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The Burka Comes to Parliament: Pauline Hanson’s Panto

In few environments could this work. A member of Parliament (barely breathing, but still a parliament) running within a Muslim minority country (a small minority, at that) with mocking intent, dons a burka, sits in the stands, and receives appropriate mind-bending outrage when she strips it off.

One thing can be said: Australia’s Pauline Hanson of her self-described One Nation Party was, in the basest way, impressive. She donned the religious garb of a religion she detests, whose injunctions and mores she barely knows how to enunciate. Her ignorance is profoundly encyclopaedic, and she is proud of it.

Her command of the various types of Islamic religious costume also leaves something to be desired, not to mention her awareness of the formalities that attend it. To that end, she is the textbook example of one terrified by the hidden, the unknown, even the invisible. What are they hiding underneath all that, this dress called the burka? “Many Australians are very much in fear of it.”

Never mind the point made by the speaker of the Senate that she was checked, ahead of this display, that she was, in fact, a One Nation Senator, a security screening process that has been in place for years and requires no revision, let alone updating.

And with each attack, each series of inflicted apocalyptic murders by van, gun, and knife, supposedly perpetrated in the name of Islam, she gets more enthused, determined to wind back what she sees as the aspirations of a caliphate in Australia, a dangerous blooming that must be stomped and severed.

The response from various spokespeople of the Islamic faith was one of vigorous head-shaking, more in sorrow than anger. Nail Aykan, executive director of the Islamic Council of Victoria had to “look twice, thinking ‘is this real?’” Then came the dismissive judgment: “The quote that you can never underestimate the predictability of stupidity, it came to my mind. But this is a new low.”

The theme of foolishness, idiocy, a clown in a hurry, was also expressed by Kazim Ates. “Australians don’t believe the burka, the wearing of the burka by a handful of women, is jeopardising the security of Australia.” By wearing it in Parliament, Hanson had merely “made a fool of herself.”

In a world rapidly spinning on the motifs of the next Trump sensation, the next news propulsion of smacking reality (or fake news), the next tweet, this was sensational and less inappropriate than it would have otherwise been. Its foolishness can only be understood in Trumpland’s new code of reality television and the visual stunt.

US President Donald Trump has already been laying the ground, with his daily utterances that demand, not merely a second look but a third and fourth. His executive order placing various Muslim majority countries on a banned list in terms of entering the United States was a Hansonist measure writ large.

Even more notable is the Hanson copyright, her intellectual property, that can be extended to various Australian policies on refugees and asylum seekers. The “Turn Back the Boats” policy of Prime Minister Tony Abbott had its Hanson imprint, a violent response that barely concealed the fact that he was, and remains suspicious, of Muslim arrivals.

Prime Minister John Howard, in an attempt to neutralise her as a threat to the Liberal National Party coalition in the later 1990s, assimilated Hanson’s clumsy intolerance, giving it a visage of political respectability. The Pacific Solution, Manus and Nauru, not to mention third country resettlement are all legacies of the Hanson diatribe, a bureaucratic-military response that has, at its core, deep suspicions, manic fears. Fittingly, Howard had himself been strongly opposed to immigration – of the Asian variety – in the 1980s.

More to the point, caution, maybe disbelief, struck certain members in the Australian Senate. Was this pantomime with an edge, the vulgar panto that can only be carried off in certain settings (an English public school, for instance, with a taste for the inappropriate)? It was clear that those on the government side were hesitant to applaud their own member, the Attorney-General, George Brandis, who gave Hanson what can be mildly described as a tongue-lashing.

Visibly shaken by Hanson’s burka act, Brandis proceeded to answer Hanson’s questions on whether the burka should be banned with suitable authority. In a sense, that was the other fact that added to the panto: an attorney-general who has been indifferent to civil liberties (data retention, secrecy provisions and restrictions on reporting security matters) happy to defend the fundamental entitlement to wear such dress.

“I would caution and counsel you with respect to be very, very careful of the offence you may do to the religious sensibilities of other Australians.” Working with each director-general of security and the Australian Federal Police had impressed Brandis that a cooperative Muslim community was vital. Deriding them would, effectively, hive off any chance of averting the next attack, or quashing the next plot. “And to ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.”

In her gesture, the One Nation Party leader got exactly what she bargained for. She is immune to critique, let alone criticism, and no doubt plotting the next display that will grab the headlines. And optimistic observations, such as those of David Borger of the Sydney Business Chamber that Hanson’s “cheap shot” will fail in driving a wedge in communities such as Western Sydney, will have to be tested.

Unalloyed bigotry does sell, even if the returns are modest. “She was making a point about security,” suggested Western Sydney commuter Bruce Burke to the ABC, “and I’ve gotta agree with her.”

Dr Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed on Twitter at @bkampmark.



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  1. Jaquix

    Jacquie Lambie made a great speech soon after, which hasn’t received any publicity. I saw a video clip of it. She said Pauline is a disgrace and isn’t interested in being united, One Nation. She said the party should be called Divided Nation. It was a really emotional speech about veterans and the way they are treated.

