Margaret and Dick   


August 2016: A clear and present danger

France is under siege, and leaders are springing to action. Women have been spotted on beaches wearing burkinis, bathing suits for Muslim women who prefer to be covered up. The name is combination of bikini and burqa, the all-covering wrap. It’s a big deal in France, which prides itself on its laïcité and bans displays of religious preferences.

The politicians spoke up in recent local press coverage:
     "The burkini is a dress provocation for which it is necessary to apply the principle of zero tolerance. Our country has long been free of the archaic idea that there is a hierarchy between men and women. The burkini is a clearly unequal object, not only between the sexes, but between women," quoth the mayor of Narbonne. “The burkini challenges the values of France and disturbs the public order. We must not accept this outfit on our beaches."
     The mayor of Cannes is less restrained, declaring the swimwear “clothing that conveys an allegiance to the terrorist movements that are waging war against us.”
     Even French Prime Minister Valls has weighed in, calling the burkini a symptom of “the enslavement of women…that is not compatible with the values of France... The nation must defend itself.”

Photo by Giorgio Montersino, courtesy Wiki Commons

Aux barricades! Headscarves are bad enough. The burkini has to go.

Around Limoux, we see some younger Muslim women covering up with long sleeves and head scarves. There are some fashionable outfits. Our non-Muslim French friends go a bit nonlinear when the topic comes up. It’s a personal choice, non?

Not at all. “Their husbands are making them dress like that.” A friend mutters, fearing extremist plots. “And what are they talking about in those mosques?” He was scandalized when a longtime neighbor began wearing a headscarf and modest attire after she returned from a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca that was the high point of her life.
     “She’s still the same person, non? What about Catholic nuns who cover up in religious dress?” I ask.
     “That’s different.” He does admit that these neighbors are “good” Muslims, not the scary kind.

Burkini sales are up by 200%, according to the Australian-born Muslim inventor, similar to the surge in gun sales in the US when there is a perceived threat to gun rights. Aheda Zanetti, who created the full-body swimsuit, said her invention was about “freedom and happiness.”

Beginning at the French Revolution and strengthened in 1905, France declared itself secular, with total separation of church and state. The French census includes no questions regarding race or religion (which, we suspect, allows the government to assume that all people are white Catholics). French prohibitions are more extreme than other nations in that they ban all religious expression in public. A Jew wearing a yarmulke or a Muslim wearing a headscarf is thus acting outside the law.

The long-standing sentiment against Muslim dress has been intensified by the many recent terrorist attacks in France. Who knows what (waterproof) weapons they might be carrying under the burkinis?

We brought the topic up over dinner with our friends. They are a house divided: he believes the women should be stripped down to more revealing swimwear; she believes the women should be able to wear whatever they please.

The political forces are determined to save Muslim women from enslavement — by dictating what they can and cannot wear. But recently some politicians began backpedaling as world press on the public humiliation of Muslim women on the beach made France look ridiculous. The highest French court has just issued a temporary ban on the no-burkini rule for one beach town, so the tempest might eventually go away. Here’s hoping.

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