A national day of protest demanding the burqa be banned has raised fears it could provoke Cronulla riot-style hysteria. Almost 14,000 people have signed up for Monday’s “Ban the Burqa Day”, which urges protesters to wear a balaclava or mask. But Islamic leaders labelled the event racist.
Organiser Kye Keating, 20, instigated the protest with two friends via Facebook after Sydney woman Carnita Matthews used her burqa to quash a jail sentence for deliberately making a false statement to police. “This event is not aimed at race, it is not aimed at religion,” Mr Keating said. “It is just aimed at concealing your identity in a public place. If everyone is not allowed to do it, no one should be allowed to do it.”
But many have said they are disappointed with Mr Keating’s apparent lack of knowledge on the topic after he appeared on Nine’s TODAY this morning. “I’m not the most educated on this subject, I just had an idea,” Mr Keating said on Nine.
Viewer Natasha Kastermans said: “It was great that this got heard on the TODAY show, but seriously you knew you were going to go on there and you had nothing constructive to say about it… FAIL.”
David Thatcher said the “Ban the Burqa Day” was absurd and irrational. “The vast majority of Muslims, and groups that represent Muslims, support the police in verifying the identity of women who wear burkas,” he said.
The furore comes after the Baillieu Government revealed this month it would investigate if there was a need in Victoria for laws, being adopted in other states, that empower police to force Muslim women wearing a full veil to reveal their faces.
Islamic Council of Victoria director Nazeem Hussain said that fewer than 3000 Muslim women who wore burqas in Australia had no problem taking the garment off for police, who have power to demand identification. “This kind of mass demonstration, this mass show of intolerance is just that,” Mr Hussain said. “I would say it’s hysteria reminiscent of Cronulla.”
Muslim community spokesman Keysar Trad said women chose to wear the burqa for religious observance, not to hide their identity. “All I see beneath that call is bigotry and intolerance,” Mr Trad said.
Liberal backbencher Bernie Finn, who supports banning the burqa in some places for security reasons, said people were entitled to express concerns about the garment.