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Mrs Bishop and the cloth

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Recent reports suggest Al-Qaida has its eyes fixed on Australia. After the London attacks, Australians of all backgrounds and faiths are afraid terrorists might strike here.

With national security firmly on the agenda, it was both amusing and worrying to watch a host of political and religious leaders acknowledge on a recent Channel 9 Sunday program that they did not know the phone number of the National Security Hotline.

Even more concerning was the notion that a terror suspect could be shot on the basis of possessing a “Middle Eastern appearance”.


It seems that, when it comes to fighting terrorism, some Australian decision-makers are not up to the task. And with some allegedly liberal and conservative politicians now openly calling for Muslim female students to be banned from wearing the head scarf (known in Arabic as the “hijab” and in Malay as the “tadung”), it appears some are less interested in national security as in national hysteria.

In recent days, two female Liberal MPs have taken the extraordinary step of calling for changes in the law which would ban the traditional Islamic head scarf. Both Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos have suggested that Australian state schools should follow the French model of banning students from wearing the hijab on school premises.

For Mrs Bishop, the issue is perhaps less about national security and more about discouraging rebelliousness and ensuring cultural diversity in schools is kept to a minimum. For Ms Panopoulos, the arguments of the Rev Fred Nile MLC ring true. How do we know that these women aren’t hiding bombs under their dress?

Mrs Bishop appeared on ABC Radio National’s The National Interest show on Sunday, August 28. She compared the discourse of 21st century Muslim Australians to that of Nazi Germans during the 1920s and 1930s.

Mrs Bishop’s comments were most enlightening. She attempted to respond to a suggestion I made that her attempts to marginalise a key faith-sector of mainstream Australia were most helpful to Osama bin Ladin.

Mrs Bishop made frequent references to “our law” and “our beautiful constitution”. She felt offended when a Muslim man came to Canberra and refused to shake her hand because he felt she was unclean.


The writer has shaken hands with Mrs Bishop on numerous occasions, usually in his capacity as a fellow factional warrior for the NSW Right of the Liberal Party. When it came time to having Muslim Australians assist Mrs Bishop in stacking her branches as a defensive mechanism against what she saw as infiltration by supporters of NSW Opposition leader John Brogden, Mrs Bishop was most enthusiastic of Muslim involvement.

The writer also had an opportunity at a NSW Liberal Party State Council meeting in 2000 to pass onto Mrs Bishop the appreciation of members of the Dee Why Mosque congregation who greatly admired the assistance she provided to the Mosque parishioners on numerous occasions in relation to the problems they have had with Mosque extensions.

Yet on Radio National, Mrs Bishop lambasted that same congregation for allegedly inviting Abu Bakr Bashir to speak and recruit in her electorate. A cynic could argue that, in effect, she unknowingly facilitated that process through the assistance she provided to that congregation.

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First published at planet irf on August 29, 2005.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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