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Photo from Museum of History and Industry. Seattle.


What does the French state have in common with Islamic State?  By the end of this week they might both have banned the burkini.

From batcrazy ISIS central, the town of Raqqa, come stories of armed men forcing women to cover up. Now from batcrazy Cote d’Azur come stories of armed men forcing women to uncover.

This ill thought out, through the looking glass situation, is a long way from the debate about the veil or burka and will do the opposite of what is intended. It will enflame community tensions and it falls into the trap of allowing the liars of extremist Islam to argue that ‘the west’ suppresses the religion.

Following the terrorist mass murder in Nice more than a dozen French towns have banned the burkini on the grounds that, in the opinion for example of Nice council, it  “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”. Subsequently a woman was forced to take off her burkini on a beach in Nice, and another in Cannes, who was wearing leggings, a long sleeved top, and a headscarf on the beach, was fined for not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

There are two immediate problems with this statement. The first is the value judgment, now also legal judgment, that a burkini does not respect good morals. You could argue that a man in a mankini or a half speedo pouch, is not respecting good morals, but only once you’d stopped laughing at him, and even if you did make the argument, the police would be unlikely to send four armed officers to investigate. Nor, should anyone complain that a woman in a full wet suit and swimming hat was offending them, would the full weight of the law fall upon the unsuspecting surfboarder.

The second problem is that town councils are now taking it upon themselves to enforce a code of dress which respects secularism. However, they are almost certainly only enforcing it about one particular religion. In the event that the good Sisters from the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy should show up for a quick paddle and few sandwiches on the beach it is unlikely they would be told to get their habits off.

The first town to lose its reason and devotion to ‘Liberté’ was Villeneuve-Loubet near Nice. The ban was challenged but the Nice tribunal upheld it on the grounds that it was necessary and proportionate to prevent public disorder.

The case now goes to the national ‘State Council’ which can take a view on the lower court’s view that the burkini was liable to ‘offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions’ of other people on beaches. The argument is that in a country which takes the separation of religion and state very seriously the burkini is part of, as Prime Minister Valls puts it,  ‘a political project founded on enslaving women’.

That argument stands up a lot better if applied to the full burka, less so to an item of clothing designed to liberate conservative women and give them more space in which to be free – as in at the beach.

Delacroix’s famous painting of ‘Liberty leading the people’ shows Liberty with a bare breast.  Surely she also wants the right not to show it if she chooses?

Liberty! Equality! Coverupity!  It just doesn’t have the same ring.


10 Comments on "French Go Berserkini!"

  1. I am going to be facetious now!
    I certainly do not think we should be investigating a man’s speedo pouch, or mankini for fear of what we may find lurking!

  2. Patrick Horwood | 24th August 2016 at 1:58 pm | Reply

    Well put, Tim.

  3. Mahat Macoat. Yr comments are not censored because of your world view, they are censored because you cannot see a top without going over it. It is perfectly possible here to criticize all sorts of things, but when you start conflating issues with the Nazis and Hitler it crosses a line and simply becomes insulting. You are welcome to post, but try not to insult an entire religion or culture when so doing. Tim Marshall.

  4. Well the French can drop the equality from their motto now with this idiotic measure that is once again aimed at muslim WOMEN. At a time that the French are banning the burkini and the Germans are mooting a ban on the burka where is the talk of banning the jellabiya or the thawb?. The side effect of this beyond stirring up trouble is that many muslim women will now no longer swim or in the case of the burka even leave their homes.

  5. To be honest Tim, I am not sure whether to laugh or to cry, or whether the Burkini should be allowed or not. In principle I am totally against the full Niqab/Burqa/Burka. In Iraq it was used to cover the smuggling of explosives and weapons. In Egypt it was used as a cover for prostitution and illicit relationships. European countries should have the right to ban the Niqab in public places. Many secular people like myself have serious concerns about the wearing of the full veil with face covering because of the Burqa’s symbolic role and the subjugation of women. Also the issues of female gender and sexuality; their potential to cover-up evidence of abuse; and their potential to hinder a woman’s communicative abilities and integration within western societies.

    In the final analysis, those who want the niqab/burqa to be worn all times will be better served in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and the Gulf States.

  6. Fair enough that’s fun, I agree, because they are happy jovial Catholic nuns, who love life, but do not stop at this, the nun will also put on a swimming costume, she is also trained in being a nurse, or a teacher, she works in clinics all over the world, devoting herself to others, she is also by rights, a virgin. the abaya is used to cover, dominate and the new word in the Islam religion is evangelist . Okay this is the modern worlds but don’t be so caught up in bringing the Catholic nun into the world of the abaya . I lived in Muslim countries for 18 years, I have experience

    • Elinor, that is yr interpretion of what the abaya is about. I might even agree with you – and I’m against face covering in public, but the point remains that the law is deliberately discrimintaroy against one particular religion. To underline that point – it is legitimate to bring in the example of nuns.

  7. I’m missing something here. Surely the object of a trip to the beach is to work on your tan, so what’s the point of wearing a garment that covers every square cm of skin? I don’t therefore see a woman in a burkini as threatening I regard her as slightly potty.

  8. Mr. Marshall, thanks for bringing some sense into a totally mad decision to ban the “burkini”.

    As a completely secular woman (Israeli) I’m shocked that the French authorities should punish conservative women in this way. I wonder how the EU would react if Israel tried to censor the dress of our minorities in this way. Our beaches and lakes are popular areas for all our citizens, some of whom wear modest clothing and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Watching the scene of the French police forcing the lady to remove her shirt because it was too modest (!!) was quite disgusting.

  9. I have no problem with people wearing a Burkini on a Beach and if someone wants to wear a fur coat or a batman suit or a full leather jacket however out of place it looks that is their right. I do have a problem in some situations with the Niqab that covers the face just leaving the eyes and this say in a bank or airport can present security concerns. I see the Burkini ban in Cannes has been overturned and this looks like France has used the Burkini as a reaction to the recent wave of terror almost as if they need to be seen to be doing something, anything to show the French public they are reacting. I think in this case France has chosen the wrong target and what next Orthodox Jewish Men or Women banned from beaches if wearing long black trousers or big hats. You cannot have one law for one part of society and not the rest.

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