The trouble with Jacqui Lambie's anti-burqa campaign

Senator Lambie expressed support for anti-burqa comments made by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi.

Senator Lambie expressed support for anti-burqa comments made by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Photo: Alex Ellingshausen

Last week, while news of the "terror raids" were splashed across newspaper front pages and TV screens, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi renewed his call for a ban on the burqa, calling it a "shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism".

Even members of his own party, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, distanced themselves from his comments, but Bernardi found support in the form of Palmer United Party senator Jacqui Lambie.

Lambie had already caused consternation within her own party earlier in the week, by claiming: "Anyone who supports sharia law in Australia should not have the right to vote …and should probably pack up their bags and get out of here."

Lana Slezic's misappropriated image of Kandahar police woman Malalai Kakar, shared on social media by Senator Jacqui ...

Lana Slezic's misappropriated image of Kandahar police woman Malalai Kakar, shared on social media by Senator Jacqui Lambie on Thursday.

Like many non-Muslims, Lambie is clearly ignorant of what sharia entails.


The penal code that understandably frightens so many Westerners is only a minuscule aspect of sharia, and Muslims who look to sharia for civil and family matters do not necessarily agree with its punitive criminal provisions.

But ignorance of Islam rarely deters its most vociferous detractors, and Lambie quickly jumped on Bernardi's bandwagon, claiming she would not allow anyone wearing a burqa into her office as a matter of security.

"Now we're at war with the sharia extremists and Australia has been placed on a heightened terrorism alert - we can't have anyone hiding their identity in public," she said in a statement.

"I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Cory Bernardi's comments - and call for an immediate and complete ban on the wearing of burkas in public. The burkas are obviously designed by men who have an obsessive need to have extreme control and power over women."

It's ironic to claim that those Sunni Muslim women who wear face veils are victims, while simultaneously demanding they be punished by banishing them from public life.

Again, given that no women were involved in the alleged terrorist conspiracy, nor were the suspects planning on donning burqas to carry out their attacks, why are Lambie and Bernardi using this occasion to harass Muslim women?

Now, I am no fan of the burqa but it is absurd to think that fundamentalism can be eradicated by further restricting the freedom of women, or that Islam can be "reformed" by Western outsiders rather than by the religion's own adherents.

The entire debacle was topped off by the meme Lambie chose to illustrate the supposed dangers of the burqa. Created by the ultra-nationalist Britain First party, the image of a burqa-clad woman pointing a gun at an unseen adversary was clearly designed to instil fear by implying that all Muslims, including women, are a threat.

It didn't take long for the truth to come out. The woman in the image was Malalai Kakar, one of Afghanistan's first female police officers, and a fierce advocate of women's rights.

Kakar was shot and killed by the Taliban in 2008.

Photographer Lana Slezic told the media that everything Kakar "stood for, everything she fought for, for herself, her family, her daughters and future of her country, everything has been desecrated by how Jacqui Lambie and Britain First have used this photograph".

Indeed, only does this meme sully Kakar's memory, it also shows the inherent illogicality of Islamophobia. Every time a Muslim person commits a crime, the blame is quickly placed on Islam generally, rather than the individuals involved, and the way they manipulate religion to suit political agendas.

The irony is that in politically volatile countries like Afghanistan, the burqa can – and has been – used as a safety tool by women such as Kakar and other activists such as Malalai Joya, by allowing them to move relatively freely in public without revealing their identities to the fundamentalists determined to assassinate them.

But rather than express contrition, Lambie doubled down on yesterday's Insiders, claiming that she "knew" it was Kakar in the picture and that she purposely chose it because Kakar was a "bloody hero" who should be remembered.

Sorry Senator Lambie, but I'm not buying it. It makes no sense to claim the burqa is a security risk while appropriating the image of a woman who wore it while she died fighting against the misogynistic forces endangering her country.

This is not the first time that far-right groups such as Britain First have made idiots of themselves by perpetuating myths about women in Islam. They are also the brainchild behind this meme that claimed the Council of Islamic Ideology had issued a fatwa declaring, "Women by existing defied the laws of nature, and to protect Islam and the Sharia women should be forced to stop existing as soon as possible."

The meme was based on this story in Pakistan Today, which, while publishing conventional news, is also an Onion-esque satirical website. The "article" was actually a parody of irrational, misogynistic clerics. Yes, believe it or not, Muslims do have a sense of humour and are even known to ridicule the excesses of their religious representatives.

But such is the West's view of Islam as a faceless, marauding horde that the meme was readily accepted as fact and widely shared on social media. I'm not sure why so many Westerners insist on denying Muslims the complexity and individuality that the West takes as a given for itself. The more Muslims are dehumanised, the less chance we have of actually understanding what drives some to radicalisation. In the case of ISIS, surely most of us can see that they are propelled more by delusions of self-importance and the prospect of unbridled power than by actual religion?

Lost in this mistaken conception of Islam as inherently evil, is not only the fact that most victims of Muslim extremists are also Muslims, but that some of the most thoughtful and determined critics of fundamentalism and terrorism are themselves Muslim.

And that includes women like Kakar whose legacy is now being tarnished through association with the very extremism she died opposing. Because men do something wrong, someone, somewhere, will make sure it is women who pay the price.