First the Prime Minister’s chief political advisor Peta Credlin, said that she supported a ban on the burqa in Parliament House, and then the Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself said that he supported banning the burqa from Parliament House on security grounds and even wishes the burqa was not worn in Australia.
Before I lay out my opinion on this, I first need to preface this by stating that I am a Christian and that that has very serious implications on this subject and seriously affects my world view.
What do I think of the burqa? I’m fine with it.
I will concede that there are safety and security concerns surrounding the wearing of the burqa and niqab in certain aspects of society.
At airports and other high security entry points, where there is a need for identification of people, I totally agree that a measured approach should be taken, to ensure the safety and security of people.
Even when it comes to driving a motor car, where the need to be aware of other road users is critical to safety, that the burqa or niqab might pose a danger to one’s ability to drive a car and consequently other people.
As for the security of Parliament House? Are they joking?
The general public isn’t allowed on the floor of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. To even get down there you will have needed to pass through several layers of security. For a Member of Parliament to actually make it to the floor of either chamber, they will have been required to identify themselves on a number of occasions. There are even parliamentary procedures in place to deal with so-called “strangers”; this even extends to the Governor-General and even the Queen.
In the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 2003, Kirstie Marshall was ejected from the floor of the Lower House chamber for breastfeeding her 11-day-old baby. They were ejected from the chamber on the grounds that the baby was a “stranger” and that she had violated standing orders.
For a person to be even wearing a burqa or niqab on the floor of either chamber, they would first have to be either a Member of Parliament or a member of staff. When it comes to the wearing of headgear in parliament, there are no standing orders either way; not even the British practice of placing a sheet of paper on their head so as to avoid conspicuousness when speaking out of turn applies.
What do I think of the burqa on the floor of the chambers? I’m fine with it.
The general public when they do arrive at Parliament House already pass through some pretty stringent sort of security procedures. I’ve seen people remove wallets, belts and boots etc. Security procedures within Parliament House are already quite tight and as such, I don’t think they need to be improved.
Moreover, Section 116 of the Constitution states that:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
- Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia (1900)
Banning the burqa from Parliament House would more than likely be challenged upon the grounds of Section 116 of the Constitution. Imposing such a ban is misguided at best and futile to try and defend.
What do I think of the hajib, burqa and niqab generally; in the wider conext of society? I’m fine with them.
The hajib still allows people to see someone’s face and that’s incredibly useful in terms of communicating effectively. I think that the burqa and niqab very much inhibit this abilty.
I personally find it confronting to speak to someone who is wearing a burqa or niqab but then again I suppose that I am a white male aged between 18–45 which is probably the most badly behaved demographic in society and I can understand that speaking to me might be equally as confronting.
I’m not even offended by the burqa or niqab; but it should be pointed out that the right not to be offended doesn’t actually exist.
As far as religious concerns go, then you might expect that as a Christian I would be dead against the burqa and niqab but you’d be wrong. I’m fine with them.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians does mention covering the head in church meetings but that has more to do with the idea of propriety in worship. This isn’t posed as a security issue; nor is is posed as an issue to do with identity. Elsewhere, Christ explained that the way that everyone recognize that people are his disciples is that they see the love we have for each other. It also comes closely after the issue of food sacrificed to idols and so I think that that speaks more about cultural sensitivity and about submission to authority.
Admittedly in Australia we don’t really see a lot of Mennonite or Amish people but what would the parliament have to say about them? What about the Orthodox churches? Suppose an Armenian or Greek Orthodox lady came to Parliament House with a head covering, then what? What about a nun? How would Parliament House deal with a modern day Mary Seacole or Florence Nightingale?
The Quran also speaks about “modesty of dress” in several Suras but that is interpreted differently across the Islamic world. The hajib, burqa and niqab then becomes something of a public display of faith but I argue that it would take a higher degree of courage to make that display of faith than the average Christian does in displaying theirs.
In that respect, I’d rather deal with an Islamic lady who understands what it means to profess and live out their faith than an evangelistic atheist who is only interested in personal attack and feels licensed to do so.
If anything, Christians should make efforts to defend the freedom of their Islamic neighbours in society, to make public displays of faith; just as we’d wish that they’d do likewise in defending ours.
More generally there are places for vigorous discussions on matters of faith but I’d hope that a greater challenge exists that all people irrespective of whether they happen to profess faith or not, try to peaceable lives with each other and in harmony. Mr Abbott as a former student of St Patrick’s seminary and who trained to enter the priesthood, should have been aware of that.
As Prime Minister and if the security of the nation is one of the highest callings of government, then making inflammatory statements isn't particularly advisable. I would hope that Parliament House as the executive office of The Commonwealth doesn't impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion within its grounds. I think that the moment that we allow parliaments and governments to dictate what is and isn't acceptable in the name of religion, we tread very dangerously indeed. When governments choose to make religion silent and invisible, harm is done; there are plenty of examples throughout last century of this.
I think that if we've got it in us, we should get along with everybody.
What do I think of the burqa? I'm fine with it.
What do I think of a ban on the burqa? I'm not fine with it.