OK, I know what you’re thinking: When is StroppyGit going to pronounce on the row in France over burkinis? Never let it be said that I am insensitive to popular demand, so here goes.
First, I completely agree with those who see the burka as an instrument and a symbol of patriarchal oppression of women. The great majority of women who choose to wear it do so because of the cultural/religious environment into which they had the misfortune to be born. Muslim women who live in Western societies and wear the burka in public must expect to have difficulty making friends and getting a job. They should also realise that they are reinforcing prejudice and hostility against their religion, whose values with respect to gender relations are utterly opposed to modern secular values. In any situation where security is an issue, faces must be revealed and body searches must be submitted to.
Having said all that, it does not follow that a bathing costume that covers everything except the face, hands and feet should be banned. Yes, it may be provocative inasmuch as it is associated with Islam, and most non-Muslims find aspects of Islam objectionable. But is it a religious symbol, in the way that a cross or a crescent or the star of David are religious symbols? I don’t think so. I see it rather as a cultural by-product that will fade away as the culture that spawned it matures.
I like this photo, by the way, which I took from a website – but I forget which one. If it was yours, or if you took the photo, please tell me and I will add an acknowledgement. It’s brilliant because of the almost-exact equivalence of the two women’s figures and movements; the matched horizontal stripes on both costumes; and most of all the happy smile on the face of the burkini-wearing woman. Well done, whoever took it.
Being practical, the case is very clear. Banning the burkina is even more provocative than wearing it. Making Muslim women display an amount of flesh that is for them unthinkable will simply amount to a ban on their being part of the beachloving community and enjoying the healthy pastime of swimming in the sea. It will further isolate those women from mainstream secular society and retard their advance towards enlightenment and freedom. And it is a propaganda gift to the Islamists who want to portray Western society as hostile, corrupt and ungodly.
StroppyGit has spoken.