An Australian court has ruled that a woman cannot wear her niqab to testify in court — but the decision may be more about prejudice than legal necessity.
In the second story of forced unveiling in as many days, the AFP reports that a Muslim woman will have to remove her niqab to serve as a witness in a fraud trial. The reason: jurors supposedly can't tell if she's telling the truth unless they can see her face. This rationale is certainly more legitimate than the "Disney Look" policy that required an employee to remove her hijab at Disneyland last week. But it's still a little suspect.
Candidates in Australia's upcoming election have weighed in, with sitting Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying the "sight of the burqa on our streets is confronting. But I also believe that in a free country, a wonderful democracy like this one, people should be able to be absolutely free to choose what they want to wear." Her opponent Tony Abbott was more strident, saying that while he didn't support a burqa ban, "I don't particularly like the burqa, and I would prefer that it was not worn." Judge Shauna Deane didn't say anything like this in her ruling, but in a country where the mere sight of a burqa is considered a confrontation, it may be hard to separate good judicial practice from institutionalized prejudice. It's a lot easier to require a woman to remove her head covering if said head covering is already culturally frowned upon, and those who object to the veil both in Australia and here need to ask themselves if their objections really stem from a discomfort with Islam.
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