“A Woman’s Freedom to Choose”

Australia is undergoing yet another paternalistic and xenophobic discussion about Muslim women’s dress. This time, politicians have been arguing that the burqa (which is actually seldom worn by Australian Muslim women) should be banned. They say it poses a security threat. The Niqab (face covering) has been effectively banned from public galleries at the Australian parliament.

Prof Sahar Amer has shown that Western obsession with Muslim women’s veiling goes back to colonial fantasies (erotic fetish for The Other) and has turned into anxiety about difference and assimilation (fear of The Other).

Anthropology student, Pina Sadar, has charted the myriad of reasons why Muslim wear the hijab or headscarf and Islamic dress. Aside from religious reasons, “veiling” can be the outcome of other personal motives, including anti-capitalist rejection of women’s objectification. I found similar in my study of young Australian Muslim women in Melbourne. Regardless, this is a personal choice. Sadar writes: “Democratic discussions about veiling are welcome but ultimately the public needs to acknowledge a woman’s freedom to choose not only her own form of a dress but also to shape its meanings – whatever they may be.”

Renae Barker, law lecturer, argues that impinging on Muslim personal liberties of a woman’s right to choose how she dresses is nothing but racist baiting by vocal politicians: “While some supporters of Islamic State may wear the burqa, it does not necessarily follow that the two issues are linked. The attempts by [minister & politicians] Nile, Bernardi and Lambie to draw a link are little more than a dog whistle to the frightened and intolerant.”

Read my work on Turkish women and the hijab.

Credit image Amer