Pauline Hanson should debate, not denigrate

The Australian Financial Review

Donald Trump’s brazen equivocation on racism was echoed in Pauline Hanson’s outrageous stunt in wearing a burqa to Senate question time yesterday.

The reaction of the political mainstream was correct in both cases. The two living former Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, both said there was no place for bigotry in their party. In the Australian Senate, Liberal Attorney-General George Brandis told Hanson that “to ridicule that [Islamic] community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do”.

In rightly defending free speech, Brandis has supported the “the right to be a bigot”. Now he has rightly let a bigot know – to a standing ovation – exactly what he thought of her. And so reaffirmed the importance of free speech.

Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss the actions of Trump and Hanson as simple cases of deplorable racism, ignorance and prejudice. Much of the populism manifested in Brexit and Trump channels globalisation and technological disruption into an overall cultural backlash against progressive cultural modernism.

The burqa is foremost a traditional religious garment, and there is little case to ban it as Hanson urges, and as is partly done in France.

But is religious discrimination to be banned, only to allow the oppression of women in a garment some would also argue is archaic? Some of the reactionary extremism manifested in Trump and Hanson is driven by new political intolerance of reasonable cultural dissent.