rights trump cultural difference) grappled with this lose-lose question, for feminism is a broad church and the question, however vexed and vexatious, is clear: does one further restrict the rights of women by banning a garment oppressive to women, or does one exercise tolerance however repressive in the name of women's freedom to wear whatever they like? And does one continue to insist that the garment is oppressive when wearers of the burqa pop up and say Hello, excuse me, I'm doing this by choice?
And what, in the free west, is a feminist to do, if anything, about women complicit, usually unconsciously and usually for their own self-protection, in the furtherance of an oppressive ideology? Because Goddess knows this doesn't apply only to Moslem women, and indeed could as justifiably be applied to women of my mother's generation, assorted footy and cricket WAGS, and doting mums who are out buying Bonds' new bra for eight-year-olds. (And there, incidentally, go my favourite knickers; anyone want to join me in a Ban Bras for Babies Bonds boycott? What chance do you think we'd have of successfully introducing a bill to ban them?)
But those for whom unquestioning leftitude is a central plank of self-identification found themselves unable to discern what the correct line might be. The right-wingers went for the notion that the burqa is a threat to national security, which was, if I remember rightly, the issue that brought this question to public attention in the first place. Presumably hordes of Islamic terrorists could hide any number of bombs and guns under them and who knows, I suppose they could, though history has proved again and again that if you want to hide bombs and guns you don't need a burqa to do it. This case was strengthened by the opportunity for a little concern feminism, though that was clearly secondary, and I suppose it's a form of progress that wingnuts should feel some need to pretend to care about women's rights because Goddess knows they never used to.
But a certain kind of tribal left-winger, determined to take the correct line (and I actually saw a few people turning up on blog comments threads anxiously asking what the correct line was, so that they could take it), was torn in several different directions: reluctance to ban stuff; repulsion at a garment so oppressive to women; outrage at the racist dogwhistle in the 'national security' idea and the inherent ignorance behind the push to do this in Australia, unlike in France where there is a coherent and longstanding ideology behind it to do with the importance of maintaining a secular state.
And don't, she said sadly, underestimate the unacknowledged hostility of a certain kind of man, regardless of his political persuasions, to any kind of female appearance (up to and including not being acceptably hot) that seems to suggest that a woman is not desirable and available to him, even just for ogling. Next time you see a woman in any form of Islamic dress, even just a headscarf, being heckled in the street, listen closely to what is being said.
Because for some men, simply failing to conform to their porn-fed stereotype is enough to make them hate you.