Australia: A community says no to racist burqa bans

The audience was diverse, with a range of ages and ethnic backgrounds represented. Photo by Robert Alcock.

By Peter Boyle, Sydney

November 26, 2010 -- All around the Western world, far-right groups (some with neo-Nazi orgins and links) are gaining political ground through an orchestrated campaign against Muslim communities. By spreading fear and hatred against recent immigrant communities from Muslim countries these groups have tapped into well-resourced post-9/11 war propaganda campaigns initiated by rulers of the world’s richest and most powerful states.

One of the favourite tactics of these anti-Muslim hate campaigners is to push laws banning the burqa, the fully veiled dress style used by a tiny minority of Muslim women. In Australia, the ultra-conservative Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party and a member of the NSW Legislative Council, and Liberal senator Cori Bernardi from South Australia, have unsuccessfully tried to move private member's bills to ban the burqa.

The burqa ban issue became a local controversy in the Sydney’s cosmopolitan inner-west suburbs when Sergio Redegalli, a glass sculptor and gallery owner, painted a stark “Say no to burqas” mural on the wall of his studio in Newtown.

Two local residents, Amanda Perkins (a union organiser) and Pip Hinman (prominent anti-war campaigner, community activist and Socialist Alliance election candidate in several local, state and federal elections) organised a public meeting in the Erskineville Town Hall on November 24 to bring the debate into the open.

Presentations by Sally McManus, Australian Services Union state secretary; Aisha Chaabou, a student activist from the University of Western Sydney; Father Dave Smith, Holy Trinity Church; and Pip Hinman kicked off the debate. Several members of the audience spoke for and against banning the burqa. Redegalli, the painter of the anti-burqa mural, also spoke.

Redegalli is slippery about his motives. He claims he just wanted to “start a discussion” but his anti-Muslim prejudice was clear. He told the meeting he’d love to have a discussion with Muslim women about the issue — prompting a Muslim woman at the meeting to remark that having such a mural on his wall was not exactly “inviting”!

Some people think he maybe just looking for free publicity for his business but he’s playing with some nasty far-right forces. On the far-right Australian Identity website (which describes itself as an “Independent patriotic forum”), Redegalli was first applauded (some forum members said they rushed to have their photo taken in front of it) and identified as a great opening. Some suggested buying Xmas presents from his gallery to show support. But when Redegalli amended the mural to replace the clear image of a woman in a burqa with an outline, one member of the forum wrote: “Well, this was predictable.  The gutless dago has removed it…”

Perhaps the Italian-born Redegalli ought to reflect on this.

Sally McManus addresses the meeting. Photo by Robert Alcock.

“We were encouraged that many people, including lots of local residents, had a chance to have their say. An overwhelming majority of attendees did not support calls to ban the burqa”, said Perkins after the meeting. At the end of a wide-ranging, passionate but civil debate, Hinman moved the following motion, which was supported by two-thirds of the people at the meeting:

This Town Hall meeting is against any ban on the burqa.

Calls to ban the burqa tap into racist campaigns against people of Islamic background.

Calls to ban the burqa do not assist those women who do not want to wear the burqa. Rather they penalise and stigmatise a small number of women, and make it hard for them to leave their home.

For these and other reasons, supporters of women’s rights and human rights should resist calls to ban the burqa.

Two commercial television stations, Channel 7 and Channel 9, filmed the entire meeting but in their news items broadcast the following night focussed solely on the small pro-burqa ban minority. OK, many readers will not find that too surprising perhaps but they may find it a little shocking that these two TV stations were actually promoting and projecting to a mass audience an orchestrated media stunt by the far-right Australian Protectionist Party. The APP split off from another far-right party called Australia First (a group headed by the notorious open Nazi supporter Jim Saleam) in 2007, and hopes to advance in electoral politics on a model borrowed from the British National Party. In March this year, Nick Chance a visiting speaker from BNP coached APP members on how they could advance by using anti-Islamic propaganda and by shedding connections with anti-Semites and overt neo-Nazi types. Alas for the APP, its members and supporters find it hard to hide their racism as a perusal of its Facebook site quickly reveals.

Members of the APP, and another far-right group called the “Southern Cross Soldiers”, came to the Erskineville meeting with prepared scripts and a male APP member, Robert Hunt, dressed in a black burqa. With the TV cameras focused on him, Hunt strode to the front to address the meeting and then theatrically whipped off his mask and said: “No one has raised the issue of security yet. I’m a male!”

