Is this Fair?

♏*PHOENIX*♏ - posted on 07/10/2011 ( 33 moms have responded )

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Muslim women would have to remove veils and show their faces to police on request or risk a prison sentence under proposed new laws in Australia's most populous state that have drawn criticism as culturally insensitive.

A vigorous debate that the proposal has triggered reflects the cultural clashes being ignited by the growing influx of Muslim immigrants and the unease that visible symbols of Islam are causing in predominantly white Christian Australia since 1973 when the government relaxed its immigration policy.

Under the law proposed by the government of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, a woman who defies police by refusing to remove her face veil could be sentenced to a year in prison and fined 5,500 Australian dollars ($5,900).

The bill – to be voted on by the state parliament in August – has been condemned by civil libertarians and many Muslims as an overreaction to a traffic offense case involving a Muslim woman driver in a "niqab," or a veil that reveals only the eyes.

The government says the law would require motorists and criminal suspects to remove any head coverings so that police can identify them.

Critics say the bill smacks of anti-Muslim bias given how few women in Australia wear burqas. In a population of 23 million, only about 400,000 Australians are Muslim. Community advocates estimate that fewer than 2,000 women wear face veils, and it is likely that even a smaller percentage drives.

"It does seem to be very heavy handed, and there doesn't seem to be a need," said Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie. "It shows some cultural insensitivity."

The controversy over the veils is similar to the debate in other Western countries over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear garments that hide their faces in public. France and Belgium have banned face-covering veils in public. Typical arguments are that there is a need to prevent women from being forced into wearing veils by their families or that public security requires people to be identifiable.

Bernie noted that while a bandit disguised with a veil and sunglasses robbed a Sydney convenience store last year, there were no Australian crime trends involving Muslim women's clothing.

"It is a religious issue here," said Mouna Unnjinal, a mother of five who has been driving in Sydney in a niqab for 18 years and has never been booked for a traffic offense.

"We're going to feel very intimidated and our privacy is being invaded," she added.

Unnjinal said she would not hesitate to show her face to a policewoman. But she fears male police officers might misuse the law to deliberately intimidate Muslim women.

"If I'm pulled over by a policeman, I might say I want to see a female police lady and he says, 'No, I want to see your face,'" Unnjinal said. "Where does that leave me? Do I get penalized 5,000 dollars and sent to jail for 12 months because I wouldn't?"

Sydney's best-selling The Daily Telegraph newspaper declared the proposal "the world's toughest burqa laws." In France, wearing a burqa – the all-covering garment that hides the entire body except eyes and hands – in public is punishable by a 150 euro ($217) fine only.

The New South Wales state Cabinet decided to create the law on July 4 in response to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione's call for greater police powers. Other states including Victoria and Western Australia are considering similar legislation.

"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else – the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," State Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.

The laws were motivated by the bungled prosecution of Carnita Matthews, a 47-year-old Muslim mother of seven who was booked by a highway patrolman for a minor traffic violation in Sydney in June last year.

An official complaint was made in Matthews' name against Senior Constable Paul Fogarty, the policeman who gave her the ticket. The complaint accused Fogarty of racism and of attempting to tear off her veil during their roadside encounter.

Unknown to Matthews, the encounter was recorded by a camera inside Fogarty's squad car. The video footage showed her aggressively berating a restrained Fogarty and did not support her claim that he tried to grab her veil before she reluctantly and angrily lifted it to show her face.

Matthews was sentenced in November to six months in jail for making a deliberately false statement to police.

But that conviction and sentence were quashed on appeal last month without her serving any time in jail because a judge was not convinced that it was Matthews who signed the false statutory declaration. The woman who signed the document had worn a burqa and a justice of the peace who witnessed the signing had not looked beneath the veil to confirm her identity.

Bernie, the civil libertarian, said the proposed law panders to public anger against Muslims that the case generated on talk radio and in tabloid newspapers, which itself is a symptom of the suspicion with which immigrants are viewed.

Muslims are among the fastest-growing minorities in Australia and mostly live in the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. There are many examples to suggest they are not entirely welcome.

