By Dr George Venturini*
Testing the thesis (continued)
(Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause)
No authoritarian, un-democratic, Fascist regime would refrain from scapegoating a minority as a tool of domination of the masses.
Examples are still staring in one’s face: Mussolini blamed strikes on the workers because they were led by subversives, meaning by that Socialists – of whom he had been one – and Communists – to whose left he had been when he was an atheist-syndicalist. Hitler narrowed the ‘targeted’ group: it had been the Jews who, through their speculations, ‘had lost the first world war for Germany’. Franco attempted to justify his coup against the Spanish Republic – and found great comfort in that from the Catholic Church – on the ground that it had fallen prey of Judeo-Masonic-Communists. In all this the wearing of the ‘right’ shirt against that of the ‘wrong’ colour – or no specific colour – is very important. So Mussolini prescribed his to be black, Hitler brown and Franco blue. In Australia, with Liberal/National Governments, it is the colour of the tie which counts!
Depending on ‘need’, it is easy to see the progression in the famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller – roughly as follows: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.” Then he was not a trade unionist, and a Jew, a Liberal, an atheist, a secularist, et cetera. Finally, they – the Nazis – had come for him, “and there was no one left to speak out for [him].” But what if somebody is a homosexual – or a Muslim? Things may be quite different then.
There are often matters over which public ‘discussion’ is encouraged – if it can be controlled – better still ‘managed’. They are, of course, just distractions from issues which really matter. But they make for good entertainment and find courageous paladins in the most august venues. Not long ago a ‘Liberal’ senator spent an inordinate amount of time, in the Senate, on radio interviews, and newspaper articles to advocate the banning of the burqa. The learned senator succinctly stated the grounds for his proposition: “Equality of women is one of the key values in our secular society and any culture that believes only women should be covered in such a repressive manner is not consistent with the Australian culture and values.”
If Senator Bernardi had his way a woman wearing the burqa, or other facial coverings, would be banned from the visitors-gallery of Parliament House in Canberra. Senator Bernardi had first raised the issue in Senate Estimates in 2010. On that occasion the senator was told that a person wearing a balaclava entering Parliament would trigger an alert and be watched but s/he would be allowed to enter the building without removing the facial covering.
Senator Bernardi persisted and on the week of 22 September 2014 wrote to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, urging that the rules be changed in light of the heightened terror threat, which has seen armed police guard Parliament House for the first time and the ministerial wing locked down to the public.
The South Australian conservative argued that the burqa is a security risk because it prevents a person being identified and believes the religious headwear is a “symbol of oppression” and should be treated no differently from a balaclava or a motorcycle helmet.
The states of New South Wales and Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have laws allowing police to require, under certain circumstances, the removal of burqas or other items which may conceal identity.
Speaker Bishop and the Senate President Stephen Parry, the presiding officers were considering Senator Bernardi’s request. In 2004 Bronwyn Bishop had called for the hijab headscarf to be banned from being worn by girls in schools. Two other federal Coalition MPs, George Christensen and Brett Whiteley had joined Senator Bernardi’s calls for the burqa to be banned, despite Prime Minister Abbott urging people not “to fret” about a person’s religion or clothing.
Labor Senator Anne Urqhart had written to Mr. Abbott urging him “publicly [to] condemn” Mr. Whiteley for seeking to equate ‘Islam with terrorism’. (‘Senator Cory Bernardi requests burqa ban in Parliament House’).
The presiding officers obliged Bernardi and associates with an interim decision, personally adding the controversial ‘burqa ban’ in Parliament House to official security advice because they feared a group was intending to disrupt Parliament.
Bishop said that the decision had been based on advice of “an action planned that would disrupt the business of the House” but would not say where that advice had come from. Parry said that he had based his decision to add the interim ban on two pieces of advice, but one of the officials he cited as giving him that advice said that she had not been told of any intended “disruption”, but only that a group wearing facial coverings intended to ‘enter’ Parliament House. Parry also conceded that “A.S.I.O. and the Australian Federal Police were not involved” in the decision.
The Senate official, the usher of the black rod, told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing that she had received a call mid-morning on 2 October – the date of the controversial interim decision – from the parliamentary security operations manager who “said that he had become aware that a film crew was on the forecourt of Parliament House because they believed a group of people were planning to enter question time wearing burqas.” She had passed this information to Parry.
