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Intelligent debate will respect women wearing the burqa

By Elizabeth Lakey - posted Monday, 6 September 2010

Sushi Das’ “PC Brigade Kills Debate on Burqa Ban” (The Age, August 27, 2010) correctly notes that the burqa ban debate has been characterised by hysteria and intolerance on both sides.

She also rightly states “we should not be cowed by those who seek to polarise this debate”. The burqa ban is an exceedingly difficult issue, and open debate is the only way that any resolution is possible.

However, Das’ empty declaration that the “burqa is an abomination” only serves to contribute to the hysteria.


It seems that the PC label is being used to categorise all those in favour of critical reflection or a moderate position. An expression of such a position does not equate to mere political correctness.

PC people are not merely pussyfooting around injustices, as Das suggests. Rather, they are according the wearers of the burqa the very same respect accorded to every member of our democratic society.

Das rejects the view that the burqa can form part of the tapestry of multiculturalism. Unfortunately, advocates of this view are very selective about who is permitted to enter the multicultural fold. True multiculturalism equates to more than eating in ethnic restaurants once a week. It requires compromise.

There are a thousand ways of being a Muslim in every day life, just the same as there are for being a Christian or an Atheist. Yet Das employs reductionist rhetoric and makes sweeping generalisations concerning the oppressed status of all burqa-clad women.

The tenuous links to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan made by Das are a very poor attempt to discredit the burqa, as is the statement that it conveniently hides “marks of physical abuse”. It is exactly this sort of conflation that confuses and polarises the debate.

Violence against women is still rife in Western societies. Despite the statistics, I do not go about my day examining non-Muslim women on the bus and wondering whether they are routinely beaten by their husbands and boyfriends.


Likewise, rape is a sad fact of societies across the world, burqa or no burqa. This has little bearing on some Muslim women’s argument that the burqa protects them from the threatening gaze of men. This gaze does not equate to rape. Nor will it lead to rape in the vast majority of cases.

Rather than basing arguments against the burqa on personal distaste, it is much more constructive to consider the practical areas of life where the burqa makes an impact. It can be argued, for example, that the burqa poses a threat to security.

Another area where problems arise is the health sector. Members of the medical profession in the Western suburbs of Melbourne have expressed significant concern that some women are unwilling to remove their covering even when it is necessary for medical procedures.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Lakey is a PhD student at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne.

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