Muslim and non-Muslim youths rioted for days at Sydney's Cronulla beach in 2005, drawing international attention to surging ethnic tensions. Proposals to build Islamic schools are resisted by local protest groups. The convictions of a Sydney gang of Lebanese Muslims who raped several non-Muslim women were likened by a judge to war atrocities and condemned in the media.

In 2006, then-Prime Minister John Howard published a book in which he said Muslims were Australia's first wave of immigrants to fail to assimilate with the mainstream.

Government leaders have also condemned some Muslim clerics who said husbands are entitled to smack disobedient wives, force them to have sex and for suggesting that women who don't hide their faces behind veils invite rape.

"I wouldn't like to go and say this is Muslim bashing," said Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, of the proposed New South Wales laws.

"But I think that the timing of this was really bad for Muslims," he said.

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Jodi - posted on 07/14/2011

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It's not about religion. This is not a religious practice. So no-one is actually suggesting they violate their religion.

I think we also have to understand that the number of women who wear these is around 2,000. That's right, in ALL of Australia, 2,000 women. And most of these women DON'T EVEN HAVE A LICENCE TO DRIVE.

This is a media beat up. It's that simple. The extremist Islamic groups have used the media to push their agenda. It's flimsy at best.

Jodi - posted on 07/10/2011

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Actually, the law isn't about Muslim women unveiling. The police, security and shopowners can also request removal of motorcycle helmets, hoodies, and any other obstruction to facial identity. It isn't about religion, but a section of the community has decided to make it about religion, when that is total bullshit.

JL - posted on 07/11/2011

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I have to say I have no issue with the law and after talking to some people and doing some research I have found that the wearing of a veil as a full face covering is actually based upon certain social and cultural aspects not upon religion as prescribed by the Quran. In some cases there may be some men who force their wives to wear full body coverings and veils but the reality is that women make the choice to wear the full face coverings. If I have to take off my glasses which I can't see without for ID pictures and for facial recognizing when pulled over then I don't see why someone who wears a veil can't do the same for legal safety practices. This is not about religious rights but about crime and safety.

Jodi - posted on 07/10/2011

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I will also clarify that the Bill before the NSW Parliament is actually called "Summary Offences Amendment (Full-face Coverings Prohibition) Bill 2011".

That's right, "full face coverings". It is all encompassing.

This is another instance of looking for racial/cultural vilification where there is none intended.

[deleted account]

Meh, I'm kinda ok with this. Why not allow an officer to know your identity right off the bat? I'm sorry, the religious excuse is stupid. No, not really sorry on that I guess. I think the religious excuse is dumb.

33 Comments

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Julie - posted on 07/14/2011

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There are two simple possible solutions.

I agree with Toni - simply get the woman to show her face to a female officer.

It's actually not very complicated. If police believe someone is under the influence and yet blow nothing when breathalysed, the police have the power to ask that the person come back to the station (or wherever it is) to get tested for drugs.

If someone wearing the full niqab commits a driving offense (or other offense) and refuses to show their face to a male officer - simply escort them back to a police station, and show their face to a female officer - most stations have female officers on duty when they are open.

Or there is a second really simple solution that I have heard suggested - if people do not wish to show their face, then they should be asked to agree to be fingerprinted instead - that way their identity can be proven without the need to remove clothing.

Easy and simple.

There is no need to violate either a person's religion or moral dress code - most people who are for forcing women to remove the niqab would go off with anger if a police officer asked them to strip naked to prove their identity for a traffic offence - and for a woman who truly believes in wearing the niqab, that's the kind of feeling you make her feel by asking her to show her face to a man.

Yes, the niqab shouldn't be used as a way to obscure identity, but there are ways around removing it to prove a woman's identity.

Personally I think they are a sign of oppression of islamic women, but I believe in freedom of religion and freedom of dress (to cover up, not to strip to nothing), and my personal belief that it's a sign of depression doesn't override my belief that it's a woman right to choose to cover up as much as she likes.

