Do Our Clothes Have Feelings?

I’ve written previously about the Australian artist Sergio Redegalli, who caused a bit of trouble in a suburb of Sydney when he painted a mural on the outside wall of his studio featuring the slogan “Say No To Burqas”.

A group of progressives staged a demonstration at Mr. Redegalli’s mural yesterday, with the apparent intention of erasing it again. Word of what was planned went out among the Australian Counterjihad community, and a group of counter-protesters were on hand to defend the artist and protect the mural.

Our Australian correspondent LAW Wells took his camera to the event and prepared this report for Gates of Vienna:

What would our undies think of us?

Upon a tip-off regarding a protest in Newtown about an anti-burqa mural, I made the trek into the city after Sunday Mass, stopping for a few errands before moving on to the scene of the mural and the proposed protest. I arrived at the corner of Station and Wilford Streets in Newtown a few minutes after 1 pm, having decided that the necessity of lunch was greater than the necessity of punctuality.

Burqa mural #1
The offending mural, with a guardian gnome.

This was wise, because when I arrived, about ten or so members of the Australian Protectionist Party — an anti-immigration party that is opposed to mass immigration on environmental, economic and political grounds — were ready and waiting for the protest itself to arrive. We were in for a wait, and I struck up conversation with some of them, and they all were concerned about the ravages of Islam and the possibility of it coming here to Australia (they are aware of how advanced Europe is compared with ourselves in regards to Islamisation).

Then, at long last, forty-five minutes after the protest was meant to begin, the demonstrators arrived. They arrived in a group of about thirty to forty people, and the APP took up a position between the protesters and the mural. The protesters had a few of the standard placards condemning racism against Arabs and Muslims, and declaring racists unwelcome in Australia and so on, and the protest quickly moved into a verbal brawl, with the protesters describing the APP counter-protest with the standard epithets (racist, Nazi, fascist), and one member of the APP loudly declaring the protesters a bunch of losers in need of a shower.

Burqa mural #2
The placard contest, plus Australian and Israeli flags.

Various attempts at debate were initiated, which immediately descended into an argument of contradiction of the type that Monty Python suggested you charge for. The more successful attempts were achieved on the fringes of the protest, between Sergio and various onlookers, with myself having a chance to make a few comments in one such conversation (though they generally were either attempts to be funny, or not-very-well-explained attempts to argue about the illogical statement in “If anti-burqa, then racist” [it’s Boolean logic, and needs to be explained on its own]).

Burqa mural #3
Sergio justifying himself to the protesters.

The protest was not very much of an expression of conversation, but Sergio relayed to me that he has addressed the APP, a Green Left meeting, and various other groups besides. In addition to this, he has an open door policy whereby those who oppose his mural may sit down with a cup of coffee and listen to each other (agreement at the end of coffee is not required).

I also learned from one elderly gentlemen in the APP group that there had been thirty occasions of vandalism of the mural (each of which had merely been painted over by Sergio). Sergio stated that his CCTV has nailed the same four people as responsible for the vandalism of what is his private property.

Upon retrospect, I realise that my attempts to join the debate were largely clumsy and crude, in large part because I’m a little awkward (I’m a geek, so I have an excuse!) and have never been in such a situation before. However, I can see now various red herrings (someone bringing up the White Australia Policy, a red herring if ever I saw one) and straw men and other such debating paucities. I only wish I’d recognised them on the spot.

At about 2.30 pm, the protesters all of a sudden up and left. I admit that I had not been paying much attention to them, as I had been listening in to a conversation, so it came as something of a surprise to me that they left so quickly. They (the protesters) do have a shot of my ugly mug (I’m sure they’ll delete it out of hand). In all, the only real flashpoint was when the elderly man found his attempts to take pictures frustrated and kneed his frustration in the groin (by his own testimony, he hit “something soft”, and was promptly moved out of the crowd and warned to keep his distance by the police). A call went up early on to burn the Australian flag that the APP had brought along (the APP later responded by unfurling an Israeli flag), but beyond calls, things stayed fairly calm. About six to eight cops kept an eye on things, and there were no arrests made. In general, things were quiet, and the police were content to merely watch and let people have their say.

