Australia – groups say veil ban unlawful, unfairly targets Muslims

Shopkeepers are demanding sunglasses, baseball caps and religious face veils be banned to guard against criminals trying to hide their identities.

The Queensland Retailers Association yesterday declared its members should have the right to ban customers from wearing any clothing that obscured faces. But the proposed ban has outraged civil libertarians, Islamic groups and Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Commission. They say the move would be unlawful and unfairly target Muslims and teenagers.

QRA executive director Scott Driscoll said retailers were increasingly concerned they could not identify robbers and thugs whose faces were hidden by headgear. “This is about ensuring a more safe and secure retail environment for all and being able to readily identify any and all perpetrators of armed holdups or shop theft,” he said.

But critics – including federal Labor MP Graham Perrett, who represents the multicultural electorate of Moreton in Brisbane’s south – attacked Mr Driscoll’s call as unfounded and unnecessary. “Kids in hoodies, Muslim women wearing face veils, they are simply not an issue for the retailers I speak to,” Mr Perrett said.

Queensland police have no record of any robbery committed by a person wearing a Muslim face veil.

Terry O’Gorman from the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties said it was fair to expect customers to remove hoodies or helmets but not religious headgear. “The next thing will be you can’t wear a hijab in a public place because it prevents the CCTV from picking you up,” he said.

Queensland’s acting anti-discrimination commissioner, Neroli Holmes, said people had a right to exercise their religious beliefs in a “peaceful manner”. “I don’t think people realise the consequences these sort of comments have for the (Muslim) women concerned,” she said. “They become the targets of abuse both verbal and physical.”

But Mr Driscoll said preventing customers from wearing some headgear but not others would not achieve the desired result. “If we ban hoodies and helmets but allow the niqab (Muslim face veil) people with criminal intent will just start wearing them instead,” he said.

Keysar Trad from the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia said it was “most unfortunate sections of Australian society would deny Muslim women their right to dress in the manner which is considered suitable by their religion”. The suggestion it was a security issue “is a furphy to hide the complainant’s personal fears about Muslims and the religion of Islam”.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Kerry Shine said there was “no evidence that the introduction of legislation against wearing a hijab would provide any greater protection to retailers or their customers”.

Courier Mail, 15 January 2008