Far-right APP member Robert Hunt in his burqa was promoted by the commerical TV stations present. From Channel 7 news coverage.

For extra emphasis, Hunt added, that he could have gone into the female toilets! Later, boasting on his Facebook page, Hunt wrote:

“Yes it was me! … and the sound of the vaginas closing in the front… I had never heard so many squeeks as to what I did when I said I could have gone into the female dunnies.”

Another wild-eyed APP member, Jack Zedee, said he was a former soldier who lives in Lakemba (a Sydney suburb with a big middle-eastern community) and that he was sick of being abused and spat at by burqa-clad Muslim women in the street and fearful of “Sharia law” being imposed in Australia!

Another speaker, who seemed costumed and primed with a crude script, was a woman who a gave her name as “Skye Patch” and claimed to be a “concerned resident”. She declared herself to be from “Generation X” and argued for her right “as a proud Australian woman” to wear a sleeveless dress, make-up, high heels and be free from “political correctness”. She was very Pauline Hansonesque in her language and played to the TV cameras.

It was a weird argument. There is no move to “impose Sharia law” in Australia and there is no move to ban any dress apart from the burqa, but allowing Muslim women wear a burqa is the “thin edge of the wedge” and next thing we know we’ll all be under Sharia law! It’s the sort of wild leap of no-logic that you would think the white supremacist far-right (born again as anti-Muslim hate campaigners today) would struggle to get a mountain goat to chance. But perhaps not if they get a little help from powerful rich friends with TV stations.

Channel 7 distorted this overwhelmingly anti-racist, anti-burqa ban meeting into what will undoubtedly serve as a propaganda film by the APP and other far-right groups. A Channel 7 reporter later admitted to one of the meeting organisers that he had lined it up with the APP. You can watch it here.

Fortunately, a local resident filmed the entire meeting and this will be posted to Youtube soon and made available off the Green Left Weekly website.

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University of Western Sydney student Aisha Chaabou. Photo by Robert Alcock.

Father Dave Smith, Holy Trinity Church. Photo by Robert Alcock.

Pip Hinman, Sydney Stop The War Coalition founding member, Socialist Alliance and community activist. Photo by Robert Alcock.

Organiser and chairperson Amanda Perkins (foreground). Speaking: Sergio Redegalli, who painted the "Say no to burqas" mural. Photo by Robert Alcock.


Firstly i would like to Thank Amanda Perkins in having organised the town hall style meeting.
It was told to all people that the "idea" behind the gathering was to talk about the issuse of the full Face covering debate and banning the Burqa, with the aim of trying to see if saying no to the Burqa and all full face coverings in public spaces would be seen as Rasist.
The complete evening was one sided from the start, all four speakers had fixed ideas.
The word Rasist is SO over used that MOST people are getting over it.
-Anyone that would like to ask me directly "why" I have started this debate please contact me.

-The topic of Sharia Law was not talked about because it was not the topic.

There is so much more to talk about without this always becoming Left or right issues. We are all Australians so lets keeping talking with out hate.
If the people that call other people Rasist are being Rasist/anti free expression in their process we are going the wrong way.

I would like to make clear, that I have been living in Newtown for over 25 years,I own my Studio, I do not rent, My art work is all over the world, my clients are from every place,very few clients come from Newtown.
If you think putting your life in Danger, friends and family as well, haveing your private property damaged all the time from the same few people screaming Rasist.
So to the people that are saying it is a money making idea, think again.



I spent several very unpleasant hours reading through the various Facebook pages and discussion lists of people campaigning to ban the burqa in Australia. And if you want to see unadulterated hate, racism and bigotry on display you'll see it. Here is a small sample (complete with typos):

"being Islamophic is like being scared of sharks , shiows you have a sence of survival as Islam wants all who are not of Islam dead or slaves you idiot sap greens supporter"

"It's impossible for them to truly assimilate because they identify first and foremost with an alien religion that controls just about every aspect of their life and is often contrary to mainstream Western values. As their numbers grow they inevitably organise and become more demanding, bringing about inevitable clashes with the host population."

"I wonder if any old soldiers there still had their trusty machine guns from WW2 handy to mow those muslim pigs down!"

These are from the discussion on the Facebook page of the far-right Australian protectionist Party which models itself on the Britain's BNP.

