I’m going to wade in here (pardon the pun) and offer my opinion on this thorny issue. Thorny because it’s not straightforward, there’s more to the subject than meets the eye. The burkini, in and of itself, is a side issue. It’s what the French call ‘du maquillage‘ which means a cover, a scapegoat even, for a much larger and pernicious issue.
It’s all very well for other countries to snicker and ridicule the French for their treatment of the burkini. Go ahead and laugh. But it’s not you who, starting from March 2012 to today, have buried 244 innocents and seen 727 injured due to horrific terrorist attacks – slaughters, really, as if we were living under 7th century caliphate rule. All committed on French soil by radicalized French Muslims as they beheaded their victims, slit throats, stabbed, gunned down or mowed down with a truck while shouting “Allah Akbar”.
And outside of France, just next door in Belgium, three suicide bombings took place in March 2016: two at Brussels Airport, and one at Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels. Thirty-two dead and more than 300 injured. The three perpetrators, Muslim Belgian nationals of Moroccan descent, belonged to a terrorist cell, the same cell involved in the November 2015 Paris massacre at the Bataclan theatre.
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, between 5 to 6 million or 10% of the total population. They come mainly from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (former French colonies.) As a secular (non-religious) republic – secularism is seen today as one of the cornerstones of the identity of France – many French view the burkini swimming costume as not only incompatible with Western liberal values, but as a defiant expression of Islam and I’m referring to an ideology. They view the burkini in the same light as the niqab, which is banned here. And therein lies the real problem, the larger and pernicious issue that rattles the French and makes them not only fearful, but jittery and on high alert. (If past events haven’t been horrible enough, we’ve been told that more attacks are on the horizon.)
Islamic resurgence. Islamic reawakening. Islamic revival or fundamentalism, call it what you want. It’s the phenomenon that concerns us today – us in the West – and it entails a significant change or groundswell that engulfs the entire Muslim ummah (the global Muslim community.) The change is not of the Islamic religion, but of how Muslims view, practice, and implement the requirements of Islam as they perceive it.
For resurgent Muslims, it’s imperative that their lives be governed by the Sharia (Islamic law derived from the religious precepts of the Quran dating back to the 6th century.) How does this fit in to our modern secular democracies?
It doesn’t. Which is why the burka-niqab is banned here. Because it’s medieval and abhorrent, an affront to French values and way of life. (Many moderate, modern Muslims share this point of view.) Medieval Middle Eastern garb has no place in today’s modern, Western world.
Why is the onus on the West to ‘tolerate’ a culture that fetishizes the woman’s body?
But it’s just clothing, some people say, what’s the big deal? It’s true that prohibiting the burkini makes French authorities look like fascist fashion police, just like the hardliners in Iran or Saudi Arabia. But many people view the burkini as a symbol, or the tip, of radical Islam. And that’s unwelcome here. Best to nip it in the bud, is the majority view. (Tuer dans l‘oeuf, which means ‘kill it in the egg’).
Mathieu Bock-Côté, Doctor of Sociology and commentator at the Journal de Montréal and Radio-Canada wrote “L’islamisme s’approprie le corps des femmes pour marquer sa présence physique et symbolique…” The word “s’approprie” means “to take ownership”. “Islamism takes ownership of women’s bodies to mark its physical and symbolic presence.”
Plus les hommes seront éclairés, et plus ils seront libres. The more enlightened men (and women) are, the more they will be free.
French writer and philosopher, 1694-1778