Thursday, September 1, 2011

Culturally appropriate

The Carnita Matthews case

On the 7th of June last year, a little after six in the evening, a Muslim woman named Carnita Matthews, dressed in a full burqa with facial niqab, was driving through the western suburbs of Sydney when a highway patrolman pulled her over for a random breath test. The fifteen-minute encounter that followed, which was recorded by a camera on the cop-car’s dashboard, would prove to be one of the most resonant traffic stops in Australian history. Portions of the video have played repeatedly on the nightly news. Two court cases have ensued. Scrums of pious men have jostled camera crews on city streets. And now, as a direct consequence of the whole affair, the New South Wales government is about to introduce laws empowering police to order the temporary removal of facial coverings for purposes of identification. This legislation has been somewhat lazily compared to the burqa ban in France, although it has far more limited aims than the French measure. Still, the maximum penalties for non-compliance will be a lot tougher: a year’s jail or a $5500 fine, as against the 150 Euro wrist-slap applicable in France.

The Matthews traffic stop, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, began routinely enough ... [read more]