AP Buries Lede in Australian Muslim Veil Story

A proposed "culturally insensitive" traffic law in New South Wales, Australia, could land Muslim women of good conscience in jail for a year, the Associated Press alerted readers in a July 10 story. Essentially the law requires motorists pulled over by police officers to show their faces so that officers can confirm their identity against a driver's license photo.

Failure to do so could result in a fine and/or jail time.

"A vigorous debate that the proposal has triggered reflects the cultural clashes being ignited by the growing influx of Muslim immigrants and the unease that visible symbols of Islam are causing in predominantly white Christian Australia since 1973 when the government relaxed its immigration policy," the AP preached.

But buried deeper in the article was an explanation of why the bill is being considered in the first place (emphasis mine):


The New South Wales state Cabinet decided to create the law on July 4 in response to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione's call for greater police powers. Other states including Victoria and Western Australia are considering similar legislation.

"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else — the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," State Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.

The laws were motivated by the bungled prosecution of Carnita Matthews, a 47-year-old Muslim mother of seven who was booked by a highway patrolman for a minor traffic violation in Sydney in June last year.

An official complaint was made in Matthews' name against Senior Constable Paul Fogarty, the policeman who gave her the ticket. The complaint accused Fogarty of racism and of attempting to tear off her veil during their roadside encounter.

Unknown to Matthews, the encounter was recorded by a camera inside Fogarty's squad car. The video footage showed her aggressively berating a restrained Fogarty and did not support her claim that he tried to grab her veil before she reluctantly and angrily lifted it to show her face.

Matthews was sentenced in November to six months in jail for making a deliberately false statement to police.

But that conviction and sentence were quashed on appeal last month without her serving any time in jail because a judge was not convinced that it was Matthews who signed the false statutory declaration. The woman who signed the document had worn a burqa and a justice of the peace who witnessed the signing had not looked beneath the veil to confirm her identity.

In other words, establishing the identity of a suspect is paramount to proper police work and prosecution of suspects in courts of law.

Yet at no point in the 28-paragraph story did the AP quote a career police officer or prosecutor about the legitimate public interest addressed by the proposed law, choosing only to quote a politician backing the law:

"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else — the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," State Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.

That one statement in favor of the bill was countered by two opposing views and one Muslim group's rep suggesting he was reluctantly leaning towards thinking the proposed legislation was Muslim-bashing (emphasis mine):

"It does seem to be very heavy handed, and there doesn't seem to be a need," said Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie. "It shows some cultural insensitivity."

[...]

Bernie noted that while a bandit disguised with a veil and sunglasses robbed a Sydney convenience store last year, there were no Australian crime trends involving Muslim women's clothing.

"It is a religious issue here," said Mouna Unnjinal, a mother of five who has been driving in Sydney in a niqab for 18 years and has never been booked for a traffic offense.

"We're going to feel very intimidated and our privacy is being invaded," she added.

[...]

"I wouldn't like to go and say this is Muslim bashing," said Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, of the proposed New South Wales laws.

"But I think that the timing of this was really bad for Muslims," he said.

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Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters