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Chador charger faces a query: what about Father Christmas'

Canberra, Nov. 22 (Reuters): An Australian politician’s call to ban Muslim women from wearing a traditional head-to-knee gown in public because they could be used to conceal weapons has sparked outrage in Australia.

Talk-back radio and newspapers’ letters pages were brimming with accusations of racism today after one of Australia’s most outspoken conservative politicians, the Reverend Fred Nile, suggested a ban on wearing the body-enveloping chador in public.

In New South Wales’ state parliament on Wednesday, Nile said the chador was “a perfect disguise for terrorists as it conceals both weapons and explosives”. He used as an example female Chechen rebels smuggling explosives into a Moscow theatre during a recent hostage crisis.

The Christian Democrat politician fuelled the row further today, telling local television: “It’s only extremists who wear the chador... They’re the people that (al Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden is manipulating and using in his terrorist movement.”

Nile’s proposed ban was instantly condemned by religious leaders, unions and politicians in the predominantly Christian country where Muslims have been increasingly victimised since the September 11, 2001, attacks by suspected Islamic militants on the United States.

Nevertheless, it took conservative Prime Minister John Howard until today to rule out such a ban after his initial ambivalent comments triggered a barrage of criticism.

“You can’t in a democratic society pass laws telling people how to dress,” Howard told Sydney radio 2GB.

Foreign minister Alexander Downer also said there was no plan to ban any sort of clothing, particularly where it was indicative of religious beliefs and customs.

“You could hide things under a raincoat I suppose. I don’t think we’re going to ban raincoats,” Downer told Australia radio.

Writers to national newspapers ridiculed Nile’s proposed ban, asking why he had not extended it to stop Catholic nuns and priests from wearing traditional dress, ultra-orthodox Jews from wearing long coats and Father Christmas from carrying a sack. “Perhaps Nile will only be satisfied when we all wander around the local supermarket stark naked,” suggested John Ramsay from Bondi Junction in a letter to The Australian newspaper.

Representatives of the Anglican Church disassociated themselves from Nile’s comments, saying it was “disappointing” that an elected Christian minister would make such comments.

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