Tara - posted on 07/11/2011

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I'm with Joy and anyone else who believes that this is fair.
There is no reason that Muslim women should be exempt from the laws as they are. If I were wearing a masquerade ball type of mask, that showed my eyes through two holes, but covered other parts of my face, and I was pulled over I would have to remove the mask, same with glasses, a ball cap, etc.
This is not about religion, it is about safety and the laws that protect all citizens. And no one based on any religion should be exempt from the laws that exist in the country they reside in. Period.

[deleted account]

Police have had the power to discover a person's identity for years. This is a beat up. Islamic authorities have no problems.

Constance - posted on 07/11/2011

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@ Sal I do agree with you about smaller aeas that do not have female officers that would be different.

Sal - posted on 07/11/2011

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i am not an expert on islam but because this is all over the news (or was last week) there are a lot of "experts" and one point that i heard quiet a bit was that the full face covering wasn;t "religious" it was cultural as the koran only said to dress modestly and cover the hair (i think) and also that if a woman was requires by the law of the land to take off her full covering then that law over rode the islam, and also that the muslim community were sick of people using their religous and cultral habbits to make plitcal points, a true peaceful muslim would of just showed her identity..
i also would like to make the point again that while i think asking for a female is fine in the city it just isn;t always possible here, at my husands last station, he was the only cop, the next station was 60km and it also for months and months at one point had no female officer, and the next station in his lac was a further 150km from it (over 200km) there were female officers there but with a wait time of over 2hours under police guard (as it was about securing id, they would have to be watched) and 2 officers tied up for 2 hours it does seem a little extreme and a waste of time for the woman and the police resourses, and yes even though it was a rural area there was a reasonalble flow of highway traffic and i did see any number of women in veils and scarfs, not daily but enough to make it a problem in this type of case

Constance - posted on 07/11/2011

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I don't think being asked to remove a veil for idetification is violating religious rights as long as they can put them back after. I would say the punishment does seem extreme but even in the states most mistermeanors carry up to 1 year in jail/ fines.

I also don't think it is unreasonable for any woman to request a female officer. If you are not comfortable reveiling any part of your body to a man that is not your husband then that should be respected.

[deleted account]

Its fair..if they can't see your face then its a security risk they can't identify you correctly etc..if a person with a helmet refuses they get the same penalty as a woman who refuses to remove her burka.Its fair.I think anyway.

Gina - posted on 07/11/2011

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I think it's fair and reasonable,the media is making it a religious thing when it's not.People who wear helmets have to take them off, why should the burka be different?

Alison - posted on 07/11/2011

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I understand it logistically; facial recognition is important in law enforcement, but the law should be relegated to them showing their faces only with just cause--like being pulled over. They should be able to practice their religion by covering their faces in schools and supermarkets etc. IMO. I also don't think it should pushed on the premise that it's freeing Muslim women. That's like forcibly "freeing" someone from their religion and/or culture because we don't agree with it.

Becky - posted on 07/11/2011

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It's completely fair! What would be unfair would be if I am required to remove my ski mask when I get pulled over for speeding but a Muslim woman in a burka is not required to show her face. I don't see this as being discriminatory at all. It's common sense, really, Suppose it was not, in fact, you driving your vehicle, but someone who had stolen it and your license. Wouldn't you want the police to be able to confirm that?!
There was actually an interesting editorial in our paper about this yesterday. The writer's opinion was that not only is this good for police, but it also is a step in the right direction for freedom for Muslim women. He sees the burka and veil as symbols of oppression and inferiority. I'm not quite sure how he got that forcing them to show their faces was a step towards getting rid of those, but that was his opinion.

Jodi - posted on 07/11/2011

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LOL Amber. Unfortunately, the legislation rarely gets passed with First offence: slap on wrist and $100 fine, second offence $500 fine, third offence $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail, etc. But I get where you are coming from. The Tax Office laws are like that, if it is any help!!!

Amber - posted on 07/10/2011

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Yep, that's why I said if it was done over and over again it would make sense to me. Our laws work the same way here.
My accountants mind just likes things to be labeled and packaged in set increments. I would like 1st time X dollars, 2nd time XX dollars...that way you can't get the book thrown at you on your first offense to be made an example of.

