The Islamaphobia which has so sadly infected several European countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium has spread to Australia. The country has has always prided itself on tolerance and multiculturism and so a Senator calling for a ban on the burka has created a furor. The peak Islamic organisation in the country has reacted with disappointment over Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi's comments yesterday that the burka is "un-Australian" and should be banned.
South Australian Senator Bernardi lashed out in an article which was published on The Drum website, saying the burka "needs to be binned".
He called it a "repressive domination of men over women" and said it establishes "different sets and expectations in society".
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd responded today, accusing the Opposition of playing a cynical political exercise by floating the idea of banning the burka.
"I think they are walking both sides of the street on this one ... having someone like Mr Bernardi go out there and talk this up," he said.
"It's a pretty interesting exercise in cynical politics."
In his article, Senator Bernardi said it was unfair that people with motorcycle helmets had to remove them to identify themselves, where women wearing burkas did not because of religious freedom.
"As an avid motorcyclist I am required to remove my helmet before entering a bank or petrol station," he said.
"It's a security measure for the businesses and no reasonable person objects to this requirement.
"However, if I cover myself in a black cloth from head to toe, with only my eyes barely visible behind a mesh guard, I am effectively unidentifiable and can waltz into any bank unchallenged in the name of religious freedom."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says a ban on the burka is not Coalition policy.
"I'd prefer it wasn't widely worn, but I'm not proposing to ban it," Mr Abbott told Channel Nine.
But Muhammad Dahir from the Islamic Association of Australia says the burka is not a compulsory part of Islamic culture and most women have no problem showing their face to identify themselves.
"If people want to see your face, then there's nothing wrong with that, they have to accept these things. The majority of the Muslim community have no problem with that," he said.
Mr Dahir admits there are some areas of society where men will force their wives to wear a burka, but he maintains for the rest, it is a woman's choice to cover herself completely.
"We do accept there are some cases where the man forces the woman [to wear a burka] but it's due to ignorance. Islam and the husband cannot force the woman to wear a burka," he said.
"We condemn if there's a compulsion from the man to force a women [to do that] .. but it has nothing to do with the majority of Muslims and the whole community."
Several European countries are edging closer to the controversial plan to ban burkas all together and this week a woman in Italy was fined for wearing one in public.
Belgium's lower house of parliament has approved a draft law to ban wearing the full Islamic face veil in public and France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, is set to examine a draft bill this month.
Senator Bernardi said Australia also needs to move towards a full ban and that migrating Muslims need to adopt Australian values.
"New arrivals to this country should not come here to recreate the living environment they have just left," he said.
"They should come here for a better life based on the freedoms and values that have built our great nation."
Mr Dahir agrees that Muslims need to integrate themselves into the Australian community, but he says there is no place for religion in the political arena.
"I recommend to the Muslim community that we must have more interaction with other communities .. but everyone is different, people have different cultures and diversity," he said.
"They have to keep their culture, we shouldn't ban them, otherwise we'll have problems. We have to be tolerant in these matters.
"If we drag this issue [into politics], especially with the election, we don't want any politician to bring religion into the political arena. To me it's brings a lot of problems and tension to the community. [The majority of Muslims] are living peacefully, we don't have problems.
"I'm very happy the Opposition Leader came forward and said he has no policy to ban burka and that's what leaders should do - condemn this kind of statement. We need to unite the community, not divide it."
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says if politicians want to ban certain items of clothing they could start with budgie-smugglers*.
What we say.
What the Senator Bernardi and his ilk need to understand is that such cheap politics shames Australia. If the Senator had a half a brain he would take notice of the Queen of England ( Australia's head) who wears a headscarf. Does he want to let her know that such clothing is "unAustralian"?
*Note: For non-Australians the reference to "budgie smugglers" is to very tight male swimwear!