Here are some snippets from the Ban The Burqa In Australia Facebook site:

"Observation: Why is there a major news report nearly every week about some Islamic attempt to destroy other countries societies or harm that societies individuals. i.e. Bombings and hate filled rallies. The stance of Islamic fundamentalists and so-called moderates warning that any derogatory remark about Islam is met w...ith death threats. Coupled with the Violent history of Islam, one wonders why so many want to join such a cult/religion."

"if the muslim ?!@* heads dont like it fuck off home if your so/worried about you culture and tradition being carried out why come here and fuck us up the arse in the first place we dont need you we can walk or drive our selfs and we do have doctors matter of fact fuck off anyways!"

"Haha the rag heads are trying to ban my page "

"Mussies and mussie lovers. The thing they have in common is that they are Anti-white Australian."

"watch out, these stinking sweaty cockroaches might outbreed us!"

"No there is danger they breed like flies with all the centrelink benefits accordingly and buy up all the business and only employ their own"

"I have been very aware of that for some time Tom! Also the conversions of whites and Aboriginals to Islam is on the rise."

"They have told the aboriginals that they descended from the muslim sufies 4-6,000 years ago. Anthony Mundine became a muslim only because of Mohammod Ali and the power he has been fed has made him a risk to his own people. He is just being used to lead his people to the slaughter."

These campaign sites are anti-Muslim hate sites. No two ways about this. Whatever Sergio Redegalli's motivations are, he's helping to promote a real live racist hate campaign against communities from countries which are predominantly Muslim.

The racist thugs, emboldened by the support Muslim-bashing gets from the radio shock jocks and commercial TV "news" and "current affairs" programs, who will deal out more bashings and abuse in the streets, workplaces and in schools won't discriminate between Muslim and non-Muslim, let alone Muslim and "extreme Muslim". They'll just go for anyone who looks different. The "ragheads", "mussies", "gooks" and "wogs".

One of the Burqa ban warriors has already called Sergio a "gutless dago" on the Australian Indentity Forum (associated with the APP). That's the sort of forces that are behind the ban the burqa movement.



"The Christmas edition of the Ironback club is set for Saturday, 11th of December from 3PM. Our special guest speaker will be Sergio Redegalli, Sergio came to prominece lately when he painted a 'say no to the burqa' mural on his property in Newtown. This caused outrage amongst the tree-hugging set, but has set the agenda for a healthy and robust debate on an issue that concerns Australians.

"APP members feature prominently in this news report about a lefty organised meeting in favour of the burqa:


"So bring your friends and support Sergio and others who are speaking out in for your rights."


To all Australians,

I have started a debate for everyone; right, left, centre, and I will talk to as many people as time permits.
I have talked at a Secular Party Meeting, attended the far left (Socialist) Green meeting, on the 11th the APP, and hopefully a Muslim men’s group this year as well.
We all have a role to play: being able to talk about this issue without violence and abuse.
Amanda Perkins proved that town hall style meetings can work, even if the meeting on the 24th of November was a far Left wing set up.
Talking to the converted is the simple option, talking with other members of the Australian community is much more challenging for all of us.
If there is any country in the world that these issues can be solved it is in Australia.
To the gentleman that made the above comment and gave so many examples of what he thinks is “Racist”, the fact is people have issues and they are real, very real.
There are more than 2 sides to this topic, all of them have issues, all of them real to the people involved.
Let’s not be afraid to communicate.


If anyone argues that someone writing "watch out, these stinking sweaty cockroaches might outbreed us!" is drawing attention to a real issue, then I think it is clear they are racist. If they then demand that no-one should point out their racism, they are also an enemy of free speech.

Channel 7's refusal to report the views of the very diverse majority at the Erskineville meeting, instead promoting the Neo-Nazi race-hate cult, the APP, as representative (without informing viewers who they were, which the journalists would have known as the Nazis were handing out leaflets with the APP website), shows that there is plenty of space for racist voices in the corporate mainstream media, but very little for anti-racist voices.

There are those who hold a mainstream, politically correct, corporate-promoted, racist outlook yet complain about political correctness every time someone has the audacity to tell the truth to power. They claim it is a violation of free speech for any non-corporate-approved opinion to be voiced. And they flatter themselves that they are bravely speaking out when they repeat racist ideas that those with power pump out at us.

This is the same sort of upside-down logic that says women's liberation could be advanced by imposing laws on women restricting their choices!


As an American who came across this article and was completely unaware of these circumstances in Australia, I am very proud of the people for having the courage to stand on principle against this type of racism.