Faceless in a long black burqa, the woman took a front-row seat in the Australian Senate chambers Thursday and sat like that for several minutes: silent, well aware she'd caused a scene.
Then she rose with a dramatic flair, whipped the veil off her bright red hair and cast the burqa to the floor, her identity revealed.
The senators behind her did not look remotely surprised. The woman was Sen. Pauline Hanson, one of Australia's most acerbic politicians, and she was about to make yet another long speech about Islam.
“I'm quite happy to remove this because it is not what should belong in this Parliament,” Hanson said, flipping her hair back in place as she began. “The central issue in this motion before the Senate is the right of others to see a face.”
Hanson said no security guards had tried to identify her as she walked anonymously into the chambers (the Senate president denied this, according to the Associated Press). And she chastised a senator who shook her hand on the way, when he had never done so before.
“It was the burqa that drew him” Hanson said.
Over the next 20 minutes, she would warn of hypothetical burqa-clad bank robbers, of “migrants who want to come here and change the foundation stones of our way of life,” of a Muslim war on Christmas — and she'd eventually demand a ban on burqas and Islamic immigration alike.
She had done this type of thing before, if not always in costume.
The proprietor of a fish-and-chips shop at the time, Hanson first won a Parliament seat in the 1990s. She used it to accuse aboriginals of milking government benefits, and Asians of flooding Australia.
But Australia is “one of the world’s most peaceful and socially harmonious immigrant-driven countries,” as The Washington Post once noted. Hanson lost her seat and spent long years out of power. She was jailed on charges of electoral fraud in the 2000s, though the conviction was later overturned, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
She stunned many politicians last year, when she led her One Nation party to win four seats in the Senate by courting voters' fears of immigrants.
Her first speech to the Senate, in September, ran for half an hour. Australia is now “swamped by Muslims” Hanson told the Senate, and declared that “Islam cannot have a significant presence in Australia if we are to live in an open, secular and cohesive society.”
Around the same time, Hanson later told an Australian radio host, she found out the Senate had no dress code and began putting together her burqa plan.
“Is it extreme? Yes,” she said on 2GB 873 AM after Thursday's stunt. “Is it getting my message across? I hope so.”
While a tiny fraction of Australians practice Islam, let alone wear burqas, the full-body coverings have become a target of anti-immigrant groups and politicians around the world, regardless of whether many people actually wear them. In one notable example of hysteria, a group of Norwegians became alarmed by a photo of what turned out to be empty bus seats.
Hanson told the radio host she found the garb “horrible” when she tried it on this week.
“More than just uncomfortable,” she said. “It's really hard to describe. I'm hiding behind something. I feel for these women that are forced to wear it.”
Hanson chose to, of course.
“It is clear that Muslims particularly those with extremist views have chosen to live separately from other Australians,” she said near the end of her speech, after calling for a five-year ban on Islamic immigration.
“Islam threatens our way of life,” she said.
When she was done, Attorney-General George Brandis rose to reply, his voice sometimes catching as he defended his country's Muslim population.
“Senator Hanson, no, we will not be banning the burqa,” he said. “To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do, and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.”
Applause then filled the chamber, despite calls for order. Hanson stood again too, as if to say something, but the clapping continued, and she remained as silent as when she'd come in, covered up.