Last month France banned Islamic face-covering veils such as the niqab and burqa from being worn in public places.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, "I want to say solemnly that [the burqa] will not be welcome on our territory." While French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said that the ban would "reaffirm [France’s] commonly-shared values." Italy seeks to follow suit with the government introducing a draft proposal to parliament.
"A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s expert on discrimination in Europe.
In Australia, the burqa debate is being thrashed out too. Earlier in the year Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi called for the burqa to be banned, branding it "un-Australian".
"The burqa has no place in Australian society… For safety and for society, the burqa needs to be banned in Australia," he said.
Christian Democrat Fred Nile has also called for a ban on the burqa being worn in public places, introducing a private member’s bill to the New South Wales parliament.
Both Opposition leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have admitted to finding the burqa "confronting", however have not moved to ban the burqa, but this has not stopped the public debate from raging.
In the inner-Sydney suburb of Newtown, local business-owner Sergio Redegalli painted a large mural with the slogan "Say no to burqas". His work has since been partially obscured by posters encouraging tolerance. A reactionary art-work entitled "Burqa Revolution" was created by local activist Kiraz Janicke, earning her a place as a finalist in the Live Red Art Awards.
Many who support the burqa being banned claim to do so on feminist terms, however Janicke told Green Left Weekly that this was "fake feminism", arguing that banning the burqa props up the ideological campaign of Islamaphobia and consequently "bolsters the support for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq".
The hypocrisy of an attempt to overcome perceived oppression by criminalising an item of clothing on the back of arguments such as its potential to subjugate the wearer is blatant.
Perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether or not to ban the burqa, but rather, in our post-9/11 world, is the liberation-of-women argument merely a thinly-veiled (pun intended) front to justify discriminatory anti-Muslim sentiment?