Jodi - posted on 07/10/2011

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The reason they have an "up to" in the law is so that the judge has some leeway in sentencing. If it is a repeat offender, then at least the judge has somewhere to go. That's just how the laws work here. It's like if you are charged with manslaughter (as an example), the penalty in the law is "up to" 25 years (or whatever). It gives the judge a maximum they can sentence based on the severity of the circumstances. Make sense?

Amber - posted on 07/10/2011

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Jodi, I still think the option of 5,500 and a year in jail is harsh. I don't know. I guess if it were something that was done over and over again I could see it making sense...
I'm all for the law though.

Jodi - posted on 07/10/2011

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Amber, the penalty would be an "up to". They rarely penalise to the full extent of the allotted penalty. I think the situation would have to be extreme. And a penalty of that amount would be decided by a court of law based on the strength of the case.

Amber - posted on 07/10/2011

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I think the penalty is a little harsh, but the concept is completely okay with me. My ex had to remove his baseball cap when we got pulled over one night...and it didn't even cover his face.

I'm not sure how the laws are in Australia, but here in the US if a woman asks for a female officer, they must provide one for her.
In fact, I know where I live, I'm not even required to pull over on back roads when I'm alone. I just have to turn on my hazard lights or call 911 so they know I'm not running from them.

Sal - posted on 07/10/2011

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I actaully never knew that you could refuse to take off a helmet/ scarf before this all became in the news, i always thought you had to anyway as all the bank etc have a notice outside asking you too

Sal - posted on 07/10/2011

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last time i got my photo done a muslim lady was getting hers done, she didn;t have the full face cover but a scarf covering her forhead and under her chin they told her she would need to romove it some what, she had no issue, she asked how much off and they told her, easy..

[deleted account]

Sal that whole thing of not being able to have your licence photo taken with reading glasses on or sunnies on your head makes me ask the question how did any of these muslims get their licence anyway? If they have to have their face showing then i'm assuming they took it off for their photo's? If they did then i just don't get the outcry over this that they are making.....

Sal - posted on 07/10/2011

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and for a further point when you sign and pay for your liecence you are agreeing to abide by the laws that are covered by the state/country you are driving in, when the women get their licence (or a man) you can't even get your photo taken with sunglasses on the top of your head, or wearing reading glasses if you don;t drive in them, if you are waering sunnies or a hat the police might ask you to take thwm off so see you properly, and i know my mum was told to go and get her licence taken again as the photo was so bad they had trouble identifying her...it is the price you pay for the priviledge of having a licence

Sal - posted on 07/10/2011

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i have been watching this with sme interest seen as my husband is a nsw policeman, as far as i can make out they just can't ask an inocent person to uncover (yes it is open to misuse but as the law states) for example if a driver is pulled up for a random breath test and the test is clear, off they goes, the police can request to see a licence but don;t always, if she was driving erraticaly but passed the test they might ask for id to prove that the driver indeed has a licence, if this person was on a bike they would be asked to take off a helment, if they had a full face veil they would be asked to take off the veil, it is simple and it is sensible, if a female police officer is available then ask her, but living in a small town with only 1 female officer (and only 3 males) it might not be possible, so she is faced with the choice of waiting until an officer can be bought from the next town over 50 km away or showing the male and getting on the road,

[deleted account]

I do think it is fair to prove your identity. However, as Toni said, their religion should still be respected and a woman police officer should be the one to see the individuals face.

[deleted account]

I see no reason why the police shouldn't be able to see someones face when they are suspected of or have commited a crime, but they should try to respect religious/ cultural dress - so a police woman should be the one to see the individuals face (albeit called to the scene or at the police station).

Amie - posted on 07/10/2011

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I see no reason to NOT prove your identity. Regardless of your religion.

Look at the example within the OP. The woman got off scot free for making a false complaint - because she was wearing her face veil when the original complaint was filed and they could not prove it was her. Nice way to dodge out of a fine and jail time that way.

I fully respect the rights of other people, however, that should not hinder (in any way) the right of our police officers to do their jobs.

Rosie - posted on 07/10/2011

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yes it's fair. why shouldn't the police know if the person driving is the same as the person in their ID? what would be the point of even showing ID if the person had their face covered? totally fair, IMO

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