France: Is the burkini a sign of oppression?
The “war of the burkini” is raging across France this summer, said Le Monde(France) in an editorial. Is the full-body swimsuit recently adopted by some Muslim women—essentially a burqa for the beach—an example of freedom of expression? Or is it an “ostentatiously religious garment” that conflicts with France’s constitutional commitment to secularism? The issue exploded in late July after the mayor of Cannes banned the garment on public beaches, citing a possible threat to public order, and a dozen municipalities followed. Armed police this week issued warnings to burkini wearers emerging from the water at a Nice beach, and ordered a young mother wearing a headscarf off a beach in Cannes. Foreign media have condemned the bans as undemocratic, and we concede they may be an overreaction. Still, they are understandable in a “French society traumatized by jihadist attacks” that have killed more than 230 people over the past two years. “The burkini is not fashion,” said Prime Minister Manuel Valls. “It’s an expression of an antisocial political project based on the subjugation of women.”
France has lost it, said David Aaronovitch in The Times(U.K.). What about nuns? Are they, too, banned from taking seaside walks in their habits? Of course I completely reject the idea of enforced modesty, but no less strongly than I reject “the notion of enforced exposure.” Topless is OK, but covered legs and hair are not? Even worse is France’s reasoning for the ban. It’s not the burkini wearers who threaten public order, but rather those who might attack them—a classic example of blaming the victim and curbing her rights rather than punishing her assailants.
I believe in freedom of choice, yet as a liberal Muslim woman “I find the burkini problematic,” said Egyptian commentator Nervana Mahmoud in her blog Nervana1.org. For decades, women in Muslim countries wore regular bathing suits. In the 1980s, though, hardline Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Iran began to export their ideologies, and women were “bullied” into covering up. Yet that didn’t protect them from harassment. In fact, harassment of women is ubiquitous on beaches in Muslim countries, but “almost negligible in Western countries,” where women are scantily clad. “The obsession with covering the flesh only triggers more misogyny and paranoia.” And it won’t stop with burkinis. “Advocates of regression” are already pushing for costumes even less revealing than the burkini, as well as for entirely segregated beaches.
That’s why allowing the burkini would be a slippery slope, said Joseph Macé-Scaron in Marianne(France). The next step is a Muslim demand for only female lifeguards to rescue Muslim women, and then for those lifeguards to be themselves clad in burkinis. It’s “idiotic” to defend the so-called right of women to cover up “when we see women liberated from ISIS burning their fabric prisons and hugging Kurdish and Arab fighters bareheaded.” Muslim women who choose burkinis have been brainwashed into “voluntary servitude.” We must not indulge that.