Burqa mural #4
Protest and counter-protest, with the police looking on.

However, the protesters were handing out a leaflet (coarse language is used) which, apart from providing a clear incitement to violence to remove the mural, also easily overestimates the effect the mural will have on society, and underestimates its support amongst the wider Australian population. One member of the community passed a copy onto the police, hoping that they might take action against the protesters for such an incitement.

Ultimately, however, the underlying issue was never raised. Muslims are themselves the first victim of Islam, and that so many have come to so love their prison that they will become guards for their fellow prisoners and haul more people into that prison goes all but unnoticed in the wider debate on the burqa and women’s rights. Still, it is a start.

And as a final observation, if one’s opposition to the burqa makes one a racist, does that then mean that our clothes have feelings, and if so, then what would our underwear think of us?
Mr. Wells supplied the text of the pamphlet, which I reproduce below, with the cruder words redacted. He included this note about it:

The pamphlet somehow completely misses the point that Sergio is trying to make. It only takes a very simple observation to realise that the burqa keeps women out of sight, and as the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind”. It means that all the abuse that goes on at home is hidden from view, and that a woman can be virtually kidnapped, “married” and kept in a house, and no one would be able to tell where she is.

The protest pamphlet:
Say “No” to d****** racists

Over 2 months ago some f***wit artist put up a mural on the side of their business, which originally said ‘ban the burqa’ with an image of a woman in a burqa crossed out. This has now been changed to the equally regressive ‘say no to burqas’ with a more simplistic outline of a woman in a burqa. It plays up to the most populist form of racist bulls*** that exists in Australia, and worse still it is in a position where it can be viewed by 1000’s [sic] of people passing on the train line each day. This mural in Newtown has created a situation where Muslim women in particular, and to a degree other non-white people, will feel intimidated about being in this area, as it suggests an acceptance of such racist ideas.

Sergio has claimed that his mural is a political intervention into the trajectories of ‘contemporary Australian society’ — that this painting is an attempt to open a debate about ‘fundamentalism’. It is clear, however, that the painting is only a poor repackaging of sexism and racism. This so-called ‘opening’ of a debate serves only to shut space down with both physical and violent effects. It is doing no more than expressing and increasing the tendency to Islamophobia and the vilification of Muslims — with Muslim women as no more than an object to be contested — that has for a few years been the most fashionable form of racism in this country.

The form that racism takes in Australia is as an everyday sort of white supremacy where people are expected to conform to a singular vision of Australian society. This has been a continuous thread throughout colonisation, the ‘White Australia’ policy and the violence of the current border protection regime. The mural in the place inscribes the functioning of the border into the very lived experience of the area and brings with it a persistent threat of potential physical violence. At the same time, even when particular acts of racist violence are not taking place, the sense of intimidation, fear and exclusion that the mural creates is in itself a form of violence.

Sergio attempts to articulate one form of patriarchy in the guise of being against what he perceives to be the patriarchy of another culture. The act of determining what is suitable behaviour for others and calling on the government to regulate this is typically authoritarian and patriarchal. Empowerment and liberation are not things that can be prescribed and dictated to others — some people might find these things in affirming aspects of their heritage, others by shedding all such traditional values. An anti-racist and anti-sexist politics of solidarity has to act in common with those that are struggling for their emancipation from a particular condition, not prescribe what their freedom will look like.

Whatever the position of the council on this issue, it is incapacitated because it is inherently tied to a system of private property that both it and the police must uphold above all else. Sergio hides behind the authority he derives from owning that building and by protecting it with security cameras and security guards. So it is up to the rest of us to self-organise and mobilise against this racist presence and to ensure its immediate removal in whatever form people see fit.
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