Pauline Hanson’s wearing of a burqa in the Senate yesterday was a silly publicity stunt that did nothing to help Australians move forward in a multi-faith society, an academic with expertise in Islam, Richard Shumack, said today.
However, he did not agree with Attorney-General George Brandis on the absolute right of a Muslim to wear whatever religious garment they wanted.
“It was a silly stunt; it’s not a reasoned argument. It’s not a mature way to handle a debate in Parliament,” said Shumack, a faculty member at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.
“I don’t think it’s true that people have an absolute right to wear whatever they want.” – Richard Shumack
“I don’t think this shifts opinion in any way or helps us move forward on how to engage in a multi-faith society. So I hope it doesn’t have any consequences.”
Shumack, however, said his response was not as strong as that of Senator Brandis, who passionately defended Australia’s half-million Muslims from being mocked or pushed into a corner, to great acclaim from the Opposition.
“It’s a foolish political move to put the Muslim community offside by mocking them,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s true that people have an absolute right to wear whatever they want.
“The fact that she’s grabbed the issue shuts it off now for other people to talk about.” – Bernie Power
“I agree with him that in the religious space you don’t want to compromise a proper freedom of religion, but I think you can mount a really good argument for how burqas shouldn’t be allowed at least in some contexts, like court or at the airport when you’re going through security and things like that.
“So I think there is a place to have reasonable argument about what the limits are of your religious actions and where they come into conflict with other people’s rights and how do we handle that, but it’s not going to move forward by dressing up and doing publicity stuff – you need to have a reasonable discussion.”
Missiologist at Melbourne School of Theology Bernie Power agreed that Senator Hanson’s stunt was a “very clumsy, ill-thought-out attempt to raise a complex topic.”
“Pauline Hanson’s clumsy stunt in Federal Parliament may have had the effect of closing down an important discussion that could be had,” said Power.
“As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa.” -Mona Eltahawy
Power made the point that Senator Hanson was not the first to call for a ban on the burqa. In fact, some Muslim nations such as Tunisia have banned the burqa. In Canada, the Muslim Canadian Congress has urged the government to ban the enveloping outer garment.
Power cited a quote from Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns that, in the 1920s, Amanullah, the king of Afghanistan, “banned the wearing of the burqa in public. He also built the first hospital for women and the first school for girls.” Turkey’s Kamal Ataturk also banned the burqa in the same period, he added.
Power quoted Egyptian-born commentator on Arab and Muslim issues Mona Eltahawy as saying: “As a Muslim woman and a feminist I would ban the burqa … It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.”
“People cannot walk around naked in public places, nor can people wear ski masks into banks.” – Bernie Power
Power also cited Soad Saleh, a professor of Islamic law and former dean of the women’s faculty of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar University, as saying the burqa had nothing to do with Islam but was an old Bedouin tradition.
“So much of the opposition to the burqa from Muslim sources are based on its lack of endorsement from Islamic texts and its oppression of women,” Saleh said.
“Hanson’s action may have pre-empted the discussion that some Muslim women who object to the burqa would like to have.” – Bernie Power
“Of course, some Muslim women may, as Pauline Hanson did, choose to wear the burqa to make a political or religious point. It is important to allow freedom within limits for such people. However, there are limits on dress in public. People cannot walk around naked in public places, nor can people wear ski masks into banks. So the discussion needs to be had on where those limits are. Hanson’s action may have pre-empted the discussion that some Muslim women who object to the burqa would like to have.”