Respecting someone’s religious beliefs is something I though was basic etiquette. But apparently not so, according to NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and Police and Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher.
I have no idea who the women in the photo are. I cannot identify them. But I know that if I wanted to identify them, asking them to remove their burqas would cause offence.
If I needed to identify them, I know that in 2011 there are methods other than demanding they show their faces. They’re Muslim women, so I’m fairly sure that I could arrange for another Muslim woman to view their faces in private, without men present.
But this is how those aforementioned gentlemen’s views were explained in a NSW Police media release headed Police Commissioner meets Minister to close Burqa loophole earlier this evening:
Mr Scipione made the meeting a priority today, declaring the Carnita Matthews Appeal decision [my linkage] raised “real concerns” for police officers.
“The Minister and I are in total agreement that we need to take action to close this potential loophole and strengthen police powers to demand identification where necessary,” Mr Scipione said.
“We are working together to fix this issue and legislative change may be the answer,” the Commissioner added.
As I said on Twitter, I thought it might have been nice if the Commissioner and Minister had even just hinted that respect for people’s religious beliefs might enter into their thinking.
But apparently someone’s sincerely-held religious beliefs are a “real concern” and a “loophole”. We must change the laws so the police can ignore them. At least that’s what it sounds like.
I would like to think that this is simply a poorly-worded media release. After all, I respect the NSW Police for doing a difficult job that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole and, looking at the world scale, I know they’re mostly on my side. Unlike some countries we could all name.
I would like to think that the police minister, being an experienced politician, knew how to balance the different factors at play in the community.
But this is the same police minister who reckons we shouldn’t worry that people are illegally arrested because police computer information is out of date. This doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
[Photo: Afghan women wearing their traditional burqas when going outside in northern Afghanistan, by Steve Evans. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.]