West Australia passed a new law Friday requiring veil-wearing Muslim women to show their faces in order to verify their identities, should police ask them to. Women who wear niqabs (pieces of cloth draped over the face) and burqas will now be impelled to remove the face-obscuring religious garments when questioned by authorities. The law does not affect women who wear the hair-and-neck-covering hijab.
The original draft of the law referred only to "head wear," bringing under its purview not only facial veils but also headscarves and turbans. However, after talking with Muslim and Sikh communities in the state, authorities decided not to overstep boundaries of privacy and religion quite that much.
The law is a response to outcry over a case from 2010, in which a woman was acquitted of knowingly making a false statement because authorities were unable to prove that the burqa-clad woman who made the statement was the same person as the accused. Doubts about the woman's identity led to a similar burqa-restricting law in New South Wales being passed in 2011.
The new legislation is reminiscent of burqa fear elsewhere in the world, particularly France. The country's notorious "burqa ban" was implemented in 2011 and is disturbingly popular with the majority of the country's citizens. Although it doesn't allow police to remove veils, those who are caught wearing them in public places are either fined or required to attend citizenship classes. But don't worry: lest a law banning the habitual covering of one's face be considered Islamophobic, the law was carefully written without any reference to religion.
Closer to home, West Australia's new legislation also reflects the country's continually controversial stances on immigration. Australian politicians are particularly concerned over a perceived influx of asylum-seekers, whose boats are by law often turned back where they came from. Even legal immigrants have trouble in the country, as new legislation restricting even skilled workers was passed in October.