Bishop and Parry had met on 19 October 2014 to discuss their next step. Abbott could not formally order them to change their ruling but he had left them with no practical option.
Parry told the Senate Estimates Committee that he and Bishop had decided on the segregation after advice that “a group of people, some being male, were going to disrupt question time in the House of Representatives. The advice further indicated that this group would be wearing garments that would prevent recognition of facial features and possibly their gender.”
No protest occurred. Later evidence to the committee indicated the original suggestion about people in facial coverings potentially entering Parliament House went from a Nine Network crew, which was in front of the building on the day, to the Australian Federal Police who passed it onto parliamentary security officials. But it was thought no action was needed. That changed when the information reached the presiding officers.
Parry would not go into the way in which he and Bishop came to their segregation decision but confirmed that neither the A.F.P. nor A.S.I.O. advised it. Parry said that he had not been contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office to reverse the decision. When Bishop was asked in the House: “Did the Prime Minister ask you to withdraw the ruling?” she replied, “In a word, no”. Abbott told the media at the time that he had asked the Speaker to rethink the decision.
In the end, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry reversed their initial decision to segregate veiled women watching parliamentary proceedings – but the women would still have to show their faces on entering the building.
The retreat followed an outcry over the ruling – which would have put these women behind glass rather than in the chambers’ open galleries – and the intervention of Prime Minister Abbott, who said that the decision should be reversed. The glassed-in areas are usually reserved for school parties.
The two presiding officers subsequently denied having reversed their ‘interim’ decision at the request of the Prime Minister, although Abbott clearly stated that he had asked them to rethink it. On 3 October Abbott said: “I asked the Speaker to rethink that decision.”
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office suggested the difference might come down to what constitutes a “formal request”. “The Prime Minister spoke to the speaker the day the revised security arrangements were announced. He made clear his views on the changed arrangements. No formal request was made to change the arrangements as they are a matter for the presiding officers.” a spokeswoman said.(M. Grattan, ‘Bishop backs down on burqas, with a twist’).
Someone was not telling the truth. And who it was is not really that important, given the atmosphere of the Abbott Government.
In that kind of cockamamie situation, the incident appeared as another smoke-screen: equality of women is not a value in Australia – it does not exist; the society is not secular – the head of state is still the defender of the Anglican religion; Parliaments still open with invocations to a Christian god; court witnesses are proffered a King James’ Bible for oath-taking, et cetera. ‘Culture’ in every day jargon is a very fluid concept, more often than not an empty vessel – a synonym for ‘fashion’, or ‘habit’, maybe? One would be very hard put to look for ‘Australian values’ anywhere.
To substantiate his case the ‘Liberal’ senator had referred to a then recent case of robbery in Sydney by a burqa-wearing bandit. As the learned senator reported, “The bandit was described by police as being of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’.” Balaclava-wearing bandits are unknown to the senator. And, assuming but not conceding that the burqa is a requirement in professing one’s faith, trying to take seriously for a short moment the senator’s call, one wonders how many people he has actually seen wearing a burqa in Australia. What would the senator suggest next: that the Jews who congregate in certain suburbs, particularly in Melbourne, should not wear their shtreimels – the fur hat worn by many married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men – in public because it is ‘un-Australian’?
Of course the senator would not dare suggesting that nuns in traditional habit look very much like women in burqas, and monks moving about in sandals and dressing gowns are not typically Australian. What would the senator say of those various eastern orthodox Catholic priests with their bizarre attires? Would some priests and Jews with their ‘un-Australian’ funny little skull caps upset the senator? And what to say of all those new Australian women subjects who came from Africa and continue to wear in public traditional African dresses?
Translated into plain English what the ‘Liberal’ senator and his associates meant is: curtail, and if possible stop the entry of Muslims, because they tip the well-balanced Judeo-Christian society on which Australia is said to be founded. The real substance is of a much cruder kind and is demonstrated by the then shadow minister for immigration Scott Morrison enjoining his ministerial colleagues, at a meeting of the Shadow Ministry in December 2010, to use community concerns about ‘Muslim immigration’ for the Opposition’s political advantage. It is not a pleasant view, and that Opposition had no monopoly of narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and base calculations.
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.