Friday, August 26, 2016

What the French Burkini Ban is NOT About

"Just the burkini, M'am. You may remain pixelated if you like."

Some beaches in Southern France have instituted a "burkini ban" - a ban on full-body covering Muslim swimwear for women. A few days ago, the world allegedly saw photographs of French police forcing a muslim woman to "strip." That incident was not what it seemed - it was a carefully staged setup, among other things. The law empowers the police to issue tickets, not force woman to take their clothes off.

Nevertheless, many, including many "conservatives," see the whole thing as silly at best and unjust at worst. Here's a response from Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture:
There are, indeed, aspects of Islamic fundamentalism that are inimical to a free and open society. (The face-veil, for example, is dehumanizing.) The desire to wear a modest bathing costume is not one of them. It is revealing (yes, that's the word) that in this weird response to a culture that shows no respect for women, secular France tells those same women to take off their clothes.
There's a lot to unpack in this paragraph (and notice how Lawler appears swayed by the symbolism of the fake incident above). But let's look at the issue by asking this question: what is the French burkini ban really about? Or to flip it: what is it not about?

It's not about modesty.

Modesty isn't defined by some recommended proportion of your body that should be covered by clothing. Rather, a large part of it is about not attracting undue attention to yourself. In this, the particular customs of place and time are obviously important. On a beach where most people go around 80% naked, Muslim women do not wear burkinis for reasons of modesty - to avoid attracting attention to themselves or to prevent lustful responses from those looking at them. They wear burkinis because they want to identify as Muslim or are frightened at what their community will do to them if they do not identify as Muslim.

It's not about diversity.

So, there's a one-piece over there, a bikini over there, here's a colorful shirt to protect from sunburn, there go a pair of cargo shorts, speedos to the right (look away) and under that umbrella is a burkini. Isn't that what diversity is all about? No. The burkina wearer represents an ideology that is opposed to diversity - in clothing as well as most other things. If that ideology had its way, all women, or at least all Muslim women would be required to wear one. Given the pressures within Muslim culture, up to and including threats of violence, that may be why she is wearing one now.

It's not about religion versus secularism.

France has a complicated history when it comes to religion. Much of French society is strongly secular, and so stressing the importance of "secularism" often earns one political points. It is not surprising then, that many proponents of the ban have justified it on the grounds that it upholds Farnce's secular values. But the burkini ban is not directed at public displays of religion but rather at public displays of Islam. It's still perfectly fine to, say, wear a Christian cross with your bikini or one-piece. Not that you see that too much on the Riviera, but still.

It's not about security, at least directly.

While it's true that it's easier to hide a weapon in a burkini than in a one-piece or two-piece bathing suit, there are still plenty of ways for women or men to hide weapons on a beach if they were so inclined. A burkini isn't necessary for that. A burkini ban doesn't make beaches any more secure - or at least directly any more secure.

It's not about freedom of choice.

Shouldn't you be allowed to wear whatever you want on a beach? Yes and no. Some European beaches ban total nudity (though many do not). On German beaches it has long been illegal to wear Nazi memorabilia (just in case you might want to) and it's safe to say that swastika armbands wouldn't be tolerated on any European beach these days. Certain restrictions on freedom in public places are judged necessary to insure a minimum feeling of comfort or emotional safety. Most people wouldn't want to go to a public beach occupied by an aggressively public contingent of nudists or Nazis.

So what is the burkini ban about?

It's about Islam, of course.

The French see their country as gradually being occupied by an aggressive and violent invading force. They do not like it, but for various reasons, most of them still feel they cannot quite express these thoughts in public. The burkini ban is one small way to fight back. It is of course a very small way of fighting back and thus taken on it's own will be almost entirely ineffectual. That doesn't mean it is bad or wrong per se.

Lawler thinks it is counterproductive:
Is the burkini ban intended to curb the tensions that arise between Muslims and their secular neighbors in public places? It will undoubtedly have the opposite effect. Muslim women humiliated by the police will be even more alienated; their menfolk will be even angrier.
This perfectly shows how some people who appear to at least partially get it -  "inimical to a free and open society," "dehumanizing," "a culture that show no respect for woman" - still, well, don't.

Sure the ban might temporarily make some Muslim "menfolk" mad (that it might make some of the womenfolk secretly happy is not considered). But if that is the criterion for judging the prudence of a particular policy vs. "radical Islam," then the cause is lost. Just don't rile them and everything will be fine. We hope. Maybe.

And why is it, exactly, that these tensions are arising? Do they just arise spontaneously because religions are, you know, different? Are tensions between Buddhists and Mormons and Sikhs and traditional Catholics and Hare Krishnas arising on southern French beaches? Or might it have more to do with the one particular religion behind the mass-murder of the month and the stabbing attack of the day? 

Muslim aggression is not a reaction to what non-Muslims do, unless of course you buy the arguments that if we would just stop bombing Syria and if Israel would just stop asserting it's right to exist, then there would be peace in our time. (Of course we would also have to agree to stop the occasional Protestant minister from barbecuing the Koran.) Or unless you look at things as many Muslims do - and as the Koran and the Hadith imply - that simply refusing to be put under sharia law is itself a provocation.    

There really isn't any middle-ground here. Either you think Islam, taken on its own and as a whole, is a threat to free civilization, or you do not. If you do not, then any legislation targeting Islam or Muslims is unjust. But if you do, then something must be done. While a burkini ban alone is obviously not that something, it may be part of a start.

And we're past the point of innocent protestations - "I'm against terrorism, but people should be perfectly free to practice their own religion, including Islam if they so choose."

Well, no. No, they shouldn't. Not if the sum of their "practicing" amounts to a growing threat on everyone's freedoms.

If every day, the trend was for more and more people to wear swastika armbands and greet each other with "Heil Hitler!" the thing would not be to righteously stand up for freedom of expression - including the freedom to wear Nazi armbands and make Nazi salutes. Rather, it would be to figure out how to shut the whole damn thing down.

Unless, of course, you thought Nazism was peachy.


  1. Very good Oakes. Another reason for wearing the Burkini is to frighten, intimidate and silence potential critics of Islam. It is an aggressive act. The whole point of Muslin dress, in general, is to cover oneself up from the sun. Going to the beach totally covered up is an obvious act of protest (as why else would one go to a place where everyone is there to catch some rays.) What other reason could there be?

  2. I dunno, why might people go to the beach totally covered up?

    In all seriousness, though, yes, Islam is a vile, satanic abomination of a false religion, but this strikes me as simply another Maxim 29 moment:

  3. Have found out the burkini has proliferated only after the carnage at Nice. It is an act of aggression.