  2. helvityni

    Pauline should wear burka/burqa more often; she looked rather beautiful in it… 🙂 Not to offend the genuine burqa wearers, she could also choose a Ned Kelly style steel suit of armour… 🙂

    ( these days people are quick to take offence, so I slipped in two smiley signs to indicate that I’m not totally serious…)

  3. diannaart

    Jacqui Lambie, a politician I find tolerable at best, certainly looks almost sane and reasonable compared to Hanson.


  4. diannaart

    @ helvityni

    No worries – I never take you seriously


  5. havanaliedown

    Jacqui Lambie make Pauline look like a member of MENSA in comparison. How is Jacquie going to top Pauline’s stunt?

    Perhaps another Doctor Evil-esque video challenge to Barnaby Joyce?

    Stunning production values and acting reward the viewer.

    As a side note, many of these minor parties – Jacquie Lambie Network (of one), Nick Xenophon Team (looking shakey), Palmer United Party (was that a world record of brevity?), Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (some may say keep the jibjab on) will not outlive the nomenclature of their founders. It’s a curious commonality that they have not thought through the longevity of their branding… Cory Bernardi being the exception.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Lambie introduced a private members bill in February to ban the burqa.

    ‘Gone are the easy days of the past where we knew and trusted our neighbours and left our backdoors unlocked,’ she said. ‘The threat from organised crime and terrorism is real.’

    Jacqui also used a photo of the first female Afghani policewoman, who was gunned down by the Taliban, in an image calling for the burqa to be banned.

    If she is worried about organised crime and terrorism, she would do better to investigate the Commonwealth Bank than burqa clad women. I’d be checking up on investor visas too which have become a way for criminals to buy their way into Australia.

  7. diannaart

    Thanks for timely reminder, Kaye Lee.

    Lambie perceived opportunity to one-up Hanson?

    ANYONE can enter Australia by plane, just so long as they don’t ever arrive by boat.

  8. havanaliedown

    “ANYONE can enter Australia by plane”, on the correct Visa – but first they must be processed by our immigration system. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a successful “asylum” claim and receiving welfare support. That’s why they were hopping onto boats when Labor vainly dumped the TPV system.

    “Tough but humane” (wink) was the claim. Still is, which is why they’ll be thrashed at the election – by Turnbull (who is belatedly discovering his border security mojo) or my preferred option – Julie Bishop.

  9. Brett

    What Brandis and other simple-minded virtue signalers fail to realise is that the burka is viewed as distasteful among most Muslims too. It’s only Afghanistan where it is commonly worn. To stupidly claim one is offending religious sensibilities is ignorant at best and to think mockery of such oppressive cultural artefacts is wrong is simply backward thinking at its worst. I wonder if the same imbeciles outraged at Hanson would behave the same over a protest against clitorectomies.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    I don’t agree with Lambie on many fronts but I believe she is genuine in causes she backs. I have also noticed that sometimes she listens.

  11. Zathras

    Hanson and Lambie both seem to be angry women looking for somebody to blame for whatever is troubling them – a one-size-fits-all solution.

    Hanson was rejected by the Liberal Party and Lambie quit the Palmer United Party so they share the political “outsider” label.
    Neither seem to offer anything positive – only criticism and allocating blame, although Lambie does have some moments of clarity.

    Howard (a man known to refer to aborigines as “boongs” in private discussions and who admittedly feels uncomfortable seeing Asian faces on Sydney streets) deliberately failed to silence Hanson in Parliament because he wanted to win back her supporters but quietly got Abbott to put her away when the time was right.

    Now Hanson wants to ban burqas because they allegedly remove freedom of choice for women by introducing a law to force them NOT to wear them instead. Same thing?

    The security argument is patent nonsense. There are enough dressed-up Santas on the streets in December to mount a crime spree too.

    There’s already an ugliness deep down in Australian politics and it’s rising to the surface.

    Female Genital Mutilation is NOT a religious practice and is banned in several Muslim countries, including Iran.

    It’s very common in African countries – including majority Catholic ones – and the first missionaries tried in vain to prevent it.

    It (like the burqa) is a cultural practice and definitely not a Muslim-only event.

  12. paul walter

    “Panto” sums it up. Like Bishop’s “plot” stunt, what an imbecilic effort. Do others feel angry at the sheer intensity of the stupidity and arrogance?

  13. Matters Not

    A little bit of reading will reveal that the wearing of the burqa is banned in various nations across the world (sometimes in certain circumstances) including those with claims to be liberal democracies.

    For me, it matters not.

    But have a read.

  14. Peter F

    I am prepared to accept the wearing of the burqa right up until some fool uses it as a means of hiding their destructive intent. From that moment on I will say that it is not suitable attire to be worn in public.

    It is in the interests of the Muslim community to be most vigilant in their efforts to monitor their impressionable young people. Perhaps the fact that we have not seen this crime is a sign of the good work already being done, as Senator Brandis said .


    need a rather long extension of logic to say the burka is a religious garment. it is not and many islamics oppose it as well.

  16. Brett

    Zathras: while there’s not much direct scriptural demand for FGM it most certainly is a religious practice for the communities that practice it. Similar to the burka, as you and Hanson point out. Brandis’ failure to respond to Hanson’s argument shows he’s purely moral grandstanding and not interested in logical debate at all.

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