Burqa mural – Opinion

I say no to the ‘say no to burqas’ mural


Sergio Redegalli's mural on the wall of his glass studio in Newtown.

Jemma Castle

I have a predicament. It’s a bit of a Catch22. I am not tolerant of people who are intolerant.

A contradiction, I know – but no more so than what has caused my dilemma.

Generally I don’t need to resolve the matter. But the other day, I saw something from the train that got me thinking. A giant mural with distinct visual imagery that said: ‘Say no to burqas’.

My first response to the mural was confusion. Then fear. I live nearby and I’d heard that there are neo-nazi groups that have been meeting in the area. I felt the moral panic setting in. I went exploring to calm the sensation. But there were no clues as to who had done it – nothing but a CCTV camera. I didn’t feel good about it. It was a loud idea that tapped into the fears of Australian society.

After a quick Internet search I discovered it was actually painted by an artist, Sergio Redegalli – he owns the glass studio on which it was painted. And I was surprised to find that nearly 90% of people thought it should stay (according to an opinion poll on the Daily Telegraph website on the 24th September). I have two explanations. 1. That those 90% are scared we are going to be taken over by another culture or 2. It didn’t seem so outrageous after they knew that an artist did it.

I went to speak with him and he told me he was trying to make a statement about his concern that artists are being censored around issues of Islam. The local council is exploring ways to remove it but is powerless because he owns the wall.

Voltaire appealed to our sense of democracy when he said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I’m normally the first one to put up quotes like these on my wall, but my dislike of Redegalli’s mural has made me wonder – should there be limits to freedom of expression?

Matters of freedom are always difficult. Artists should be free to express themselves, challenge us and stimulate us – it creates a healthy discussion. We wouldn’t want a country that was censored by a government like China or Venezuela. But it’s ridiculous to say that we should be completely free to do whatever we want. In Australia we don’t have complete freedom, and we wouldn’t want it. It would be anarchy. Besides, isn’t this exactly the point Redegalli is trying to make? When he says he doesn’t want a dual legal system that incorporates sharia law, he’s arguing for a legal distinction to be made about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

So the second he tries to argue for freedom of expression he contradicts himself. If he should be allowed to express himself however he wants, shouldn’t the people who choose to wear burqas also be allowed to express themselves however they want? Redegalli, of Italian heritage, argues that wearing the burqa is not self-expression but rather an oppressive cloth that is forced upon women by men. But then we have Aziza Abdul-Halim from the Muslim Women’s Network telling the media that wearing the burqa is a matter of personal choice.

He’s done a lot of reading. He cites an article about how Muslims are one of the biggest perpetrators of gay bashings in Amsterdam. He recalls instances of honour killings – even in Australia. It’s terribly distressing. His argument is that Islamic extremists are starting to gain momentum in countries like the Netherlands and other Western countries and that we are following the same path. But why start with the fear tactics when Muslims in Australia only make up 1.7% of the population and the majority of Muslims aren’t extremists? Our country is already xenophobic enough.

I’m not against Redegalli expressing his opinion. But I am against the way he did it. The mural is divisive. Whether he intended it that way or not, without context it could be interpreted in any number of ways. I’m worried that all the mural will actually do is encourage a nation that is already fearful of other cultures to become less tolerant. In my mind, Redegalli’s mural violates the powerful meaning of freedom statements like Voltaire’s. Using such statements as an acceptable reason to spread ideas that aim to limit someone else’s freedom of expression lacks integrity.

For anyone who knows Newtown, they’d know there is an age-old mural of an Aboriginal flag with an image of Martin Luther King. It reads: “I have a dream”, and then in hand written script down the bottom: “Don’t poster here, show respect”. For as long as I can remember, no one has ever defaced that wall and it has instilled me with confidence that the people of Newtown have respect for other people, cultures and their ideas. So Redegalli’s mural feels like a slap in the face – blaring forth an idea that seems hugely disrespectful to Muslims.

We can have the burqa debate – debates are what keep us moving forward – but let’s do it with respect.

What do you think? Should Redegalli have started the burqa debate in a different forum?

Want to know more – watch this.


2 Responses to “Burqa mural – Opinion”

  1. Sergio Redegalli December 14, 2010 at 7:24 am #


    interesting is the word I use after reading comments like yours, some of your information is correct,most of it is off the topic.
    The one thing you have right is that the Mural was painted to get people Talking, makes no difference if they are Left, Right, Centre ,Pink or Blue, every one needs to read more on the topic.

    have a look at the link above, and have a rethink and get back to me.



  1. Tweets that mention I say no to the‘say no to burqas’ mural « The Shelf -- Topsy.com - November 5, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Shelf, The Shelf. The Shelf said: Should we tolerate the intolerant? Jemma Castle ponders the 'Say to burqas' mural in Newtown. http://fb.me/J307pwOs […]

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